We just learned that the Toll Brothers deal for the 85 townhouses on the Doyle-McDonnell Nursery property has been tabled – thank you Caroline O’Halloran for the update! Now we learn that T/E School District has decided to vote on whether to acquire the 13 acres through eminent domain. Special meeting — Thursday, Nov. 14, 6 PM (see notice from District website below).
I do not understand … In light of the possible acquisition of the Doyle property, why would the District NOT completely review the high school expansion plans? You read the District notice and it clearly states that the acquisition would not impact the timeline for the high school expansion plans. Why not? With a $40 million price tag, ALL options should be thoroughly reviewed and considered! I’m all for the purchase of the Doyle property but ONLY if it’s part of the expansion plans. This is taxpayer money!
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Hah! Just after I write a comment that it would be worth TESD making a case for the site, there it is! I don’t see that it would be impossible to keep to the building addition timetable and at the same time pause the parking lot expansion. I understand that fill from the building site was going to be used for the parking lot, but surely that could be modified.
Not only could the mature trees in the proposed parking lot site be saved, but wouldn’t it be nice if all the worthwhile nursery trees could find new homes?
From the Agenda for the special meeting:
WHEREAS, the Board of School Directors, in addition to or as an alternative to exercising the power of eminent domain, also authorizes the superintendent of the District, (the “Superintendent”) to enter into, an agreement in connection with the acquisition of the Property, including the payment of an amount not to exceed $2,125,000;
All the history recently offered here is interesting, but perhaps a focus on the upcoming decision will also be helpful – if a little nerdy….
Notable that the District has to spin the situation:
“The property … is under agreement of sale with Toll Brothers to develop a high-density residential property of up to 85 units”.
Of course the odds of the BOS allowing a zoning change for that are slim to none.
Re the Resolution: it allows for eminent domain (with no value given) or negotiated acquisition for no more than $2.125 million. Maybe others can tell us if the two options would have different values, but I guess not. I don’t know where that figure comes from, but here’s some arithmetic for a sanity check on whether the district would be getting value for its use of taxpayer dollars:
R1 zoning provides for a minimum 30,000 sq ft (0.7 acres) lot size, so let’s say with roads and all the 13.2 acres is enough for 15 houses. The lots on the adjacent houses on Wooded Way are assessed at an average $70,872; those (same 0.77 acre size) on Cassatt Road at $109,385. (Which is itself an interesting commentary on the current state of the County’s assessments; total property assessments for houses on the two roads are much closer).
So, multiplying those assessed values by 15 suggests that the land for a sub-division there would be assessed at somewhere between $1.1 and $1.65 million. Dividing that by the County’s Common Level Ratio of 49.6% suggests a market value of $2.2 to $3.6 million.
So, if the Board has a sense that $2.125 million is the price, that at least passes this very simple value test.
Also, while we’re on arithmetic. 15 properties at $600,000 market value (?) generates ~$107,000 in taxes. 15 properties might generate 25 students (or more?). The full cost to educate a student in T/E is ~$21,000, so let’s say the marginal cost is 70% of that – $15,000, or $367,000 for the 25. So the district is ahead by $260,000 by buying the property, or nearly $200,000 after paying ~3% interest on the $2.125 million. I’m making many simplifying assumptions and ignoring transfer taxes, but this looks like a good deal?
It will not take “considerable time” to purchase the property. The “taking” of the property is almost instantaneous with the filing of the appropriate papers with the court. The district can own the property within a week of the vote. The only further decision that may be in dispute and could go to trial is the fair purchase price. But regardless of whether the price is in dispute, the district will own the property and can develop it at will while the court takes its time to determine the sales price.
I can see no downside to purchasing the property. The funds will come out of the General Fund fund balance which currently has over $28M. Let’s suppose the purchase price is $5M. It makes no difference if the district has $28M in cash or $23M in cash with ownership of a property worth $5M.
As an aside – the $28M is supposedly ALL committed to other activities such as PSERS, Healthcare Contingency, Subsequent Years Budget and Capital Projects. But the amounts are highly suspect and need close inspection by someone who isn’t blinded by the administration.
Given his personal accounting style, it may take the business manager “considerable time”!
Keith is correct — the fund balance cannot be set aside for any ongoing budget issues. It is the part that smoothes the curves, not hides money. And yes — capital projects in future years — I think those priorities can and will change if the opportunity to acquire the land is now.
So it’s my understanding that the expansion is being driven by changing demographics and the district needs to accommodate an influx of students in the next couple years. However, I agree with Pattye that this very expensive project should be put on hold while the Board and community thoughtfully consider options associated with acquiring the nursery. Modular buildings could be used in the meantime.
Regarding the proposed parking lot, the community has been told by Michele Burger in several meetings that it needs to be built to comply with a Township Zoning ordinance. No other reasons for the lot were given. I bet the Township Zoning Hearing Board would grant the District a waiver from the ordinance if asked. If granted, the District/taxpayers would save $1.5 million dollars and 200 large trees, and neighbors wouldn’t be subjected to an increase in traffic and storm-water runoff. I understand that affects student parking, but that’s something I can live with.
I just wrote a whole bunch before this was posted — so I will update to confirm a bit. The parking and paving requirements are 85% driven by the township (once the size of the building is approved at the state level). Read my previous post about why we considered the land before and why we ultimately backed off. There is no substitute for owning the land, and the district absolutely should go forward to acquire it. The Fund Balance is precisely for that purpose, especially in light of the way the current Business Manager predicts revenue and expenses. But as to holding off on going forward, I will personally ask that you yield to the information already developed about population growth. Partnership with the township to come to a conclusion about how to accomodate parking is possible — and as I said earlier, the right to park at the facility is only guaranteed to employees, not students. We provide busses. (My earlier post shared some of the background there too). Good luck from Sunny Savannah. Want to see schools struggle — come see what “modular options” do to community morale….and pride.
The parking question through the township is on the Zoning Boards meeting agenda for Nov 20th.
By all means, buy the Nursery! Do the math. The School District will save money. With 85 homes, assume 40 new students (very conservative). At an estimated annual cost of $18,000 per student, the savings in the first year would be $720,000. Over 13 years, a whopping 9,360.000.
This underscores the cost of permitting new high density homes with even one student.
Acquisition of the property should be a high priority if available. The land will not cost less in the future, and could fall to alternative development if not purchased by the school district. The High School will need more space due to student needs, renovations, updates, etc in the future, and having this property will certainly aid in such plans. Also would encourage a hold on the expansion pending this purchase to reevaluate the possibilities for how to move the high school into the future.
so you are all for the school district buying the property but, that was after you were all against the school district buying it several years ago . Got it, makes perfect sense.
Back when I went to Conestoga High School, most everyone took the bus or walked. The teachers and a few seniors drove. And why are we paying for buses, too, if everyone is going to drive and park their car in the new parking lot???
Folks were against acquiring the land under eminent domain because the owner riled up the community to protect his “ little bit of heaven in Berwyn.” The district accepted his determination to maintain the business model. Now that he wants to sell, the district MUST acquire the only land adjacent to the only high school in a community of 50,000 residents. Anyone opposed now is — in a word- clueless.
Oh my, we are so special that the modular option would be life altering? Come on now. There were modular units at the VF elementary school several years ago, and everyone survived. It’s time the district thought through the actions of expansion with all options considered, and those options change dramatically if the land would be acquired.