Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Richter tract

Discussion Continues on Tredyffrin’s Proposed Stormwater Overlay District Ordinance

A continuation of the Public Hearing on the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance followed this week’s Board of Supervisors Meeting. Click here for the June 2012 revised ordinance.

A group of 35 resident volunteers, have been working with the township staff and the potential developer of the Richter tract, Joe Duckworth, on revisions to the proposed new zoning ordinance. (For earlier discussions and specifics of Duckworth’s proposed plans for the property, enter Richter in the search tool on the home page of Community Matters.)

As part of the proposed overlay district, large storm water basins would be included on the Walker Road side of the property – access to the property would be from Old Eagle School and Swedesford Road. Although Duckworth has not submitted official plans, his proposal contains twin carriage houses and townhouses on the property for this property.

The resident volunteers, the Working Group, in conjunction with Duckworth and township staff, has significantly updated the original ordinance. Tom Colman presented comments from the Working Group, and Jeff Kosterich offered specific comments from the storm water sub-group. Based on their remarks, Colman and Kosterich suggest that although the updated draft ordinance is more satisfactory, residents feel that further modifications required before it should pass.

The Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance would be applicable to all areas in the township located in the Trout Creek Watershed. The Working Group was composed primarily of Glenhardie residents. The Richter tract is located in the Glenhardie neighborhood and because Duckworth’s development would most affect this section of the township, they are the ones with the louder voices on this issue. Although different zoning changes required, in some respects, the proposed storm water overlay district ordinance is no different from how the proposed C-1 zoning change which would allow an assisted living facility in the Daylesford section of the township. Although both the proposed Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District and the C-1 assisted living zoning change are tied to specific projects (Richter tract and Ed Morris’ assisted living project) should these zoning changes be approved, they are applicable to all the township. My point … all residents owe it to themselves to be ‘up to speed’ on these two important proposed zoning changes, regardless if you live in the Glenhardie or Daylesford areas of the township.

As the designated representative for the Working Group, Colman asked that three specific issues be considered in conjunction with the proposed Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District ordinance.

  1. Accountability Measures: The residents would like assurances that once the storm water basins are designed and implemented that there is accountability for ongoing maintenance and continued functionality. They suggest that the township adopt an official policy for accountability to prevent the risk to residents of failed storm water basins after installation. It was reported that Duckworth has agreed to an accountability policy that would be applicable to all developers in the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay District. I agree that there should be a township policy (and enforcement); otherwise why bother to require storm water basins in any future land development plans.
  1. Communication/Notification Policies, Practices and Procedures on Zoning-impact Matters: The conclusion from the Working Group members was that the Township is too lax on communicating information to those residents most impacted by zoning issues. If you recall, many of the Glenhardie neighbors were not notified of the proposed Richter plan development project which caused much unnecessary angst in the community. Similarly, we have seen the same lack of communication in the proposed assisted living project and C-1 zoning change in the Daylesford neighborhood of the township. When there is a neighborhood directly impacted by a zoning change there should be specific guidelines for notification and an explanation of the process for the residents. Many township residents are not aware of the processes required for land development plans and zoning changes that may be required for projects in the township. Communicating the Township process and the relationship of the Planning Commission, Zoning Hearing Board, supervisors and township staff could be helpful to residents.
  1. Storm Water Action Team: The Working Group suggests that the township develop a plan to address the township’s storm water problems. As Colman explained, “Too many areas of Tredyffrin are enduring repeated damage, hardship and risk to life and property when we get even modest rainfall. It’s time to identify specific, measurable objectives, timelines, resources, and responsibilities to address this problem in a proactive way … This is not an issue like shade trees or pothole repairs; lives are at risk. We need a real plan, and we need it now.”

Traditionally there has been a real reluctance in this township to increase taxes, so it was interesting to note that the Working Group offered their own suggestion for funding storm water solutions. On a personal note, I don’t know how much longer the ‘no tax increase’ mantra can continue around here … due to increasing expenses and decreasing revenues, supervisors have been forced in recent budgets cycles to cut township staff (among other expense reductions) in an attempt to avoid a tax increase. As residents, we have watched as township services have continued to decline. I use Wilson Farm Park as an example … once the jewel of the township and an award-winning municipal park design, it is very sad to see how overgrown it now looks. Wilson Farm Park’s current condition is no doubt a direct result of the personnel and funding cuts to the Public Works department in recent Township budget cycles.

In the case of the proposed Richter development, the developer (Duckworth) indicates a willingness to pay for the cost of necessary storm water improvement. However, the storm water problem and costly solutions is more significant in the Township than could be resolved through the development of the Richter tract. The Working Group suggests that the approximate $250K yearly tax revenue from the proposed Richter tract development go towards the funding of a substantial bond issue.

Personally, I would like to see the supervisors create a resident volunteer group to review the idea for a township storm water utility. Operating much like an electric or water utility, the storm water utility would collect fees related to the control and treatment of storm water that could be used to fund a municipal storm water management program in the township. Based on Jeff Kosterich’s remarks that a number of engineers and storm water professionals living in the Glenhardie community volunteered their expertise on the storm water sub-committee, why not continue to tap into these valuable volunteer resources? Our township is rich in its wealth of accomplished, educated residents; why not utilize volunteers to help solve the storm water funding problem.

The next step for the Trout Creek Stormwater Overlay ordinance process is a review of the ordinance update by the Planning Commission. My understanding is that the ordinance then moves to the Chester County Planning Commission for review and comments. Following the county review, the ordinance returns to the township supervisors, presumably in time for the July Board of Supervisors meeting for further discussion and possible vote.

Understanding the Trout Creek Overlay Ordinance … More Complex than a Wawa or an Apartment Building

I attended Monday night’s marathon 3+ hour public hearing and Board of Supervisors meeting. The main event of the night was the public hearing and resident comments in regards to a zoning ordinance amendment that would develop a Trout Creek Overlay district. (Here is a link to the meeting video).

There was much to take in from the meeting and I have struggled to ‘wrap my head around’ the details of the proposed zoning ordinance amendment, affects the development project and storm water improvements may have on the community, misinformation and a degree of confusion among some residents. Part of the confusion about the project is in the labeling – although the township information refers to it as the ‘Trout Creek Overlay’ proposal, the problem is that unless you attend Planning Commission meetings, local residents may not have initially recognized it was the ‘Richter’ tract and its possible development was discussion.

The Richter tract is 36 acres located at Swedesford, Old Eagle School and Walker Roads in the Glenhardie/Wayne area of the township. Currently, twenty-six acres of the property is zoned R-1 residential district and the remaining ten acres is zoned ‘professional’ district. R-1 zoning permits single-family homes and with special exception house conversion to multi-family dwelling. The Professional zoning district permits office or professional buildings.

The proposed zoning ordinance amendment to develop an overlay district in the Trout Creek Watershed is more than just about the development of the Richter tract; although the Richter tract is the largest undeveloped property in the Trout Creek Watershed. As the economy improves, there may be opportunities for future redevelopment projects in the township. Therefore, this proposed zoning ordinance amendment change could be used elsewhere in the Trout Creek Overlay district as an incentive for developers.

As an example, we recently learned that the US Postal Service will consolidate postal services and the Southeastern PO distribution center will close in May. The Southeastern PO location could become a future redevelopment area that might benefit from the proposed zoning amendment. Click here to see the Trout Creek Watershed map and what areas would be potentially affected by the proposed zoning ordinance.

The reasoning behind the creation of a Trout Creek Overlay district is to provide for public stormwater improvements on development projects in the Trout Creek Watershed district. (Area as identified on the Trout Creek Watershed map).

Back to the Richter property — this appears to be the guiding force behind the proposed zoning ordinance amendment. The way I see it, there are four major groups of players in this specific development project – the developer Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company, the Glenhardie area residents, township Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Anyone living in Tredyffrin, knows that there are major stormwater issues all around the township and those problems are long-standing. In addition, the township has been working on solutions to the flooding problems in the Glenhardie area for years. The challenge for the township is that a number of large properties are needed for stormwater management facilities that would hold back runoff during heavy rain, thereby reducing the volume of water downstream into Trout Creek. However, the real problem is how to come up with long-term solutions, particularly in an economy where money is not easily available.

If the township does not have the necessary resources for stormwater management, and if the residents are not interested in paying increased taxes … what is the solution for stormwater problems? One idea is to offer incentives to developers in exchange for increased stormwater management components in their land development projects. I believe it was that specific objective, which drove the Planning Commissioners to create the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment. To be clear, I do not think that the proposed zoning amendment was some kind of quixotic effort on the part of the Planning Commissioners to encourage a specific development project. But rather the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment was a time-consuming, thoroughly discussed plan to encourage development but to also aid in stormwater management.

As an aside to the Planning Commission process to develop the Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment, is the Richter property developer – Joe Duckworth and Arcadia Land Company. Attending various Planning Commission meetings, I have found Duckworth to be very community-minded and responsive to all questions and concerns related to the development of the Richter tract. However, those discussions were about carriage homes and/or townhouses on the residential parcel of the Richter property.

In reviewing their website, Arcadia Land Company has developed some beautiful residential properties – places that would be very well suited for Tredyffrin Township and our residents. Arcadia Land describes their company as “Town Builders and Land Stewards”, and further states, “Arcadia’s approach to town building has been influenced by the New Urbanism and the conservation development movement. New Urbanism is a movement that promotes compact, walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods as a positive alternative to low-density, automobile-oriented, single-use development. New Urbanism supports both the revitalization and expansion of existing centers as well as the creation of new neighborhoods.”

Obviously, this wonderfully progressive planning language also needs to be tempered by local community and the resident’s needs (or desires). My sense is that many of the local Richter property residents could accept (maybe even embrace) a beautiful carriage house/townhouse community. What a great option for residents who want to downsize from large homes but continue to live in Tredyffrin! Moreover, according to Duckworth, this project would include a costly and involved stormwater plan that would contain a 6-8 acre stormwater basin. It should be noted that the stormwater issues in Tredyffrin are dramatic and it would be an overstatement to suggest that the Richter tract development would completely ‘fix’ the Trout Creek stormwater issues. But an improvement, nonetheless.

However, enter the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning amendment change, and the beautiful carriage house/townhouse community concept planned for the Richter tract takes a back seat to the possible commercial use of the ten acres currently zoned ‘professional’. The proposed zoning change would extend the usage of this parcel to include retail stores with accessory gas (Wawa) and apartment buildings, among others.

Herein lies the problem – many of us have a vision of a huge Wawa facility, like is found on Rt. 29 in Malvern. However, the Wawa site was built in a field next to Route 202 versus a residential location. As was pointed out at Monday’s meeting, these multi-function gas stations are the real estate model for Wawa. Rationalizing that perhaps Wawa would consider some small residential-friendly gas station instead of a commercial giant, I was willing to wait for the project design. But when I heard there was discussion of possibly building a 250-unit apartment complex on the 10-acre site, there was no way that I could support that concept. For one reason, our school district simply cannot bear the number of additional students such a project could represent. In a letter presented to the Board of Supervisors on Monday night from the T/E school district, they said just that – they could not afford to have the additional students in the district from a large apartment complex.

The stretch of Old Eagle School Road between Swedesford and Walker Rds is short but significant — home to Valley Friends Meeting and their cemetery. Lewis Walker, one of the earliest settlers in Tredyffrin, and one of the founding members of this Meeting, left to Friends in the Valley the 18th century property on which his family burial ground was located, now the burial grounds of Valley Meeting. Several members of Valley Friends Meeting attended the public hearing and presented a poignant history of the building and the cemetery. The Valley Friends Meeting presents another reason for us to pause as we consider appropriate development for that area.

Whether the proposed development for the 10-acre corner site is a Wawa or an apartment building, the concern from the Glenhardie neighbors goes beyond a NIMBY (not in my backyard) attitude. Their concerns about additional traffic in the area are real. Then there is the issue about stormwater management – is the neighborhood helped more from an 8-acre stormwater basin or hurt more from the development of the property? Some local residents suggest that as the Swedesford Road corridor between Gateway and the new Wegmans has developed, so has the stormwater problems.

I would ask for some kind of middle ground on this project – understanding that the Richter tract is a premier building site and that the owners of the property have rights, should we not also show consideration for the Glenhardie neighbors, Valley Friends Meeting and what is best for the entire community, including the school district.

In closing, I want to address the Board of Supervisors and how I view their participation in this process. I understand how upset many in the Glenhardie area are over this proposed zoning change for the Richter property. I live in the Great Valley but my husband and I have owned an investment condo in Glenhardie for almost twenty years, so I have more than a passing interest in this project. As a Glenhardie condo owner, I know first hand the Trout Creek stormwater issues and the ongoing attempts to resolve the water problems.

But upon reflection of Monday’s public hearing, I feel compelled to defend the supervisors. It was apparent by some of the resident’s comments, that there are those that think the supervisors have made some kind of ‘backroom deal’ with Duckworth with regards to the development of the Richter property. If you believe that has happened, I would suggest that you are incorrect.

It was the Planning Commissioners who wrote the proposed Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and submitted it to the Board of Supervisors for review. I am not suggesting that the supervisors did not talk to Duckworth – some probably have, as well as Mimi Gleason and Steve Burgo. In fact, supervisor Mike Heaberg often attends Planning Commission meetings where Duckworth attended. But folks, there is a difference between supervisors having individual discussions with a developer versus the suggestion that some kind of backroom deal has been made. Chair Michelle Kichline’s response to some of the resident’s accusations was measured but absolute; no deal has been made between the Board of Supervisors and Duckworth. And I believe her.

However, maybe Phil Donohue, the middle district supervisor could, have lessened some of the confusion of Monday night, with a better resident outreach program. At-large supervisors (Michelle Kichline, Kristen Mayock, EJ Richter, and Mike Heaberg) have a township wide responsibility versus the district supervisors (John DiBuonaventuro, Paul Olson and Phil Donohue) who are elected and represent residents in a specific area of the township. Not that the district supervisors should not be involved in township wide issues; but they should have specific focus on the western, middle or eastern districts, which they represent. Perhaps some of the circus-like atmosphere of Monday night could have been avoided (or at least lessened) with an ongoing dialogue between residents and the middle district supervisor Phil Donohue. I look forward to better communication in the future.

Before any decisions or votes can be taken, there is obviously going to be much more public discussion about the Trout Creek Overlay zoning ordinance and the Richter tract and its development. As suggested, there will be a community meeting on Thursday, March 8, 7 pm in the Tredyffrin Township Building to discuss stormwater and flooding problems along Trout Creek. Stephen Burgo, Township Engineer, will present results of a 2010 study of the watershed and recommendations for improvements.

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