Board of Supervisors
The Charlestown Township Board of Supervisors held a special town meeting on Monday, June 10, 1996 at the Charlestown Elementary School, Charlestown Road, Devault, Pa.
|John B. Sauser, Chairman, Robin J. Kohn, Vice Chairman, Irene W. Ewald, Member, Thomas F. Oeste, Esq., Linda M. Csete, Secretary, and those on the attached attendee list.|
The Chairman called the meeting to order at 8:05 P.M.
No issues were brought forward at this time.
President Wesley Smith and Jim Maza, Esq. of the Valley Forge Christian College (VFCC) provided some background on the college. President Smith stated that enrollment is currently at 500 students, including 100 married students. There is a teaching and support staff of approximately 70 people who live at the college. The College needs additional housing for its married students and staff members, but has the additional problem of a shortage of funding. President Smith referred to a slide of the VFCC master plan which depicted the main mall area, which has an entrance from Charlestown Road and contains classrooms and administrative offices toward the center and men’s and women’s dorms off to each side. He indicated the L shaped tract along Coldstream and Charlestown Roads as the tract, located entirely in Charlestown Township, which is under a conditional agreement of sale to Pennrose Properties. By selling this tract to Pennrose Properties, the VFCC hopes to solve both of its key problems, i.e., housing and funding. One condition of the agreement of sale depends on the re-zoning of the Institutional District to include apartment use. Another condition is that the College receive the right of first refusal on all apartment units for rent as they become available.
Mr. Maza said that the college has been in its current location, half in Charlestown Township and half in Schuylkill Township, since 1976 when it obtained the property from the federal government under the Surplus Property Act. He explained that the federal government has a reversionary interest in the property for 30 years from this date, which would be in the year 2006. During the time the VFCC has been in this location, several alternate plans had been considered, including moving from the site. Both the Charlestown and Schuylkill Township Boards of Supervisors have supported their staying in the present location.
Frank Gazillo of Charlestown Road asked to be shown the location of Charlestown Park on the site plan. He then asked if the federal government will take the adjacent L-shaped track back if the VFCC fails to act. Mr. Maza responded that the federal government has directed the college to act and that the land will most likely revert back to them if the college does not act. Mark Dambly of Pennrose Properties stated that if the college can’t sell this property, the VFCC will have to sell it back to the federal government. Mrs. Ewald pointed out that this is not necessarily the case; that if this proposal doesn’t go through, another can be made. She cautioned the residents to consider that there are other options.
Richard D’Ginto of Jamie Lane asked about the original transaction between the VFCC and the federal government and why the buildings were included with the transfer. Mr. Maza responded that when the government turned over the properties, which included the buildings, they removed the hazardous materials from the site but left the buildings themselves for the new owner to demolish. At that time, asbestos removal wasn’t the dilemma it is today, and the cost of demolition was considered to be minimal. In actuality, it is exorbitantly expensive and the demolition is estimated at 1 million to 1.2 million dollars for this site. Mr. D’Ginto then asked if the college has attempted to obtain funding from the federal government for this project. Mr. Maza stated that they have not succeeded in doing so. The Army Corps of Engineers has done some work on the site, however.
James Wilkinson of Charlestown Road asked who the seller of the property is. Mr. Maza stated that the Valley Forge Christian College owns the property, but that the deed is subject to certain restrictions imposed by the federal government. Each year that the VFCC owns the property they receive an additional 1/30th of its value. The federal government must approve any sale, after which the sale proceeds are turned over to them. They will then return the money to the college to fund both improvements to this site and to the overall college property as well.
John Popovich of Marian Road asked why the Army Corp of Engineers came in to perform grading work for a soccer field but did not remove the buildings that had been knocked down and remain on the site. Mr. Sauser explained that the soccer field is on a different piece of property and is owned by Charlestown Township, not the College. The Township had arranged for them to perform the soccer field grading work as part of their maneuvers training. Mr. Maza stated that the onus to clean up these torn down buildings is on the College, which they cannot afford to do.
Dick Homitz of Benburb Road commented that the college and the developer will make a profit, but the Township and its taxpayers will suffer. Mr. Dambly responded that Pennrose Properties Inc. will pay the fair market value for the property. Mr. Maza pointed out that a sale to Pennrose would bring this property into the tax base from which it is currently exempt.
Grace Wert of Hollow Road requested that the developer be allowed to continue with the presentation of the proposal.
Richard Barnhart, President of Pennrose Properties, described his company as a firm that purchases, develops and manages properties for profit. The company has developed 4,000 apartment units in the past 25 years and has never sold a property or had a foreclosure. They manage all of their properties themselves. Mr. Barnhart showed a number of slides of properties in Pennsylvania and New Jersey which Pennrose owns and operates, including retirement and family communities, and includes a historic preservation project in West Philadelphia.
He then showed slides of several apartment communities to serve as examples of the design types which could be considered for the VFCC tract. Initially it was not made clear that these examples were not of projects constructed by Pennrose, but by other developers. After being questioned, Mr. Dambly clarified this point. Examples were shown of the 32 acre, 245 unit complex in Chester Heights, Delaware County called Coventry Crossing which depicted a community building, swimming pool and tennis courts along with the units themselves. Another example was of Windemore Place at Routes 926 & Route 3 in Chester County. TreeTops, west on Route 3 was also shown. Both of these showed apartments with garages attached. The final example was Realen’s Darlington Woods in Chester Heights, Delaware County.
Mr. Maza reiterated that the proposed agreement of sale with Pennrose is contingent on a zoning change, for which density is a key issue. He stated that if the agreement falls through, the federal government may take the land back under the McKinney Act, after which it must first be offered as a homeless project for a private non-profit firm to develop. He pointed out the federal government would not be governed by the township’s zoning laws.
Jane Arena of Maryhill Road commented that housing for college students might be considered, but she is opposed to opening the units to others outside the college. She also had concerns over the density, stating that 250 units would cause a major concern to the elementary school. Mr. Dambly stated that the density is needed to generate the money needed to support the high costs of the demolition and construction of the infrastructure, including road and sewage systems.
Mr. Sauser asked how many married students are now enrolled and the number of children. President Smith responded that there are approximately 100 married students with 40 children.
Sally McLaughlin of Benburb Road stated her concern over the traffic that would be generated, saying that traffic is already extremely heavy.
Lisa Neri of Maryhill Road asked about the likelihood that, by failing to take action, the township would find itself with a homeless project at this site. She asked if this was what happened in Schuylkill Township that caused Liberty House to be built there. Mr. Sauser responded that Schuylkill had a different situation. The Liberty House tract was owned by the federal government, unlike this tract owned by the VFCC. However, he stated that Charlestown may be at risk for having a similar project if the federal government takes back this property.
Earl Gehm of Pine Drive recalled watching the construction of the Valley Forge Army Hospital and the concerns people had over its shoddy workmanship. The buildings were meant to have a 25 year life. He stated his concerns over this highly contaminated site. He further commented that he believes no additional construction of any kind should be approved at the County or Township level until a federal mandate deals with highway improvement and availability of public water.
Jim Mitchell of Ravenhill Road asked whether there is federal funding involved for Pennrose’s proposed apartments to be used for subsidized housing. Mr. Dambly responded that no federal funding is involved, and that although the main thrust of Pennrose’s business has been subsidized housing, they are now diversifying into market rate housing as this project is intended to be. Mr. Maza stated that the VFCC has made a major investment in this plan and have much at risk so they chose Pennrose very carefully for the project.
Steve Schelhorn of Lindsay Lane asked about the possibly of restricting the apartments to students and seniors. Mr. Dambly responded that their research indicated that the market would be insufficient to suport this ussage. Mr. Schelhorn also asked what hazardous materials remain on the site. Mr. Dambly stated that federal government Phase I and Phase II studies indicate that the site is clear of contaminents. Both PCB and arsenic had been removed from the site years ago.
Mr. Barnhart displayed a site plan of the proposed apartment complex which he stated the Planning Commission has seen. Following dialog with the Planning Commission, the original 345 units have been reduced to 245 units for a density of 8 units per acre. Following discussions with township planner Tom Comitta, Mr. Barnhart indicated that they have attempted to produce a “village” concept that gives the appearance of a traditional neighborhood. The interior roads would be maintained by the developer. He indicated that in order to break up the appearance of the development, varying setbacks and rooflines would be designed with 4 to 8 unit buildings. There would be a clubhouse, tennis courts and a pool. He noted that the Planning Commission’s major concerns were for density and traffic. Mr. Dambly referred to a traffic study commissioned by Pennrose that indicated 50% of the traffic would exist from the rear of the property onto Township Line Road, 15% onto Charlestown Road, and 35% onto the main entrance at Coldstream Road. The possibility of a traffic light at Coldstream and Charlestown Roads was investigated, but the PennDOT requirements for traffic volume were not met.
Andy Viscuso of Marian Road commented that an entrance on Coldstream Road was infeasible due to the extremely high traffic volume already present.
Scott Phipps of Charlestown Road agreed that Coldstream Road is much too busy to entertain an additional egress point.
Mr. Sauser stated that these issues can be dealt with at the Planning Commission level, and that the issue to consider first is the question of whether the township is willing to re-zone the property. He advised the citizens that the sketch plan as shown would undoubtedly go through many changes and other ingress/egresses can be considered by the Planning Commission.
Vincent Kling of Pikeland Road stated that as a member of the Planning Commission, he wished to make it clear that the Planning Commission did not approve this proposal. They reviewed it only as a sketch plan and only in the context of whether or not a zoning change should be considered for this property. Mr. Kling stated his concern over what will happen if the VFCC decides to move after the property is sold to Pennrose. The college could continue to have financial difficulties, or a reverse situation could occur. The additional housing could cause the college to expand and outgrow its present location. He also asked for some background on the Liberty House site. Mr. Maza explained that Liberty House was assigned a piece of federal government property located near the front of the college, but that by negotiating with the federal government, Schuylkill Township and the VFCC was able to reach an agreement for them to exchange it for a different property further from the center of the campus.
Steven Schlicter of Jamie Lane stated that density is his main concern. He also asked whether the property will definitely revert to the federal government and as such be immune to township control if this proposal fails. Mr. Oeste stated that this is a possibility only. Mr. Schlicter asked whether any funds may be obtained from Chester County under their open land purchase program for which bonds have been made available. He asked whether funding of this nature could be used to bring down the density, perhaps to the point that the housing could be maintained for students only. Mr. Maza stated that tax free county bonds may be available, but that due to the demolition expense problem, it would not help the density problem.
Robert Quay of Sycamore Lane asked what will happen if the complex is built and the college failed. Mr. Maza stated that the college is committed to finish the project, but if they did leave, the property would revert to the bond company.
Lisa Neri of Maryhill Road asked whether there has been any community effort in raising funds for the demolition/clean up of the site. Mr. Maza stated that support has been sought from congresspeople and others but without success. Mrs. Ewald stated that the college has always had the support of herself and former supervisors Vincent Kling and John Martin and that a joint effort volunteer effort could be explored.
Rosalie Phipps of Charlestown Road asked whether the site poses any health threats as it is. Mrs. Ewald responded that the Township has on file extensive files and summaries of research indicating that there is no imminent danger to neighbors of the site.
John DiLello of Charlestown Road asked what taxes would be paid on the property if the Pennrose proposal went through. Mr. Sauser stated that they would pay taxes at the same rate as everyone else in the township.
Mark Connolly of Charlestown Road, Chairman of the Parks and Rec Board, stated that he knows the site very well as it is adjacent to Charlestown Park and welcomes a new vision for the site. However, he stated that he wishes to see no compromises to the community’s values and interests and feels that the entire site must be considered with its many current uses, including educational, housing, social services, recreational services as well as an undefined 27 acre parcel along the back. He has strong concerns about the density and feels that 150 units may be possible, but no more. He also pointed out that considerable development is taking place nearby in neighboring townships which will also affect this site. He was adamant that no entrance belongs on Coldstream Road.
Mr. Maza stated that some traffic can be routed through the campus to maximize its dispersion and that they hope to work out signalization with PennDOT. Regarding density, he pointed out the unit rental price will increase as density decreases, and there will be a point where students cannot afford it.
Jane Arena asked who will pay for the traffic problem as she was at a Planning Commission meeting where Mr. Dambly stated that Pennrose could not afford to contribute to the off site improvement of straightening Coldstream Road. Mr. Sauser responded that Coldstream is a state road on the township’s five year plan with PennDOT, but that according to the Secretary of Transportation, PennDOT’s money woes due to the recent harsh winter are precluding much of their plans. Ms. Arena then asked how the township could consider going through with this plan with no remedies to the traffic problem. Mr. Dambly remarked that although Pennrose can’t consider road improvements to Coldstream Road, they would plan to contribute to other township improvements, possibly to the Park.
Bill Nissle of Pine Drive asked if the apartments would be primarily rented by the students, and Mr. Dambly stated the students are expected to rent 1/3 to 1/2 of the units. Mr. Maza stated that enrollment for next year is approximately 500, and that more people can be drawn to the college when the property and its surrounds are more attractive as well as by offering suitable housing. Also, in the future, other degrees may be offered which would attract more students.
A resident of Jamie Lane asked for the cost of the project.
Jim Devine of Maryhill Road asked what the rental price was expected to be. Mr. Dambly responded that they would be expected to range from $600.00 to $1,000.00 per month.
Natalie Famous of Benburb Road commented that she would rather see this tract used for apartments than run the risk of it returning to the federal government for their use and that she is interested in seeing the proposal.
Jim Neri of Maryhill Road asked what the minimum number of units is to support an apartment complex at the rental rates indicated by Mr. Dambly. Mr. Dambly answered, 245 units. He stated that the project cannot be done with 175 - 200 units.
Donna Schroding of Coldstream Road asked if the families now living on campus and driving cars are included in the proposal’s estimate of 245 units. President Smith responded that they were, and added that few of the students have 2 cars. Mr. Sauser stated that the net gain in population then is 145 units or families.
Betty Casey of Maryhill Road asked whether, if the rental cost was too high, there would be a possibility that no students would live in the proposed complex. Mr. Maza responded that he didn’t think this would happen.
Lisa Neri referred to the mobile home park across the street that is up for sale. Vice President of the Board of Supervisors for Schuylkill Township, Ted Ryan, responded that the park is up for expansion, but not for sale.
Grace Merryman of Benburb Road commented that she would rather see apartments than have the federal government take over the site. She asked how soon the decision must be made and whether there are other options. Mr. Dambly responded that they hope to have a zoning decision by Thanksgiving, then an additional 9 to 12 months for the plan review process and final decision. Mrs. Merryman asked how the proposal would affect the Park. Mr. Dambly stated that they would plan to add access to jogging trails to the Park. Mrs. Merryman asked about the wastes bulldozed under the ground at the site, such as medical waste from the Army Hospital. Mr. Dambly stated that it will remain there since ground water and subsurface issues have been resolved. He noted that any financing agreements will require a clean site.
Steven Schlicter asked for the costs of tuition, room and board at the college. President Smith responded that tuition is approximately $5,000 per year, and room and board $4,000.00. Mr. Schlicter asked about the possibility of raising the demolition money through private donations, thus leaving the site open for anyone to purchase, or at the least, decrease the density level of this proposal. He felt that such a fund raising effort could be successful. Lisa Neri agreed that an effort could be organized. Mr. Dambly responded that solving the demolition expense problem is only half of the situation. The VFCC would still require housing it is unable to afford to build. Mr. Maza agreed that such a donation effort could reduce the density of the plan and that the VFCC could accept less housing. Mr. Sauser stated that such a fund raising plan is encouraged, but should not halt the process of considering the current proposal.
Bill Hochwind of Maryhill Road commented that it is unrealistic to believe private citizens could raise $1 million to 1.2 million dollars. If it was possible, the township has many other needs that might be addressed.
Mr. Kohn commented that by doing nothing, the township may pay a big price, yet by rezoning this parcel, other serious impacts could result.
John Popovich asked why the VFCC decided to stay when several years ago, they were seriously investigating a move. President Smith responded that their decision was based on Schuylkill Township’s success in moving Liberty House to an improved location.
Liz Anderson of Charlestown Road commented that the VFCC is in a difficult spot, but was concerned that they would be gaining from this proposal at the Township’s expense. She questioned whether the federal government would actually rush in to take over the site, since they did have Liberty House nearby. She stated her concerns over school crowding and traffic.
Mark Connolly asked if, in conjunction with considering re-zoning of this parcel, the PRD adjacent to this site on either side of Sycamore Lane might be re-zoned as well. Mr. Sauser responded that it is possible.
Mrs. Ewald stated that the Supervisors, along with the residents, must work together to determine what works best for this site for the community, the college, the potential residents of the proposed apartments, and the developer. She noted that the township can be reactive or proactive, and that by being proactive, zoning can be designed to minimize issues of concern, such as traffic and density. She stated that multi-family housing can be more than just apartments and that other options can be considered. The present request for re-zoning should be examined by the Board, the residents, Planning Commission and the township consultants. She stated while the Township has a specific proposal to look at, there is more to consider than simply denying or approving it. It can be approved with particular conditions, for example. She expressed that the VFCC is a fine organization with students who are welcome, productive citizens of Charlestown Township. She urged all present to feel free to call any one of the supervisors or to seek information at the Township office.
Mr. Sauser said that the Board has no pre-conceived idea of what they wish to see done with this site or the proposal and also encouraged community participation. He reminded the residents that much of the important ground laying work is performed by the Planning Commission and invited the residents to attend their meetings. He urged the residents to stay involved and provide feedback to the Board and stated that further meetings on this proposal would be held.
Mr. Sauser moved to begin the process of assigning to the Planning Consultant the task of researching and drafting a zoning ordinance with input from the Planning Commission and with citizen participation in order to prepare to advertise and schedule formal zoning hearings.
Mrs. Ewald moved to amend Mr. Sauser’s motion to include first meeting with the Planning Consultant to supply him with direction prior to moving on to the research and drafting of the ordinance. Mr. Kohn seconded Mrs. Ewald’s motion and all were in favor.
Mrs. Ewald moved to adjourn, and Mr. Sauser seconded. All were in favor. The meeting was adjourned at 10:55 P.M.