Until 11 PM last night, Daylesford neighbors and members of our community reasoned, argued, cajoled and attempted to change the minds of Planning Commissioners in regards to the proposed change to C-1 zoning to allow the use of assisted living facilities. Unfortunately, the Planning Commissioners ignored the dissenting voices of the community and recommended the C-1 zoning change.
The Planning Commission meeting started with 8 Commissioners (Tom Cooper absent) but when the agenda moved to the C-1 zoning change, the PC Chair Bob Whalen recused himself, leaving the meeting without explanation.
Attorney Denise Yarnoff, representing Ed Morris, the developer for the proposed assisted living facility (ALF) at the Jimmy Duffy catering site, wrote the C-1 zoning amendment change and its subsequent re-written version. Acting PC chair, Trip Lukens, asked that Yarnoff and Trisha Larkins, president of the Daylesford Neighborhood Association, provide opening remarks. Lukens requested Yarnoff and Larkins to confine their remarks to the C-1 zoning change only versus the specific proposed project – the assisted living facility at the Jimmy Duffy catering site.
Although asked repeatedly to speak up, Ms. Yarnoff words were often barely audible to the audience. Standing directly adjacent to the dais, apparently it was more important for the Planning Commissioners to hear Ms. Yarnoff than the audience members. Whether by design or not, I probably only heard about one-third of Yarnoff’s remarks. However, as any good attorney, throughout the evening, Yarnoff provided an explanation or response to any question or concern posed by the public, Planning Commissioners or township staff. It was unclear to me (and remains so) why Yarnoff was deemed the ‘expert’ on all things related to assisted living facilities, the township’s comprehensive plan, process and the like.
In contrast to Yarnoff’s, Ms. Larkins had prepared a PowerPoint presentation to explain the timeline for the zoning change, other municipality ALF comparisons and a background (explanation) as to why the DNA opposed the proposed C-1 zoning change. Thorough and professionally delivered, Larkins repeatedly made the case that the DNA did not oppose ALFs in the township; it opposed a zoning change to permit assisted living usage in C-1.
After Yarnoff and Larkins presented their opening remarks, the meeting started a downhill spiral and to many in the audience, quickly became out of control. Although Lukens had asked that the C-1 zoning change be the focus of the discussion, every couple of minutes the comments and suggestions returned to the Jimmy Duffy site and whether the changes would work for that project.
Resident after resident questioned the PC as to why the ‘rush’ to make this decision; why not wait for the results from the $100K consultant hired to review commercial zoning in the township. Like so many, I was frustrated that no matter what the issue, the Planning Commissioners deferred to Denise Yarnoff; wanting to make sure that their changes would fit the proposed ALF project. In desperation, I told the PC members that it is no wonder that we believed this C-1 change to be ‘spot zoning’ – every time the public brings up a point, you defer to Yarnoff and the plan. Lukens stated that he wanted the C-1 ordinance change to be about all C-1 properties but there was no discussion to support his opinion. Is development so important in this township, that we cast aside reasonable discussion, review of other municipal ordinances, ignore the township’s comprehensive plan and instead do whatever a developer wants, so the project ‘works’?
After hours of debate, the Planning Commissioners drafted changes for the C-1 zoning ordinance. The proposed C-1 zoning ordinance change now includes the following points:
- Density. Minimum Lot Area of not less than 650 square feet per unit.
- At least 10 percent of the lot area shall be provided as passive recreational space for the residents of the ALF. Such space shall include outdoor seating areas, interior courtyards, pedestrian walkways and/or similar facilities.
- The maximum number of beds per Assisted Living Facility building shall not exceed 100.
Prior to voting, the public continued to weigh in with their displeasure. There was not one person in the audience who favored pushing this ordinance change through including attorney Dan McLaughlin, vice chair of the Zoning Hearing Board. McLaughlin lives in the Daylesford neighborhood and offered very impassioned, effective remarks as to why the Planning Commissioners needed to hold off taking a vote until all questions were answered. I did not think it possible that the Commissioners could ignore McLaughlin; but they did. Trip Lukens called for a vote on the C-1 zoning ordinance change stating he would abstain due to the 10% open space requirement. Without pause, the remaining six PC members voted to recommend the C-1 zoning change to the Board of Supervisors.
No one will convince me that the PC vote to change C-1 zoning ordinance change was not based on one developer and one development project. Every decision on what to include in the ordinance change balanced against the backdrop of whether it would fit the proposed assisted living facility at the Jimmy Duffy site.
With so many, many unanswered questions surrounding this project, including the use of the R-1 parcel, grandfathered usage, invalid sketch plan, etc., how could the Planning Commissioners refuse to do their homework and instead, push it on to the Board of Supervisors. I thought it was the responsibility of the Planning Commissioner to thoroughly understand and vet the situation before recommending it to the supervisors. Guess not. Rather than relying on the expertise of the Planning Commissioners, it will now be up to the supervisors to find the answers.