CHARLESTOWN TOWNSHIP PLANNING COMMISSION
STRATEGIC PLANNING SESSION
Chester County Historical Society
Third Floor, Classroom #1
225 N. High Street
West Chester, PA
Saturday, February 7, 2015
2. Last Year’s Strategic Planning Session & Take-Away’s
2.a Take-Away’s of 2014
The Take-Away’s of last year are not coming off the list as fast as Members would
like. This year the vital points are being selected as focus points.
Communication was a major point of discussion #15 through 15.4.
Mr. Comitta sited an example of a township that has an “ABC Meeting” (Authorities,
Boards and Commissions) in early January of each year. This is a chance for the other boards and
committees of the township to list accomplishments and obtain feedback by the Board of Supervisors.
He distributed a revised draft of “Best Practices from Other Municipalities” as Food for Thought
dated February 6, 2014.
Informal Meeting with Board of Supervisors
Mrs. Leland stated after having two Strategic Planning Sessions; she felt it was
time to meet with the Board of Supervisors (informally) on a yearly basis. Mrs. Csete suggested
each PC Member could attend 2 Board meetings a year, since personal attendance gives a better feel
for the Board’s attitude. They would like to see the Board schedule a joint informal meeting in
spring of 2015.
The Open Space Commission’s communication with the PC and BOS has a different style.
It operates with more of a one on one conversation style between a landowner and an individual representing
the Township. They do not submit reports. Open Space has a different view point and often helps
to target and prioritize where the Township might proceed. Then the Board will authorize an appraisal,
the landowner decides what changes they want to make (with restrictions). The Board offers funds
(not to exceed the appraisal), and the landowner may choose which land trust to obtain.
At question is
“What is the ultimate goal or desired total figure for the Township regarding Open
“What is the maximum amount of land desired? “
Other points highlighted by Mr. Motel and Mrs. Csete:
- More funding is not needed to obtain Open Space.
- A bond reduction/elimination is the end plan for Open Space residual funds.
- The PC can have an Executive Session (presumably after the meeting) to discuss items with
- Mrs. Csete will investigate other options for sharing sensitive information.
- Mr. Kuhn can be invited to PC Meetings.
- Mrs. Csete will compile a list of easements and building lots, showing how many are built
- Once the TND’s are completely built, the Open Space goals may change to save the balance of
properties. Conditional uses are expected to increase at this point.
“10 Best Practices from Other Municipalities” Mr. Comitta suggested creating a wish-list. The list
could organize the Take-Away’s by topic; then show the responsible member, and a time line. By reordering,
coding, sorting, and assigning the Township goals, progress can be documented.
These coded items/goals can then become part of the philosophy of what the Township wants to accomplish,
as presented in the initial part of the Comprehensive Plan.
Also, added to the list, is the need to communicate more with PennDOT, due to busy
state owned corridors in the Township.
From Take-Away #15.3 communications with all adjacent townships, not just East
Whiteland, needs to be improved.
From Take-Away #16.1 the revision to Charlestown’s Sketch Plan Ordinance will soon
be finished. Mr. Comitta stated only 3 sketch plans from all 72 municipalities in the County were
sent to the Chester County Planning Commission in 2013, therefore, he found few as examples. Mrs.
Csete added that applicants usually come to the Township with a Preliminary Plan before the Township
is aware the applicant desires improvements. Suggestions were made to:
- Add an article and example sketch plan to the newsletter for potential applicants.
- Change the format of the Planning Commission Agenda from Old Business and New Business
to Sketch Plans, Preliminary Plans, and Final Plans.
- A website revision
- Mrs. Csete to put sketch Plan Procedure on March agenda
- Mr. Comitta will provide a Township Office handout
3. 2015 Goals
Mr. Westhafer’s Suggestions
- Better methods for presentations
- Easels placed so everyone can see them
- Digital and projector/screen portrayals
- Name plates for Members
- To obtain the Applicant’s goal at the start of the presentation (agenda add-on)
- Members decided to have the Applicant present from the Review Letters
- Consultants will list Focus Points in the beginning of each letter
- Mrs. Csete to ask the Board of Supervisors if they want the deadlines listed
Mrs. Leland asked that the minutes reflect all “Will Comply’s” numerically. As
Chairperson, Mr. Westhafer will decide when to have Mr. Bender attend according to the agenda. Also,
Members can call for legal counsel—or have a review after a meeting, especially after a heated meeting.
- Below are examples of some key terms that need refinement in the Conditional Use section:
- Educational Use
- Cultural Use
- It was noted that the Historic Resource Protection Ordinance has never saved any buildings.
It needs to be reviewed, revised and some things need to be eliminated. The Demolition Due to
Neglect section has no legal backing, it is a possible item of deletion.
- There are fees in need of revision. The Recreation Fee in Lieu, used to build trails and outfit
parks, should be recalibrated. For justification reasons, Mr. Comitta said the formula should
be reflected in the revision.
- The PC would like the Board to review or prioritize the Take-Away’s before the Commission
Comprehensive Plan Update & Hot Topics from the past 2 years.
- Mrs. Leland offered to go through the Comprehensive Plan cover to cover as the first phase
- Redefine outdated Goals, Objectives, and Strategies
- Update projections of people and housing units-data is from the 1990’s
- Update maps
- Limit content-streamline
- Decide what the purpose is for the Comprehensive Plan, who it is for, what is its message?
- Broaden the application of the Future Land Use Map, not parcel by parcel
Discussion followed on a visioning process with residents, especially new residents.
It was suggested to include a simple Question & Answer Survey in the Township Newsletter about what
is important, likes, dislikes, etc. Mr. Comitta suggested asking Chris Galbraith to graphically
interpret the responses for publication. The survey could also be placed online, providing the benefit
of increasing the email list for the Office. A “go-green” option could be added to the newsletter.
Since the last Comprehensive Plan, many changes have occurred within the Township
that warrants a total revision. At last approval, there was no Earned Income Tax and Devault was
zoned differently. The Open Space preservation program and the Slip Ramp were all in the future.
PC Members want to pass on to residents what they have learned since 1999, how they have met goals,
and reaffirm the importance of the Commission’s vision. The prior Plan used community desires to
make Township goals. Many have been met, now it is time to reevaluate.
Valuable Areas & Development
Valuable scenic areas are now minimal impact areas. There were five in the Plan,
and now three are protected. The PC would like to show residents where the respected places are,
which are yet to be saved, and how doing this must allow development elsewhere. Mr. Comitta distributed
a map dated September 23, 2014 entitled Comprehensive Plan Update: Idea Exhibit.
A breakdown of the FR district may be needed to provide “sub” areas, since FR’s
are now the most likely areas to be targeted for development and change of use. It would clarify
what locations are appropriate for adaptive reuse. He distributed Exhibit D-1 Development Strategy
Conditional Use with Mr. Gary Bender
Mr. Bender discussed the pamphlet SPECIAL EXCEPTIONS, CONDITIONAL USES AND VARIANCES.
The prime difference between a “special exception” and a “conditional use”
is the entity making the decision.
- Special exceptions are granted by a zoning hearing board made up of non-elected officials.
Therefore it is usually not the preferred choice.
- Conditional uses are granted by the governing body of a municipality. By having conditional
uses, the zoning ordinance cannot be deemed exclusionary.
They are similar because they both
- require a public hearing prior to any approval or disapproval
- are usually reserved for land uses that will have a significant impact:
- on the zoning district or to the community
- due to specific uses that necessitate additional safeguards
If a use is permitted by right it is expressly permitted in a zoning ordinance,
conforming to the requirements. To determine whether a “special exception” or “conditional use”
application is consistent with the public interest, it is viewed on an objective community wide
basis, as expressed in the standards of the ordinance.
- Objective vs Subjective Standards (Page 4) for Conditional Use: Mr. Bender discussed the benefits
of objective points.
- Mr. Bender asked Members to consider redefining terms, and if a term is hard to standardize,
consider its deletion from the Zoning Ordinance all together. Mr. Bender told Members to go through
each district and delete, keep, or keep and add objective material.
- Mr. Comitta suggested an FR1 & FR2, with each one having different standards. A catch all
district, and the impact of a large cemetery, will also be considered during the review.
- Residential is the only use mandatory by right. But conditional use is by right too.
- The LI (Light Industrial) zone needs to be reviewed and tightened with objective standards.
- There was a suggestion for a page just for definitions in the SALDO and Zoning Ordinance.
- Mr. Bender reminded members that if there is any doubt due to discrepancies in definitions
or doubt in meanings, the meanings or restrictions will favor the property owner.
Procedural Discussion Points
- An applicant is not required to present the particular details of the design of the development-such
as would be shown on a land development plan, at the conditional use approval stage. Remember
that “use” is different from land development.
- An objector must present sufficient evidence that the use would be detrimental to public health,
safety, or general welfare. The mere possibility of an adverse impact is not enough. It must be
a harm greater than normally generated by that type of use.
- The governing body is acting as a quasi-judicial body and cannot advocate a particular position.
- The written decision must be issued within 45 days of the last hearing.
- Mr. Bender suggested a revision to help applicants. The catch all provision in the Conditional
Use Section that reads “in order for your Conditional Use to be granted you must comply with SALDO
requirements” makes it very long, cumbersome, and expensive to initiate a project. Twice within
the pamphlet, it suggested townships shouldn’t make the process long or expensive.
- To entirely get rid of conditional use, the Township would limit what uses it could have.
Instead define, and add as much objective material to each as possible. If townships have conditional
use, then they can limit the use and have more leverage.
- Limiting a conditional use to a specific location or area is advisable.
- The agricultural uses are well protected; place them in different areas within the FR district.