Pattye Benson

Community Matters

stormwater management

Do You Live in Tredyffrin Township and Struggle with Stormwater Issues? Plan to Attend: Public Forum of the Resident Stormwater Task Force on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 7 PM

If you are a Tredyffrin Township resident dealing with stormwater issues (and aren’t we all?), please plan to attend the first public form of the Stormwater Task Force on Tuesday, January 7, 7 PM at Tredyffrin Township building. Tredyffrin supervisors authorized the citizens’ Stormwater Advisory Task Force to assist the township in characterizing stormwater problems and recommending solutions. At the meeting on Tuesday, the Task Force will provide some background to stormwater in the township and lay out its goals and approach and ask for resident input.

The Task Force is primarily collecting data about stormwater problems through an on-line survey. Residents can go to: to enter information into the comprehensive Township wide database. If you have general questions, you can email the Task Force at:

Given that many of our neighborhoods regularly deal with major stormwater issues, a citizen-led township Stormwater Task Force is needed and much-appreciated. Nobody knows a community better than its residents.

A recent example is the proposed parking lot on Irish Road which is part of the Conestoga High School expansion project. The parking lot plan requires the removal of many trees from its wooded lot. We know that rainwater does not percolate into impervious surfaces but runs off instead. Impervious surface is the primary contributor to stormwater runoff and is a major contributor to flooding.

Residents in the high school area (particularly Irish Road, Lizbeth Lane and Oak Lane) have suffered with major stormwater and flooding issues for years – if you know the area, many homes in the neighborhood sit downhill from the proposed high school expansion project and parking lot. Such a large land development project, which includes the removal of many trees, is certain to impact a community already impacted by stormwater runoff problems and stormwater issues.

Residents township wide are experiencing severe stormwater issues – from Glenhardie, Deepdale and Strafford Park areas to the Pennsylvania Turnpike neighbors in the Great Valley and anyone in the township living close to the Trout and Valley Creek watersheds. If you are experiencing stormwater issues, you are encouraged to attend the meeting on Tuesday and make your concerns known. Neighbors cannot afford further damage and possible devaluation of property as a result of severe runoff issues.

Let’s work together with the citizens’ Stormwater Task Force to help mitigate and prevent flooding and erosion of our properties!

No Planning Commission Approval for $40 Million Conestoga High School Expansion Project … Proposed Parking Lot Major Stumbling Block … Residents Voice Objections

I attended the Planning Commission meeting last night specifically for high school expansion plan — T/E School District was seeking preliminary/final land development approval for the project. The District tried to sell their proposed high school expansion plan, which includes the removal of 200 trees from a wooded lot for a 128 space parking lot on Irish Road. The District came armed with their experts – consultant, architect, stormwater, traffic, attorney and the business manager Art McDonnell.

The neighbors to the proposed project did their homework were organized and prepared to battle back – including two transportation engineers from the neighborhood! The majority of the residents supported the high school expansion project itself; it was the proposed parking lot that was their focus – and the associated stormwater, traffic, safety, environmental, etc. issues. Once again, I was impressed by our community members!

Throughout the to and fro of the three hours of debate, certain facts became clear – (1) the lack of notification to the neighbors of meetings, specifically the Zoning Hearing Board meeting; (2) unclear information about the retaining wall, no specifics and height range of 3 ft. to 10 ft.; (3) a debate of actual need/use of parking lot, whether for staff or students; (4) opposing traffic study information between District and residents; and (5) outdated CHS expansion plans on District website. Many residents complained bitterly that the District and School Board had rushed to approve the expansion plan without adequate input from the community.

I stayed until 10 PM but the discussion continued until 11 PM. I have since learned that the Planning Commission did NOT grant preliminary/final land development approval on the project; several of the planning commissioners voicing personal concern about the parking lot, associated issues and unanswered questions. As I understand it the upshot was that the District needed to re-design the parking lot, specifically reducing the number of parking spaces and perhaps moving the lot closer to the school – this would lessen the number of trees to be removed.

The change to the number of parking spaces will require the District to go back to the Zoning Hearing Board (Wednesday, Nov. 20) and back to the Planning Commission (Thursday, Nov. 21). For those who attended the Planning Commission last night, I encourage you to add to the commentary.

Although the vast majority of residents in attendance at the Planning Commission meeting support the high school expansion project (just not the parking lot), as I mentioned there are some in the community who feel that proposed plan was push through too quickly and without sufficient community input.

One community member who feels the value (and associated costs) of the high school project needs scrutiny is Neal Colligan, a resident and commercial real estate expert. Neal attended the District’s Facility meeting earlier this week and offers the following op-ed:

I was at the Facilities Committee the other night and wanted to share some of my thoughts on the proposed budget for the High School expansion renovation. As a “real estate” guy; I’m trying to put this into the context of commercial real estate costs/values. We’re lucky to have something to compare this to in the local community as the Woodlynde School is doing a similar expansion at this time and they’ve shared some information on their website. Let’s look at these two projects:

Woodlynde – Their expansion project will deliver: a new glass-enclosed atrium; a dining hall/program/performance space (168 people expandable to 256); 6 classrooms; a music studio; an emerging technology space; 4 new flex offices; 3 learning centers; a faculty lounge and 70 new parking spots with re-designed traffic flows. That’s 17 new spaces for learning and that project is underway today. Total costs $10.8 MM.

Conestoga – This expansion includes a glass-enclosed atrium; 11 new classrooms; 3 Special Education classrooms; 4 science labs; 1 FCS room; 1 art room; 7 flex rooms and 128 parking spaces. That’s 27 new learning spaces. The cost for this project is $39.6 MM.

While never truly “Apples to Apples”-this is pretty close as both projects are being built in Tredyffrin on land already owned by the institution. To be fair in comparison, the Conestoga project includes $6 MM in upgrades to other parts of the High School so we should look at total costs of $33.6 MM. I don’t know how many square feet Woodlynde is adding so I can’t really compare on a SF basis. We can compare in other ways. Per learning space: Woodlynde – $635,294/space; Conestoga – $1,244,444/space. On an absolute cost basis, the Conestoga project is 3X the cost of the Woodlynde project. Conestoga will end up with 1.6 X new learning spaces and 1.8 X the number of parking spaces.

The question is: are we getting VALUE? At a cost of $33.6 MM for 64,446 SF of new space: the per SF cost is $521/SF. This is an eye-catching number in commercial real estate. A project at 7 Tower Bridge was recently announced in Conshohocken. At $112 MM for 260,000 SF of Class A office or $431/SF- this will be one of (if not THE) most expensive projects in the Philadelphia suburbs ever. But, there’s good reason, the largest Philadelphia investment bank has agreed to lease half of the building at, likely, the highest rental rate in the region. That’s economics driving the cost of the project.

What’s driving the costs of the Conestoga High School project and IS this the right amount to spend? It’s easy to get numb to the numbers … $30 million, $35 million, $40 million … they’re just numbers BUT they’re BIG numbers. Who’s in charge of being the governor on these costs? The architect/engineer is normally paid on a percentage of total cost … they’re not the governor. The Administration? What’s their responsibility to control costs; they want NICE stuff? The Board? Their conversations have focused on needs and design and additions to the plan. So … who’s looking at the all-in costs? Who’s comparing this to what “Real Estate” should cost?

Final Land Development Approval Sought at Planning Commission Meeting on Thursday, Oct. 17 for High School Expansion Plan + Proposed Parking Lot on Irish Road — Will Stormwater Runoff be Adequately Managed for the Neighborhood?

On the Tredyffrin Township Planning Commission agenda for Thursday, Oct. 17, 7 PM is the preliminary/final land development application for the Conestoga High School expansion. The proposal expands the existing high school (216,000 sq. ft.) with a two story addition (approx. 40,500 sq. ft.)

For those that live in the area of the high school, this is an important meeting to attend — as another component of the T/E School District’s expansion plan includes a new parking lot (with 128 spaces) on Irish Road plus a bus pull-off.

We know that rainwater does not percolate into impervious surfaces but runs off instead. The proposed parking lot requires the removal of many trees from its wooded lot. Imperious surface is the primary contributor to stormwater runoff and is a major contributor to flooding … what stormwater impact can neighbors expect as a result of the proposed parking lot? Will the stormwater runoff from the parking lot be adequately managed? And going forward, who has oversight of the stormwater situation once the parking lot is completed – the school district or the township?

Residents in the high school area (particularly Irish Road, Lizbeth Lane and Oak Lane) have suffered with major stormwater and flooding issues for years – if you know the area, many homes in the neighborhood sit downhill from the proposed high school expansion project and parking lot. Such a large land development project, which includes the removal of many trees, is certain to impact a community already impacted by stormwater runoff problems and stormwater issues.

Residents are encouraged to attend the Planning Commission and make their concerns known. Mitigating and preventing flooding and erosion of their properties must include stormwater runoff as a critical part of the approval of the high school expansion project, particularly the parking lot component. Neighbors cannot afford further damage and possible devaluation of property as a result of severe stormwater runoff issues.

In addition to increased stormwater runoff issues related to the proposed parking lot on Irish Road – residents need to bring their safety, traffic, lighting, etc. concerns to the Planning Commission meeting. The proposed expansion plan and parking lot needs to be fully vetted by the planning commissioners before granting final land development approval.

How many assisted living facilities does Tredyffrin Township need/want? Is the idea “build it and they will come”?

Another proposal for an assisted living facility in Tredyffrin Township is on the Planning Commission agenda for Thursday, December 20 – this time its Russell Road in Paoli.

My first thought is how many assisted living facilities is enough? For many years, the township only had one – Highgate at Paoli Point with 80 apartments.

Then came the community battle over the long-abandoned Jimmy Duffy property on Lancaster Avenue in Berwyn and the subsequent construction of Daylesford Crossing, a 3-story assisted living facility by Sage Senior Living which opened August 2015 with 93 apartments.

The approval for the Daylesford Crossing project was a long, drawn out process in 2012 which required a text amendment to zoning to permit senior living facilities as a by-right use in C-1 (commercial) zoning. It was argued at the time that the zoning change to C-1 was ‘spot-zoning’ to accommodate this specific project. Others, including myself, questioned what this change would mean for future C-1 development in the township.

Meeting with success with the development of Daylesford Crossing, Sage Senior Living is building Echo Lake at Atwater in the western part of Tredyffrin Township. Echo Lake’s senior living is a massive 3-story, 250-apartment property with 160 independent living apartments and 90 assisted living and memory care apartments, set to open in January 2019.

And then we have under construction in Devon (close to Whole Foods) Brightview Senior Living, the gigantic 450+ ft. long, five-story, 55-ft high building totally 181,000 sq. ft. on E. Conestoga. (As a reference point, Daylesford Crossing on Lancaster Ave. is approx. 80,000 sq. ft.). When completed Brightview Senior Living will have 196 beds.

During the last six years, the township has grown from one assisted living facility (Highgate at Paoli Pointe) to four – Daylesford Crossing, Echo Lake and under construction Brightview. Developers are flocking to the township with their assisted living proposals. Earlier this year, the township Planning Commissioners reviewed an assisted living facility proposal for the Aquilante Catering property on Cassatt Road. The 300 bed project was met with an organized effort of neighbor opposition and the plans appear to have been withdrawn.

Now, this coming week finds another proposed assisted living facility in front of the Planning Commission. Solera Senior Living has submitted a preliminary land development project for Russell Road in Paoli. Zoned C-1, the applicant wishes to demolish two existing office buildings (Synthes), consolidate three separate parcels and construct a 3-story, 116 bed assisted living facility. For those that may not know – Russell Road connects to Maple and Old Lancaster Avenues. Another developer seeking to build an assisted living facility in the township as a ‘by-right’ use in C-1 zoning.

Unlike the location of Daylesford Crossing on 4-lane Lancaster Avenue, Russell Road is a narrow residential street in Paoli. The proposed 3-story assisted living facility on Russell Road would be at higher elevation than the residential homes which sit in the valley below the planned construction.

Russell Road has no curbing and its resident’s battle major stormwater issues every time its rains – I cannot imagine how a large assisted living building and the associated additional stormwater runoff could possibly be managed. In addition to stormwater problems, placing a massive assisted living facility in the middle of this community is going to threaten the quality of life for the neighborhood, change its character and increase traffic.

There are many reasons that I do not support an assisted living facility at the Russell Road location but an obvious question should also be asked – does the township really need another one of these facilities? Daylesford Crossing is not fully occupied and it opened over 3 years ago – plus Echo Lake opens next month and presumably Brightview sometime in 2019. When is enough – enough? Or is it a case of “build it, and they will come”?

Another factor that needs to be considered with these proposed redevelopment projects (and sadly one that is often overlooked) is our local volunteer fire companies and emergency responders. Already burdened with staffing and funding needs, how are they supposed to keep up the increased demands of these assisted living facilities? Is Paoli Fire Company and Berwyn Fire Company notified when these types of land development proposals are under consideration?

Here’s the agenda for the Planning Commission meeting on Thursday, December 20, 7 PM at the township building.

Stormwater ‘Bump-outs’ on Old Lancaster Road . . . a Burden for the Residents

I am confident that the people who designed the sidewalks and stormwater management systems on Old Lancaster Road did so with the best of intentions. However, either the design of the bump-outs is flawed and/or the required maintenance by the homeowners is flawed.

I think most residents living along Conestoga and Old Lancaster Roads have been favorable about their new sidewalks. There have been some rumblings about loss of trees, shrubs, etc. but with the understanding that the township will replace their landscaping losses in the fall, I think most have been positive about the sidewalks. Old Lancaster Road has been closed lately, except to local traffic so until yesterday I had not been down this road.

Following the public Sidewalk Committee meeting last Thursday, a couple who live on Old Lancaster Road, in Berwyn between the cemetary and Daylesford Train station spoke about their new sidewalks. They were very positive about the sidewalks and commented that more and more people were using the sidewalks. They had not come to the meeting to complain but rather to inform about a specific aspect of the sidewalk project that most people would probably not be aware. (I certainly was not).

To give a bit of background . . . Old Lancaster Road did not have curbing or appropriate stormwater management system in place. As part of the sidewalk project and stormwater management design on Old Lancaster, 2 foot wide concrete bump outs were installed next to the sidewalks in the road. According to information I found on the township website, the design of the curbed underground seepage/infiltration beds was to control runoff from impervious sidewalks, as well as a portion of the existing roadway runoff on Old Lancaster Rd. which had been uncontrolled. The bump outs were thought to have an additional benefit of traffic-calming.

All of this sounds like a good idea, right? Well, here is some of the problems with the concrete bump outs. First off, the residents on Old Lancaster Road knew that they were responsible for keeping their section of the sidewalks maintained, shoveled in the winter, etc. but were not informed that they would be responsible for the maintenance of the bump outs. (I have now been told that homeowners were informed that the bump outs would be their responsibility.}

There was some concern from some of the elderly homeowners that live along Old Lancaster Rd in regards to sidewalk maintenance; but somehow these residents would get the necessary help to keep the sidewalks cleared and maintained. Clearing sidewalks is one thing but these long concrete curbed areas are in the road are an entirely different matter. How does one manage the maintenance on the bump outs? Here’s a problem . . . there’s curbing on all sides so you would have to pick up your lawnmower and put it in the bump out. But even if you tried that, you would discover the area is too narrow for a lawn mower! So you either have to use hand clippers or a string hedge trimmer on the bump outs.

It is my understanding that township staff planted grass seed in the bump outs but the heat killed the grass seed and apparently there has been mention of wildflowers to be planted in the fall. No grass . . . no wildflowers . . . but even in this summer heat, what does grow — weeds, and lots of them! The weeds in some of the bump outs are 3 ft. high and still growing. As was explained by the couple who attended the Sidewalk Committee meeting, they have elderly neighbors on either side who have to have their grown sons come from Downington and Phoenixville to maintain their bump outs.

Another difficulty – the bump outs are in the road and therefore do not align to property lines so . . . if you and your neighbors are not particularly good friends, you may maintain your section of the bump out but your neighbors decide to leave his/her section of the bump out overgrown!

One of the overgrown bump outs is next to a side road and could create a visibility issue for drivers entering or exiting Old Lancaster. Interestingly, visibility was one of PennDot’s concerns about the bump out design concept. The Old Lancaster Rd. couple stated that they have attempted to have PennDot help with the bump out problems but were referred to the township staff. The township staff says that Old Lancaster is a state road and therefore the problem has to be taken up with PennDot. Homeowners on Old Lancaster are just going around and around in circles over these bump outs. And how must the residents on the other side of Old Lancaster feel who must look at the overgrown bump outs from their front yards?

Solution? In my opinion it’s simple . . . no way should the ‘care and feeding’ of these bump outs be the responsibility of the residents. Period. My suggestion is that public works staff remove the weeds from the bump outs and then fill these long concrete areas with layers of small river rock. River rocks are very inexpensive, will still permit appropriate stormwater runoff and there is no further maintenance required by homeowners, township staff or PennDot!

One other suggestion – if these bump outs are part of any future sidewalk/stormwater design plan, they should not be the responsibility of township residents.

Below is a photo which shows a bump out that is maintained so that you can see the concrete curbing design and the narrowness of the area. Interestingly, this particular bump out is not a shared bump out but is located directly in front of a resident’s home.

The following 2 photos show overgrown bump outs on Old Lancaster Road – one of the bump outs is now affecting visibility from the side road. It appears that this bump out may be a ‘shared bump out’ – where it crosses the property line of two homeowners.

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