Pattye Benson

Community Matters

TE School Board’s idea of ‘compromise’ at Valley Forge Middle School … Green Hills homeowners to get 6-foot high chain link fences in their backyards instead of previously announced 4-foot fences

Green Hills residents met with TE School District representatives regarding the proposed Chesterbrook fencing project last night and learned that compromise isn’t in the school board’s vocabulary.

Representing the TE School District at the meeting were school board members Pete Motel, Kevin Buraks, Liz Mercogliano and Kris Graham in addition to Art McDonnell, Dr. Gusick, attorney David Falcone of Saul Ewing, Tom Daley of Daley & Jalboot Architects and the District attorney Ken Roos. Motel, Buraks and Mercogliano are all on the Facilities Committee and School Board President Kris Graham attended in the absence of Virginia Lastner, the fourth member of the Facilities Committee.

In addition to the homeowners, attorney Brian Nagle of MacElree & Harvey represented Chesterbrook Civic Association and Michael Gill of Buckley, Brion, McGuire & Morris represented Green Hills Homeowners Association at the meeting.

With the proposed chain link fencing planned extraordinarily close to the abutting properties, residents appealed to the school board for a reasonable discussion of the project. However, rather than finding common ground and understanding, the affected property owners learned that their backyard fencing would not be 4 feet high as previously stated at the District’s Facilities Meeting. No, in a surprise announcement, the Green Hills residents learned the District has changed the height of the chain link fencing in their backyards to six feet!

It seems to me that these homeowners are being targeted – the Valley Forge Middle School fence project calls for the two sections of fencing along Chesterbrook Boulevard and Valley Forge Road to have four foot high fencing whereas the Green Hills residents are facing 6 foot chain link fences in their backyards. I don’t’ think any of the other school fencing projects have 6-ft. high fences, do they? You have to wonder what the District uses as their criteria for 4 ft, 5 ft. or 6 ft. fencing.

I thought that you needed a variance for 6 foot fencing in Tredyffrin Twp and we know that that the District previously withdrew their variance request. However, the District sidesteps the ZHB application process by putting a 4-ft fence along Valley Forge Road, which is technically the front of the school. According to Tredyffrin Township Zoning Ordinance 208-119, the back and rear yards at Valley Forge Middle School (which includes the Green Hills-TESD property line) only requires a permit for the 6-ft. fence not a variance. (Note – as of late today, the township had not received a fence permit request from TESD).

Green Hills resident and abutting property owner Pete Stanton attended the meeting and provides his summary below.

Summary of meeting 3/25/15 with representatives of the TE School Board and concerned citizens of Green Hills and Chesterbrook regarding proposed VFMS Fencing project.

– No agreement was reached over fencing. The status is that the School Board is still determined to place the fence at or near their property line. They plan to notify residents in the near future exactly where the line of the fencing will go.

– In a surprise turnaround, the Facilities Committee Chair Peter Motel announced the fence facing Green Hills homes would be 6 feet high. Previous Facilities Committee discussions that I attended had indicated the fence near our properties to be a four foot fence. No explanation for this change was offered. The Contractor is making an application for a fencing permit to Tredyffrin Township.

– The fencing architect from Daley and Jalboot reinforced the idea that the primary goal of the fencing on their property line was border identification. The School Board had evidently not considered any other option to fencing to “mark” their borders, such as signage.

– Attorneys for Green Hills, Chesterbrook Civic Assn and the School Board’s attorney as well as their outside Counsel were all present. There was some back and forth questioning, but nothing substantive at this time.

– The invited guests presented a wide variety of commentary … the excess expense of the fence in time of fiscal crunch for the school District, the security flaws inherent in their planned fence placement and deployment, and the general disruption to all residents in cutting off the continuous access to the Rural Conservation (RC) zoned areas and paths to the fields, St Isaac’s etc.

– An alternative fencing line was proposed by a citizen (non-Green Hills resident) as a “compromise” which places the fencing well out from the homes but still cuts off access to the paths. This proposed alternative is certainly an improvement to the District’s plan, but may wind up costing the District more (due to needed new path construction) and in my opinion does not go far enough in allowing unfettered access to the 20.7 acre RC zoned open area. I have color coded the 2 alternative proposals for consideration. Please see the attached map showing my desired fencing line, (the green line plan), the Citizen’s “compromise” fencing route (red line plan) along with the pathway needed for that plan (new path is blue line). Click here for map of VF Middle School Fencing Plan.

– Green Hills and local Chesterbrook residents and the 5 “abutter” families seem clear that they want unfettered access to the 20.7 acre open area behind their homes as they have for decades. By placing the fence as a continuation of the four foot fence already in place on the upper fields closest to the school, the School District will enhance student safety. By being able to visually monitor the entire fenced area directly from the School plant, continue to allow resident path access that they have utilized forever, and save the District thousands of dollars in fencing costs… All these arguments taken together are compelling for the District to alter their current plans and strongly consider the one that I am offering here. With the “green line plan”, everyone wins.

It would seem that supporting the District’s proposed chain link fencing project is not a particularly smart political move for anyone seeking reelection to the school board. Board President Kris Graham (the only incumbent seeking reelection) and her unfavorable position on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing plan could pose a political hurdle for her in November.

It is my understanding that some members of the school board have agreed to a walkabout at the Green Hills fencing location with the five affected homeowners. I still contend that if all the board members would take the time to walk the abutting neighbor’s property, they would agree to a compromise discussion.

Here’s hoping that there is still time for reasonable people to make reasonable decisions on the Valley Forge Middle School fencing project.

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    1. Although the proposed chain link fencing is in the backyards of 5 homes, it affects many other Green Hills residents in Chesterbrook. The homes are located on three different cuul de sacs, each with public paths leading between the houses to the open space walkways. The three paths are used by many residents and are part of Chesterbrook’s planned open space development plan.

    2. This affects all taxpayers of the TE School District with questionable safety value – even the TESD lawyer at the Zoning Hearing couldn’t defend his original claim of safety as the rationale for the fences and fell back on the District’s desire to mark its boundaries. This particular section of fence can’t even be seen from the school.

      Beyond the expense of these fences there is an additional cost in terms of reduced property values to the immediate neighbors and potentially others in Chesterbrook. If they have their properties reassessed – the tax base declines. A small but real loss in tax revenues that will need to be made up in higher tax rates for everyone or a reduction in educational services.

      If a real safety argument exists, then fences visible from the school (on the school’s side of the berm) should be erected and they should be the appropriate height. If TESD simply wants to mark or protect its property from the immediate homeowners, then markers can be installed at the property line instead of expensive 6 foot eyesores. (Don’t they currently exist?) School officials or maintenance can inspect the property lines on a regular basis (at minimum cost), notify the neighbor of any encroachments and request immediate remedy. That’s what good neighbors do.

      Our current school board and financial staff are clueless and have no respect for the taxpayers as evident once again at this week’s SB meeting. To discredit a resident speaker, Motel indignantly and incorrectly stated that residents pay only 25% of the real estate taxes. Many in the audience started to react with shock at this false statement and he had the nerve to continue and lecture the audience with wrong information about the tax base. Here are the facts: Residents pay approximately 75% of the real estate taxes for the School District and commercial/industrial 25%. This is a significant difference that ALL TESD officials should be aware of. Not one school board member, nor attorney, nor TESD financial staff corrected him. Hello? Isn’t the Business Manager, Art McDonnell, paid to know this stuff?

  1. Having attended the meeting, it was a little shocking how the Board was not interested in discussing other solutions at all. Pete Motel stated that all of the representatives that were at the meeting have walked the path line where the fence is proposed to go…I, however, have my doubts.

    It is clear that the Board is primarily interested in protecting their property, and not the students. Protecting the students would mean installing a fence that is visible from the school itself, clear and simple. Anyone can understand that.

    Taxpayers beware….if the school board puts the fence where it is planned, I can almost guarantee that cameras on these fences will be next. And they will claim its in the best interest of safety/security for the students. All at the cost of the taxpayers.

  2. I don’t understand why residents feel they can tell another property owner (in this case, the school district) what it can or cannot do on their property. Needs change over time and the school district and school board have the right to determine what to do on their property. Why should this neighborhood’s homeowners get to treat school district property as their own open space?

    1. simply because there is a valid agreement in place dating from 2002 where the School District agreed to not build anything in that specified area. unless of course written agreements have no worth.

  3. Today’s Philadelphia Inquirer has the solution – a “ha-ha”.

    …… a sunken fence that creates a barrier for animals, while the other, higher side allows an unobstructed view. Typically, it involves a retaining wall between a sloping ditch on one side and higher ground on the other. “Think of this as a ditch that you can’t see in the distance,” the authors write, “but only when you come upon it – hence the name.”

    No laughing matter, of course. The neighbors should come up with practical solutions that recognize the rights of both sides of this situation.

    1. Ray, see the link above in Pete Stanton’s letter for a solution that respects everyone’s rights. It’s quite simple:

      1. Mark the boundaries: install signs on the property line along Green Hills

      2. Secure student safety: extend the existing fence along the field closest to the school, running it past the north end of the track to Valley Forge Rd. creating a controllable perimeter, and reroute the community paths outside the new perimeter.

      3. Respect Chesterbrook and Tredyffrin’s paths and sidewalk plan: extend the path near the restroom building at VFMS to Valley Forge Rd. Put the fence on the inside of the sidewalk along Valley Forge Rd., maintaining public access to that sidewalk.

      4. Save taxpayers–voters–money: Spend a fraction of the cost of the original fencing plan, and avoid further legal expenses. Taxpayers –voters–are paying both sides of thIs.

      5. Be a good neighbor: Honor your legal agreements and create a solution where everyone wins.

      See the link in Pete Stanton’s letter above to a map with this Green Line plan that respects everyone’s rights.

  4. It was predictable… The Facilities Chairman has once again shown his arrogance toward those that may not have the same opinion as he does — listen you that would question me — I will now have a 6 foot fence installed by your properties only…. SO THERE.

  5. The total lack of consideration shown by this School Board and Administration toward residents and taxpayers should be shocking – except that it is part of a pattern that is by now all but expected. Control of a $120+ million budget has gone to some SB members’ heads. Thankfully, Facilities Czar Pete Motel is leaving the Board. Yay! He has imposed his personal vision on residents and taxpayers for 16 years. Enough already! A dermatologist and architects -in-residence- are calling the shots, and the majority of SB members continue to defer to them. Hundreds of thousands of dollars for fences (it will end up being much more than budgeted by the time the legal wrangling is over), over $3 million for the palace of all storage sheds, and $24 million in new borrowing for capital spending that needs to be spent in the next 3-5 years. Some residents have tried to see the plans, get the numbers and weigh in. But the lack of transparency and downright hostility are shocking. So is the small number of residents paying attention and weighing in. The SB and Administrations counts on your continued apathy.

    As several SB members have said publicly, “You elected us to make decisions. If you don’t like them, don’t re-elect us.” Exactly.

    With only one incumbent – SB president Kris Graham – and three open seats in Tredyffrin and one in Easttown, we have a real opportunity to change the tone and direction of this Board. Residents need to weigh in with the SB AND the Township on their concerns on fencing and giant storage sheds in residential neighborhoods.

    And they need to commit themselves to VOTE FOR CHANGE.

    1. your commentary is right on, T/E parent. The shenanigans at the School Board must stop. In particular, this Kris Graham, who is Chesterbrook’s rep on the School Board, should NOT be re-elected should the planned fencing project goes through..Apathy, which I agree is a problem, will be replaced by activism to get these anti-community jokers out of any position of power. Moderates like Michele Burger need to be elected in order to change the tone of this dysfunctional School Board.

  6. The proposed fencing plan doesn’t only affect Green Hills residents’ use of public paths, should the district decide to lock the gates (which Pete Motel said the district has the right to do any time in the future). The value of the homes along the fence will decrease, thus lowering the value of all other homes in the community. Has anyone asked members of the school board, in particular Pete Motel, if they would like a chain link fence a few feet from their backyards?

  7. Yes it does seem that this is being done out of spite, based on contempt or a grudge to hurt tax payers and homeowners in Green Hills and cause them to suffer pain without justification or sound reason. Why is it important to mark the property lines for the school district. Tax payers own the land the school district is on. Tax payers fund the budget that pays for the school district to operate. The tax paying residents of Green Hills, especially the abutters’ opinions should carry more weight than anyone elses opinion.

    Why are they doing this?

  8. The SB need to realize that TESD is a public school, it is funded by the residents and is there to serve the residents. SB members are elected by residents to do what the residents want, not the other way around. Charter of a public school is to provide education to the kids and, while doing it, protecting them from harm. Setting up a fence for safety reason is understandable. Spending tax dollar to set up an ugly fence simply to “mark the property line” is absurd. Not to mention that it also blocks the community passageway that has existed for many years. The SB must understand that the school is not “private” and should not fence itself up from the neighbors for a non-safety reason. As many have already pointed it out, positioning the fence based on the current plan is the worst you can imaging from a safety point of view, because it is so hidden and away from the school. It should be moved closer to the school to a visible and controllable area. If the SB has a deep desire to mark the school property line – for a reason I don’t see here, then it needs to find a cheaper and acceptable way to do it, definitely not an ugly and intrusive fence.

  9. According to TESD website, Pete Motel is chair of the Facilities Committee and other SB members are Kevin Buraks, Virginia Lastner and Liz Mercogliano. Patty states that Kris Graham attended the meeting in place of Virginia. I’d bet real money that these people never walked the VFMS-Green Hills property line, or at least not recently. What about the other SB members – Scott Dorsey, Karen C., Jim Bruce, Doug Carlson. Did they go and see the fencing location? Doubt it.

    The people making money off the TE School District are the attorneys and the architects. First the architect designs the project and then has to go with the attorneys to defend the projects. I dont know how Daley & Jalboot Architects would survive if not for the endless TESD projects! Then there is all the billable hours of the educational lawyer Ken Roos and the real estate lawyer from Saul Ewing at the front end of the projects and then the hours defending the SB projects. All of these professional fees go back to the taxpayer! The TE SB kingdom needs to be abolished.

    1. Of the nine people serving on the school board, I know that Liz Mercogliano and Scott Dorsey did visit Green Hills during the the last week.

      1. Kris Graham, SB president, also told me that she walked the site last that’s 3 confirmed; others who knows?

    2. An excellent point VFMS neighbor, that I have been writing about and talking about for years. As they say, follow the money—– you will see who controls District Business. The only segments to receive (big) pay increases the last few years, are Administrators and lawyers and Architects. And it is clear they are the very people Board members rely on to justify actions that serve no good purpose to the tax payer or to the students.

      As T/E Parent so aptly stated:

      But the lack of transparency and downright hostility are shocking. So is the small number of residents paying attention and weighing in.


      With only one incumbent – SB president Kris Graham – and three open seats in Tredyffrin and one in Easttown, we have a real opportunity to change the tone and direction of this Board. Residents need to weigh in with the SB AND the Township on their concerns on fencing and giant storage sheds in residential neighborhoods.

      And they need to commit themselves to VOTE FOR CHANGE.

      1. Lets not forget about the boatloads of TE taxpayer funds flowing into the coffers of the New Holland Fence Company.. The owners of this company must dedicate wings of their houses to the never ending flow of cash coming our School District..they keep getting project after project handed to them by our School Board…Who are these guys anyway??!!

  10. As a neighbor directly affected by the school board’s plan to install a fence around TE Middle, I was invited to attend a private meeting for those residents hosted by school board member Dr. Pete Motel (R) who appears to be driving the bus on this attempt to fence in the property. Other members in attendance were Kris Graham (R), Liz Mercogliano (R) and Kevin Buraks (D).
    Dr. Motel in a typically patronizing fashion once again demonstrated both an unwillingness to listen to the concerns of citizens and an insistence on merely reiterating over and over again his position as if counseled by an attorney. Rather than show even a hint of understanding of the people he is supposed to represent, Motel demonstrated an uncanny ability to take an easily compromised situation and push it further off the cliff that ultimately will result in increased expense for the school district and a heightened tension between the school and its neighbors.
    Besides the School Board’s choice to ignore previous “good faith” agreements with its neighbors, their arrogance regarding the situation is infuriating. Luckily we all get the opportunity to vote.

  11. I can’t imagine ANY security professional suggesting a plan like this since the chances of such a fence keeping out a mentally ill person hell bent on getting in is unlikely.

    Our school board insists on wasteful and irresponsible spending. Not only are they wasteful but the fact that these fences decrease the value of every property they abut means that they are decreasing their own tax base.

  12. I submit a Motion to the Board the dedicate the fence at the VFMS as the Peter Motel memorial — as a thank you for his years of service.
    Has anyone noticed the new signage on the Elementary schools fences — stating that the fence is the property of the SB and that it is at least 3 feet from the property line. Please explain the need here and why the expenditure….

  13. I don’t understand. If there is an agreement that prevents the building of a fence, how can this fence be built?

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