The Board of Supervisors met on May 11, 1998 at the Charlestown Elementary School. John B. Sauser, Chairman, Robert C. Wert, Vice Chairman, Irene W. Ewald, Member, James E. McErlane, Esq., Linda M. Csete, Secretary, and those on the attached attendee list were present.
The meeting was reconvened from May 4, 1998 and called to order at 7:40 P.M. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited.
Mr. Sauser announced that the Board of Supervisors voted 2 to 1 at the May 4, 1998 meeting to join Chester County’s Vision Partnership, based on a unanimous recommendation of the Planning Commission. The Partnership allows the township to have its ordinances reviewed for compliance to the County’s Landscapes Plan. The Chester County Planning Commission then prepares a report of its findings, after which time the Township has the option of continuing with the program and obtaining grant funds for ordinance revisions.
Janet Baldwin requested that discussion from the audience be permitted following the presentation on the Agricultural Security District since there were many petitioners for the program present, and Mr. Sauser agreed.
Michael Churchill said that he was among the Planning Commissioners who voted to join Landscapes, but recalled that one Supervisor who arrived late to the May 5th meeting requested a delay of the vote and was told there could be no delay since there would be no other meeting prior to May 18th, the deadline for applying for park improvement and other funding under the County’s Round 10 grant program. In light of the fact that the Board is now meeting a second time prior to the 18th, he expressed his hope that this wasn’t intentionally planned to limit one member’s opportunity to participate. Mr. Churchill said that he wants to see a spirit of cooperation in scheduling so that all board members can participate in Township business. Mr. Sauser responded that the scheduling of this evening’s meeting was not part of a scheme, but a direct result of the May 5th vote to join Landscapes.
Another resident expressed his concern that a similar problem occurred when scheduling the Spring Road Tour wasn’t done at the full board’s convenience. Mr. Sauser responded that, with a Board of volunteers with other employment and family considerations, it’s not possible to accommodate everybody for each scheduled event. For the past several years, the Board has alternated accommodations for the Fall and Spring Road Tours to enable Mrs. Ewald to attend one of the two tours. Mr. Sauser said that since she works several evenings a week as well as Saturdays, Sunday is one of her preferences for scheduling the Road Tour, while he prefers not to undertake it on this day, hence, the compromise. He noted that the meeting at the Ice Dam Bridge several weeks ago was made at her convenience while he had to take off work and Mr. Wert was unable to attend.
Mr. Wert recused himself from this matter, reserving the right to vote in the event of a tie.
Mrs. Ewald stated that Mr. Panizza provided her with additional documentation on the revised Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions and its Exhibit B. She noted that Mr. Panizza explained that the design standards for architecture and landscaping will be created at a later time when homeowners from the new subdivision are available to participate in the process. She suggests that a note to this effect be added to Exhibit B. She added that the subdivision plans indicate that the strip of land adjacent to the Wert property to be conveyed to Bucus is a restricted planting area, but this note is missing from the Declaration. She requested that Mr. Panizza clarify these two items tomorrow.
Mrs. Ewald moved to approve the Subdivision Escrow Agreement and Subdivision and Land Development Agreement with the understanding that the township solicitor will hold the escrow agreement for release to the title company at the time of settlement, and subject to clarification of the restriction on the strip of land to be conveyed to Bucus, addition of a notation on Exhibit B regarding the design standards to be created later, and payment of all outstanding review fees. Mr. Sauser seconded the motion and Mr. Sauser and Mrs. Ewald were in favor. Mr. Wert did not vote.
Kevin Baer, Land Preservation Assistant with the Chester County Agricultural Land Preservation Board and Agricultural Development Council, was present to provide information on Agricultural Security Districts. He explained that Act 43 was passed in 1981 for the purpose of promoting agriculture as a continued land use through voluntary cooperation with land owners.
Some of the benefits to a land owner for joining an Agricultural Security District are: special consideration with respect to certain ordinances, for example, “nuisance” ordinances regarding odor or noise; potential eligibility for state funded projects, and added protection against condemnation for the construction of roads. The only negative he could name from a municipality’s standpoint was the lengthy and paperwork intensive process of forming the district.
Mr. Baer outlined five evaluation criteria to be considered:
Mr. Baer added that a landowner may include all property owned regardless of how it is zoned provided a 10 acre parcel is in the FR zone
A benefit of joining an Agricultural Security District is a participating landowner’s eligibility for agricultural security easements created through the Commonwealth’s Purchase of Development Rights program (PDR). The Commonwealth, or in some cases, the County, will accept a landowner’s application to have their development rights purchased and a conservation easement placed on their property. The development rights are held in perpetuity, which preserves the agricultural base. Mr. Baer stated that the County has preserved 8,220 acres through PDR since 1989. He describes the application process as competitive, and that this year the County has $3.4 million to spend on PDRs, which would allow for the purchase of development rights on 8-9 farms averaging 110-165 acres in size. Some of the criteria used in approving an application are the productivity of the land and the potential to cluster it with other parcels.
Mr. Sauser asked how the soil survey is taken. Mr. Baer responded that the Township provides this information in its application, generally using USGA soils maps available from the County Planning Commission that can be transposed onto Township maps.
Mrs. Ewald said there have been inquiries from land owners in adjacent townships and asked for the process in which they could be added to Charlestown’s Agricultural Security District. Mr. Baer responded that this can be done by Resolution, and that it’s not necessary that the other municipality be adjacent.
Mr. Wert asked for clarification on the Purchase of Development Rights’ maximum price per acre. Mr. Baer confirmed that the cap of $10,000 is stated in the statute. The purchase price of an individual parcel is derived from the full market value and agricultural value, from which an easement value is determined. Depending upon an individual’s situation, there may be various tax advantages to negotiating a “bargain” price, taking the difference as a charitable contribution and avoiding some capital gains tax.
Mr. Wert asked if municipalities can also purchase development rights through the use of municipal bonds. Mr. Baer responded that there have been some instances where this has been accomplished, and may be worth further investigation. He noted that there is legislation pending to enable townships to more easily do this.
Mr. Wert asked for a definition of productive agricultural use, as referred to in the Agricultural Land Preservation Trust documents. Mr. Baer responded that it is defined as agricultural production for commercial purposes, including the raising of crops, livestock and livestock products. Equestrian operations qualify under this definition.
Mr. Wert noted that the limitation on condemnation for highway purposes doesn’t apply to existing highways and asked how this might relate to the Pa Turnpike’s slip ramp proposal. Mr. Baer didn’t have this information.
Mr. Wert asked if there are any negatives for the Township in forming an Agricultural Security District. Mr. Baer responded that the only drawback aside from the red tape would be the potential difficulties that might arise between farmers and non-farming residents. Janet Baldwin said that when Mrs. Moore spoke to a group of residents assembled to learn more about Agricultural Security Districts she knew of no other negative effects. Mr. Wert acknowledged that thus far in his research he hasn’t found any either.
Bob Jones asked which would be more financially rewarding to a landowner, a Transfer of Development Rights or Purchase of Development Rights program. Mr. Baer stated that it would depend upon the municipality’s ordinance for TDR and the specific negotiation with the developer.
Paul Stevens objected to the noise, odor, non-conforming structures, and poisons emitted by farming practices and his concern that forming an Agricultural Security District would place a small elite group above the law by protecting them from certain ordinances. Mr. Baer responded that Agricultural Security Districts provide many benefits to society, including the preservation of rural viewsheds, fewer residences translating into less new school taxes, and less increase in the cost of municipal services. Mr. Wert added that by limiting areas where roads could be placed, it may serve as a way to limit development. Additionally, a District would help maintain and protect existing aquifers. Mr. Sauser stated that the funding for the PDR program is a result of the 1989 state referendum in which 82% of the voters approved funding for the purpose of preserving land. He noted that Key 93, also supporting open space preservation, had a similar response from voters. Mr. Sauser stated that part of the process of forming an Agricultural Security District is extensive public review culminating in public hearings, which allows property owners to voice their concerns and objections.
Eleanor Morris gave some background on the late Pa. Senator Samuel Morris’s involvement in the Agricultural Security District program and that she highly recommends it and commended the Township for its interest.
John Foster commented that the Agricultural Security District and PDR programs are separate issues. He feels that the Agricultural Security District program is benign to the general public and takes issue with the earlier comment that farming is a source of poisoning for the earth, noting that this is not the only way farming is done.
Mr. Sauser asked for clarification on the status of the timetable and deadline for enactment. Mr. McErlane referred to Mr. Oeste’s memo of 5/11/98 in which he points out that the statutory process was not followed at the time of the original submission of the petitions. Mr. Sauser asked for a consensus from the Board that the petitions, turned in to the Board on 12/1/97 but not by certified mail as required, would be accepted as of today’s date. Therefore, the 180 day clock would start today. Mr. Wert agreed that the hearing process shouldn’t be denied to the public, and Mr. Baer supported his statement. Mr. Wert commented that he thinks forming an Agricultural Security District is a good idea but wishes to go through the process as outlined by the statute. He suggested that the Board expedite the process as much as possible. Mr. Wert and Mr. Sauser agreed that the submission would be accepted as of 5/11/98. Mrs. Ewald stated that since the Township publicly received the submission on 12/1/97, this should be used as the date the clock started, and the Board should allow the Agricultural Security District to be formed by default as described in the statute.
Mr. Sauser appointed the following individuals to the Agricultural Security District Committee. Three farmers are required, and he named Elwood Fisher, Jim Thompson and Marcia Solda. One resident is required, and he named Janet Baldwin. One Board member is required, and he named Bob Wert.
Mr. Wert invited the committee members to contact the Township Secretary if they have any ideas or suggestions relating to the project.
Ellen Behrle asked if there is a requirement that the committee consist of only five members, and Mr. Sauser responded affirmatively. Mrs. Behrle asked if all township residents could be notified and those who qualify invited to join the Agricultural Security District, and Mr. Sauser suggested leaving this question to the new committee.
Mr. Sauser stated that the next step is to advertise. He requested format information from Mr. Baer for the advertisements. The Secretary will advertise in the local paper, and Jim Thompson will post notices in five public places per the requirements.
Mr. Sauser displayed maps for the public’s viewing developed by Tom Comitta and outlining the proposed agricultural security district.
Mr. Sauser congratulated the many landowners present who had signed the petition to join the Agricultural Security District.
Charlestown Parks & Recreation Chairman Mark Connolly distributed a Charlestown Park Capital Projects List to the Board for discussion and introduced fellow Board members Bob Roggio, Jim Quay, and Liz Andersen to the audience. He referred to pages 83 and 88 of the 1993 Charlestown Township Open Space, Recreation and Environmental Resources Plan which outline recreational improvements needed and a corresponding time line. Mr. Connolly commented that the County gives a high point preference to grant applications that list projects detailed in municipal planning documents.He indicated that the Township could use one of two strategies: select the project from his list that has the highest probability of success in obtaining the grant, or bundling selected projects together and perhaps having a lesser chance of grant approval. Mr. Sauser asked if the obtaining of grant funds is that questionable, as the Township has never had difficulty in the past. Mrs. Ewald added that, as a sub-regional park, it draws stronger consideration from the County, and she suggested that the grant application be written in such a way as to highlight this aspect. Mr. Wert said that he felt the Township could obtain approval fora group of projects and sees no need to limit the application to one project.
Mrs. Ewald asked if Mr. Connolly had considered the planning needs for the 20 acre Pyle property acquired last year. Mr. Connolly responded that there are no planning grants available at this time.
Mr. Connolly described Project 1 on his Capital Projects List, for soccer field lights for Field #3, as already covered under the approved grant from Round VII. Project 2 includes these lights plus lighting for Field 3. He described the Phoenixville Area Soccer Club as viable and expanding. They would provide the matching funds for either of these two projects. Mr. Connolly noted that the Board will need to consider the lighting needs for active recreation against the needs of the community as a whole, as lighting will change the look of the park. In general, he feels that the lighting shouldn’t be objectionable. Mrs. Ewald reminded the Board that Field 4 was designated as a permanently non-lighted field due to its proximity to residents on Mary Hill Road.
Jim Quay described Project 3, that of restoring the pond, which is needed to correct its existing condition creating an attractive nuisance and potential danger to the public. Mr. Quay stated that the spillway has washed out underneath the dam that created the pond. It is located in a beautiful, natural area of the Park. He received general specifications from the Township Engineer on how to reconstruct the dam, which also acts as a walkway between two sections of the Park. The pond would be approximately 8 feet deep, but Mr. Connolly said this could be altered and controlled through the use of an overflow pipe. Mr. Wert asked the solicitor for his opinion on the pond as an attractive nuisance, and Mr. McErlane responded that the Township would have to assume absolute liability for it.
Mr. Quay stated that another option for the pond would be to tear down the dam altogether and allow it and the surrounding area to revert back to its natural state as part of the French Creek. Mr. Connolly said a bridge would then be needed to connect the two land areas, but even so, this option would be much less expensive. He suggested that, in connection with Project #7, tearing down the putt-putt course and constructing a playground, could work in conjunction with removing the pond. Considerable earth moving is needed to demolish the golf course, and this dirt could be used as fill for the pond and possibly for the trail project yet to be described this evening. It would also help tie the projects together for the grant application.
Mr. Churchill asked about the status of the other pond at the Park, and Mr. Connolly responded that it’s more of a wetland now since it is silted in and would have to be restored through reconstruction.
Bob Roggio described Project 6, the removal of the unattractive perimeter fence as one that would improve aesthetics as well as improve access to the Park for pedestrians. Mrs. Ewald expressed her concern for people crossing Coldstream Road, which is unsafe due to the poor sight lines in the area. She said that although she dislikes the unattractive fence, it does discourage people from crossing Coldstream Road, as well as keeping out individuals who would drive in to turf the park or dump in it. In removing the fence, a plan to berm or ditch the perimeter would be needed. Mr. Sauser suggested replacing the fence with a less obtrusive but likewise functional barrier, such as lower bollards with cables connecting them and selected throughways. Mr. Wert agreed that the safety issue with regard to crossing Coldstream Road is a serious consideration. He suggested, for the meantime, taking measures to improve the appearance of the fence, possibly by repairing and painting it.
Mr. Roggio described Projects 4 and 5, to build a one mile paved or gravel trail, and stated that a paved trail would be better for bikes. Mr. Wert said it may attract in-line skaters and skateboarders, and Mr. Roggio suggested that these two activities be prohibited. Mr. Sauser commented that he would prefer some changes to the configuration of the trail, and suggested that small crushed stone might be a good choice. Liz Andersen commented that it would serve to discourage skaters as well. Mr. Sauser stated that crushed stone is preferable for joggers as well. Mr. Connolly pointed out that a gravel trail would require higher maintenance due to wash out and grass control.
Bob Jones commented that the Park is currently a hodgepodge of uses and effort should be made to develop a comprehensive plan, perhaps in conjunction with Schuylkill Township since they own adjoining park land. Mr. Wert suggested meeting with the Valley Forge Christian College as well and learning what their intentions are in the area to avoid duplication or incompatible uses. Mr. Connolly said that the Township has 18 months following the grant award, plus an additional one year extension if needed, to develop the plan more fully with the use of the Township Planner. He suggested the selection of Projects 2, installing lights on Soccer Fields #2 and #3, and Project 4, to build a paved one mile park trail for the grant application. Mrs. Ewald suggested speaking with Schuylkill Township about the possibility of connecting the proposed trail to theirs.
After further discussion, the Board selected the following projects for the grant application for a total of $130,000.00. Of this amount, the Phoenixville Area Soccer Club would provide matching funds of $10,000, and the Township would provide $55,000.00.
Project 2 Install Soccer Field Lights on Fields #2 & 3 for a total of $30,000.00
Project 3 Remove the dam and restore the stream with a pedestrian bridge for $25,000.00
Project 4 Building a paved one mile park trail for $50,000
Project 6 Improving the appearance of the existing perimeter fence for $5,000.00
Project 7 Building a playground on the old putt-putt course for $20,000.00
Mr. Wert moved to approve Resolution #530-98, entitled the Chester County Park Facilities Grant Resolution, by which the Township approves the filing of the grant, makes available the matching funds of $65,000.00, and authorizes the Secretary to execute and file the appropriate forms with the County. Mr. Sauser seconded and all were in favor.
No issues were brought forward at this time.
Mr. Sauser stated that, having no other business, the meeting for May 18, 1998 is canceled and the next meeting of the Board of Supervisors will be held on June 1, 1998. Mrs. Ewald objected to canceling the May 18th meeting, stating that she has listed other items of business to the Chairman at the last several meetings, and requests that they be scheduled for discussion. Mr. Wert said that more management and fact gathering should be done before placing items on the agenda for discussion and that furthermore it is the Chairman’s prerogative to set the agenda. Mrs. Ewald said that her fellow board members were conducting business outside of public meetings that that she and the public are left out of the process. Both Mr. Sauser and Mr. Wert disagreed with her statement.
The meeting was adjourned at 11:20 P.M. The next business meeting of the Board of Supervisors will take place on June 1, 1998 at 7:30 P.M. at the Charlestown Elementary School.