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  • Marta Kathryn Driscoll

CHB Planning Commission Votes 5-2 to Recommend Powell Property for Development.

The proposal championed by Joseph Damico, attorney for Mrs. Powell, as a win-win for the borough and its residents, received the blessing to move forward on June 24th, 2021 from the Chester Heights Planning Commission with a 5 to 2 vote in favor of issuing a recommendation to borough council to allow the development to proceed to the next phase. Two members, Mr. Gregg Homan and Ms. Melinda Kerry opposed the measure citing concerns with the significant amount of high-density housing already in the borough (over 70%), the potential impact on traffic and the additional number of children to be added to the Garnet Valley School District.

The June 24th meeting included a discussion on several issues raised at the May 27th Planning Commission meeting. The development of this 62.654-acre property located on Valleybrook Road was initiated via a December 2019 Letter to the Borough. The owners request to increase building density from a single home per 1.5 acres to one per .26 acres requires an amendment to the current CHB zoning ordinance declaring the area a Planned Residential Development (PRD). In return for the favor of amending the existing zoning codes, or the "carrot" if you will, the owner is offering 48.924 acres of what appears to mostly flood plain & steep slopes to the borough for open space preservation. Omitted from the discussion is the "stick" mentioned in the original letter to the borough advising that 248 units could be built under the PRD Ordinance.

If the borough does NOT amend the zoning code, only 23 single family homes can be built on the Powell Property. Per the letter to the borough once the zoning is amended, the developer could build as many as 248 units, even though they are only asking for approval for 52 homes at this time.

Issue #1 Options for Dedication

With the carrot and stick in mind here are the options discussed for accepting dedication:

  • Allow the development as planned with the borough taking the dedication of the full 48 acres.

  • Allow the development as planned, the HOA retains and maintains the land, and restrict the deed to open space only with no future building allowed.

  • Allow the development as planned, the HOA retains and maintains the land, and restrict the deed to open space only with no future building allowed, include a clause for the borough to have the first rights of refusal should the HOA wish to sell the land at a later date.

  • Allow the development as planned and carve out a piece of the land with the home, barn and some acreage to be sold as its own parcel, take the dedication of the balance.

  • Allow the development as planned, carve out a piece of the land with the home, barn and some acreage to be sold as its own parcel, deed restrict the balance as open space, and NOT take the dedication.

  • Allow the development as planned, carve out a piece of the land with the home, barn and some acreage to be sold as its own parcel, deed restrict the balance as open space, and NOT take the dedication, and leave the door open for the borough to take dedication at a later date.

  • DO NOT ALLOW the development and leave zoning as is.

Another option proposed by the commission was to restrict the development to a 55 or older community, thus reducing the impact on traffic and the school district. It was noted that the housing could not be deed-restricted to a 55+ community and that there are federal regulations for targeted deed restriction; however, the builder could encourage 55 plus purchases through floor plan design. The developer believes this will be older folks downsizing, and not families purchasing these homes. He further expanded noting that the floor plans have only 3 bedrooms and people buy a townhome for one of two reasons: they either cannot afford a single home or they enjoy the lifestyle.

Issue #2 Secondary Access

Further exploring the development as a done deal was the discussion of a second access point into the proposed development. Originally only emergency access was proposed adjacent to the Burke property located at 299 Valleybrook Road. At the 5/27/2021 planning commission meeting, it became evident that full secondary access would be beneficial. An updated proposal would include an access further east on Valleybrook Road (towards Mattson Rd. further from Llewelyn intersection) carving into the land proposed for borough dedication thus allowing for better sight distances. This access would be a “right in and right out ONLY” onto Valleybrook Road, eliminating the potentially dangerous left-hand turns at the entrance. The adjustment requires modification of the house placement within the development, and may not necessarily eliminate the emergency access because of the existing businesses utilizing the side road. As far as digging and land disturbance to install this additional access and it was noted that no abnormal construction activity is expected.

This secondary access would also potentially alleviate some of the traffic pressure at the intersection of Smithbridge and Valleybrook Roads for cars wanting to travel from the development southeast on Valleybrook Road. The borough engineer noted that the additional traffic on Smithbridge Road will require updated timing on the traffic signal at the intersection.

Issue # 3 Maintenance cost of the home, barn, and land

Mr. Damico presented the maintenance cost of the property at approximately $7,000 and tenant income of $18,000 (Exhibit 10). The expenses did not include the insurance cost, which was noted to be only a standard homeowners policy, and the real estate tax cost from which the borough would be exempt. The maintenance of the 8-12 ft bridge was also excluded as it was recently rebuilt. When asked about the condition of the property Mr. Glenn Powell noted that the barn roof might need replacing, though pictures of the barn and the interior of the building would indicate additional condition issues may be present. There was agreement that if the buildings were to be accepted for dedication there would need to be a full building inspection to evaluate the carrying costs.

Comments Individual Commission Members:

Melinda Kerry:

Concern - Traffic. The by-right plan would reduce the impact on traffic and schools. A 55 Plus community is a more viable option that could diminish the impact on both. Voted No.

Dave Clarke: Town homes are a better option if we retain the open space. Voted Yes.

Mark Carroll (former Mayor): Though he is not a fan of townhomes, this is the last open space parcel in CHB. Once it’s gone it’s gone, as long as the open space is maintained he is for it. Voted Yes.

John Lesky: Agreed with Mark. Even though the balance is shifting to more townhomes in the borough (almost 70%), the open space this plan provides is beneficial.

Thayer Schroeder: Recommends taking the dedication. He noted concerns about the traffic but believes that we can restrict the deed to open space and sell the home lot to alleviate becoming a landlord. Voted Yes.

Gregg Homan: He would normally defer to the owner on how to develop their own land, however in this case he is concerned about the glut of town homes in CHB and feels we are becoming a town home community. – Voted No.

Chris Leiser: Leaning towards the carriage homes and the open space. If we can maintain that the dedication as a separate issue that will need to be worked out by the borough. 52 is the most homes that the builder could potentially ask for less. Keeping as much buffer as possible would involve subsequent meetings. Voted Yes.

Next Step:

A recommendation will be issued from the Planning Commission to borough council to move forward to proceed with the next steps.

  • The developer may be asked to make a presentation to the Council.

  • A formal request will need to be submitted by the owner to amend the zoning to a Planned Residential District.

  • The rezoning will require a public hearing.

  • Borough Council will decide whether or not to Amend the Zoning Ordinance to rezone the land to a PRD.

  • The developer would then submit the plans under the new PRD zoning if rezoned.

NOTE: Once the zoning is changed the rules change and the borough will have a lot less control over the development of this property.

Want to know more? Here are links to my previous posts and some official minutes:

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Thank you for reading and staying engaged.

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