Planning Commission: Michael Allen, Michael Churchill, Wendy Leland, Andy Motel, Michael Richter, Andre von Hoyer and Bill Westhafer
Consultants: Thomas Comitta, Daniel T. Wright, Ed Theurkauf
Staff: Linda Csete, Township Manager
Public: None

Call to Order:

7:35 p.m.


Mr. Westhafer announced that the Planning Commission will hold its third annual Strategic Planning Session on Saturday, February 6, 2015, 9:00 a.m. at the Chester County Historical Society Building. He congratulated Mr. Allen and Mr. Motel for their re-appointments to the Planning Commission for additional four year terms.


Mr. Westhafer called for nominations for the position of Chairman of the Planning Commission for 2016. Mrs. Leland nominated Mr. Westhafer for Chairman and Mr. von Hoyer seconded. Mr. Churchill moved to close the nominations and Mrs. Leland seconded. Mr. Westhafer called the vote and all were in favor.

Mr. Westhafer called for nominations for the position of Vice Chairman of the Planning Commission for 2016. Mr. Churchill nominated Mr. von Hoyer for Vice Chairman and Mr. Westhafer seconded. There being none further, Mr. Westhafer closed the nominations. Mr. Westhafer called for discussion, and there being none, called the vote, and all were in favor.

The 2016 Planning Commission meetings were set for the second Tuesday of each month at 7:30 p.m. The fourth Tuesday will be held in reserve and scheduled as needed. Meetings will be held at the Great Valley Middle School, Room 154.

Approval of Minutes

November 10, 2015 Minutes

Mr. Allen proposed the following changes to the minutes of 11/10/15:

Page 2: Under item #3.A: change reference to HOA Manual to Design Manual. Delete the following sentence.

Page 3: Under item #28: change Sign Post Materials to Sign Post Materials and Design

Mr. Allen further requested that more detail is provided when referring to consultant’s review comments and that documents referred to in the minutes be provided with the draft minutes to the Planning Commission in PDF form to simplify their review. He further suggested that all minutes provide a note at the end indicating to the public that any documents referred to in the minutes are available at the township office upon request.

With Mr. Allen’s proposed changes to be included, Mr. Motel moved to approve the minutes of November 10, 2015 and Mr. Richter seconded. Mr. Westhafer called for discussion, and there being none, called the vote. All were in favor.

Plan Review - None

General Planning Items

Regional Comprehensive Plan

The Planning Commission received input from Ed Theurkauf to determine whether they find it advisable for Charlestown Township to adopt the Phoenixville Regional Comprehensive Plan in lieu of revising its own plan.

Mr. Theurkauf began by noting that as a member of the Phoenixville Regional Planning Commission (PRPC), Charlestown will be a participant in the regional update and pay their portion for these services regardless of whether they adopt their individual plan. The regional plan will be created in collaboration with the others to meet the needs of all member municipalities, and will be adopted unanimously by all members.

Mr. Theurkauf said another option is for Charlestown to adopt supplements to the regional plan in lieu of updating its own plan. He said East Pikeland Township’s last update was done as a supplement. Supplements can focus on more specific planning aspects such as economic development, resource protection or recreation and open space.

Mr. Churchill asked what happens if an addendum to the regional plan is in conflict with the adopted plan, which could occur since conflicts can’t be determined until after the regional plan itself is adopted. He also asked if a portion of the township zoning ordinance could be invalid without a township comprehensive plan.

Mr. Motel asked if Charlestown adopted the 2008 regional plan, and Mr. Theurkauf responded yes. Mr. Motel noted that this first regional plan was reverse engineered to compliment the individual municipalities’ plans. He asked if there’s a downside to doing both plans so long as they’re not inconsistent with one another. Mr. Theurkauf said there would be a consistency review, so the primary downside would be efficiency, which translates into cost. The more generalized boiler plate items would be incorporated into the regional plan and the cost of that would be divided five ways.

Mr. von Hoyer asked for confirmation that an addendum addressing unique issues in a municipality wouldn’t need to be accepted by all members. Mr. Theurkauf confirmed, stating it wouldn’t be a problem since it’s not part of the plan itself. He said he personally supports the supplement method.

Mr. von Hoyer asked how the other four member municipalities are notified if one wants to add a supplement to the plan. Mr. Theurkauf said it’s the same process as making a change to an individual plan. Per the implementation agreement, that member has an obligation as a member of the committee to obtain approval if the change has regional impact.

Mr. Westhafer asked how often the regional plan must be revised. Mr. Theurkauf said it must be reviewed every ten years, but not necessarily revised. He noted that any revisions can be handled through supplements.

Mr. Churchill asked why the PRPC is asking for input on whether each member intends to adopt its own plan. Does the response affect them? Mr. Theurkauf said no, but noted the regional approach is encouraged by the County Planning Commission.

Mr. Motel said he sees the advantages of having a regional plan only and asked if there are any downsides. Mr. Theurkauf said he doesn’t know of any. Mr. Churchill commented if the Township is attentive to the regional plan there should be no downside. Mr. Theurkauf said Charlestown has two representatives on the PRPC committee: Mr. Westhafer and Supervisor Hugh Willig. They attend meetings on the last Wednesday of the month at the Phoenixville Borough building, and there will be a series of meetings on the regional plan update.

The members further discussed whether a regional plan could have any detrimental effect through political pressure from one or more members of the PRPC. It was generally agreed this would be highly unlikely. Mr. Motel asked for confirmation that adopting the revised regional plan won’t help in fair share issues. Mr. Comitta confirmed, noting it would only be a factor if the regional committee also developed a regional zoning ordinance, which hasn’t been done in Chester County although he’s aware of them elsewhere.

Mr. Comitta said this question doesn’t need to be decided now and can be addressed at the February 9th meeting. He noted that the Vision Partnership grant deadline for applying for funds to update Charlestown’s plan is in April so there’s still time to discuss.

Mr. Comitta provided some background on three members of a Bucks County regional group that won a case against a developer proposing a plan in a non-member neighboring township.

Mr. Comitta said Charlestown’s Comprehensive Plan was first adopted in 1964, then revised in 1976 and 2001. Since then there have been updates to the Open Space, Recreation and trails section in 2012. The Act 209 plan was added in 2013. Population and housing forecasts were updated due to the Recreational Fee-in-Lieu resolution adopted in 2015. He said during the summer of 2015, he, Mrs. Leland and Mrs. Csete examined specific areas to focus on for updates moving forward and to feature in the Fall 2015 vision partnership grant application. Charlestown wasn’t selected for a grant along with five others who were rejected. Three municipalities received grants, including Honeybrook Township/Borough, East Caln Township and Westtown Township. The County named a lack of focus on transportation as one of the reasons Charlestown wasn’t considered; however, they were unaware the Township had adopted an Act 209 plan. He said if the Township reapplies there should be more emphasis placed on holding public workshops and conducting stakeholder interviews. Another weakness was that, although concern was raised over development to the south, no solution was proffered. He suggested Charlestown consider a joint application with East Whiteland Township focusing on transportation issues.

Mr. Comitta said that with regard to the Township’s Comprehensive Plan, if a revision is to be made it should include specific subject areas, particularly the emerging issues that have arisen in response to the Traditional Neighborhood Development zoning district.

Mr. Churchill suggested they review the PRPC comprehensive plan prior to the February 6th strategic session. Mr. Theurkauf said the plan is available on the Phoenixville Borough website and via a link from the Charlestown website.

Mr. von Hoyer asked to what degree is cost a consideration since much of the work overlaps regardless of whether there’s an individual comprehensive plan. Mrs. Leland pointed out that the PRPC addresses planning to the north, but Charlestown must also consider East Whiteland Township to the south. To do so, she supports updating Charlestown’s individual plan and making a concerted effort to work together with East Whiteland Township. Mr. Comitta said his firm has been hired by East Whiteland to update their Comprehensive Plan, Zoning Ordinance and Subdivision & Land Development Ordinance. He also worked with them on a fee-in-lieu ordinance, which as been adopted.

The Planning Commission will further discuss the options at their February 6th and 9th meetings.

Provide Comments on East Pikeland Township Land Use Assumptions Report

As requested in Mr. Theurkauf’s memo dated 12/22/15, the Planning Commission reviewed the East Pikeland Township Land Use Assumptions Report as requested by East Pikeland Township. This report is used as the basis for determining transportation impact fees. Mr. Theurkauf said these comments are solicited as a requirement of the PA Municipalities Planning Code. The report includes an examination of vacant and underutilized properties as a basis for determining the fee schedule. He noted there are no impacts on Charlestown Township. The Planning Commission had no comments on the East Pikeland Township Land Use Assumptions Report.

Mr. von Hoyer asked if there was a similar process undertaken for East Whiteland Township and whether Charlestown had an opportunity to comment on that report. Mr. Theurkauf said if they revised their plan they would have to provide that opportunity.

Preparing RFP and Scheduling of Phase II Devault Basin Improvements

Mr. Theurkauf said that Phase I of the Devault Basin Improvement Project was completed in the Fall of 2015, which included the installation of woody plantings in the three PennDOT basins adjacent to Route 29 and Phoenixville Pike. Small street trees were planted under the wires along the east side of Route 29 adjacent to a wetland area. Phase II will address the disturbed areas around the basins and re-seed them as meadows. The plan for Phase II was tailored on the variety of environmental conditions in those areas. He said the areas seeded by PennDOT need to be evaluated to determine whether they can remain as-is or need supplementation. The largest basin is known to contain invasives, which must be addressed. The next step would be for him to develop a scope of work for Phase II, which would include specifics on where clearing is needed and to what extent.

Mr. Motel asked if the three small trees on Tom Fillippo’s property along the east side of Route 29 is in PennDOT’s right of way. Mr. Theurkauf responded he believes it is but will confirm from the plan, noting this is a serviceberry tree. Mr. Motel said he expected that the developer of that parcel would wrap additional trees around that corner, but he questions their survival so close to the wetlands and asks if they should be placed elsewhere. Mr. Theurkauf said the mission was to plant street trees as well as to enhance the basins.

Mr. Motel commented that a stormwater pipe from the Turnpike is pouring water onto the large Sycamore Tree on the west side of Route 29, and soil medium with contaminants is disturbing the hillside and eroding into the basins. He said this water issue must be addressed.

Mr. Theurkauf said he’ll prepare a scope of work following an evaluation in early Spring. A budget is in place for this work.

Input for the Capital Improvement Fund Committee on projects for 2017 - 2021

Mrs. Csete explained that the Supervisors have formed a capital improvement fund committee to develop a capital improvement plan to begin 2017. Each board and commission has been asked to provide input on any projects they wish to propose along with cost estimates. A very preliminary list was created and circulated to the members in November. Mr. Motel suggested adding a police substation to the list. Mr. Churchill suggested signage for the Horseshoe Trail. Mr. Allen named removal of the inactive train crossing signal on Warner Lane. Mrs. Csete said Act 209 funds could be used for that item. Mr. Comitta suggested discussing this further at the February 6th strategic session.

Discuss Application for Chester County Vision Partnership Grant for Comprehensive Plan Update - deadline April 30, 2016

Mr. Comitta said that before February 9th, Mr. Westhafer will speak to the Supervisors to ask for their input on the Comprehensive Plan and its costs so the Planning Commission will be in a better position to make a recommendation on whether the regional comprehensive plan can handle Charlestown’s needs. Mr. Comitta suggested one of the commissioners call Manheim Township for their input on why they opted to create their own comprehensive plan rather than a regional one and if the results have been as anticipated.

The Planning Commission again indicated its interest in meeting with East Whiteland Township officials to discuss mutual transportation needs. Mr. Churchill suggested they begin with the need to improve the intersection of Phoenixville Pike and Yellow Springs Road and consider other areas that could be addressed.

Prepare Draft Agenda for Strategic Planning Session #3 on February 6

Mr. Comitta distributed a draft agenda for the February 6th strategic planning session for discussion. He proposed to invite Brian O’Leary or Susan Elks from the Chester County Planning Commission to discuss Charlestown’s making another application for a Vision Partnership Grant for the comprehensive plan update and get their feedback on the question of whether to opt for the regional plan instead. Mr. Churchill said he didn’t care for that approach, noting Charlestown would still need supplements to the regional plan. Mr. Comitta said the decision must be made by the March meeting. Any updates to Charlestown’s plan would have to correlate with the PRPC updates, so detailed explicit needs would have to be identified in the application. Mr. Churchill suggested waiting for the regional plan’s adoption and addressing the Township update afterward. Mr. Allen said an alternative is to apply now, focusing on the specifics. Mr. Comitta noted that he didn’t charge for his time in preparing the previous grant application and would do the same again, so there’s no downside to the Township in applying for the grant.

The commissioners were agreeable to inviting Brian O’Leary as the guest speaker for lunch on February 6th at the strategic planning session.

Mr. Comitta asked for further topic suggestions for February 6th. Mr. Allen asked for a summary of the last two years’ sessions and what was accomplished as a result. He said he has a sense of a lack of follow through. Mr. Churchill said more coordination is needed between the Planning Commission and Parks and Recreation Board. Mrs. Csete offered to email the Parks & Rec minutes for the past few months to the Commission, and vice versa, and continue this going forward. She further noted all the minutes are on the website.

Review Sketch Plan Ordinance Requirements

Mr. Comitta asked the group to consider refinements to the Sketch Plan requirements in the Subdivision & Land Development Ordinance for discussion February 6th. He distributed a handout entitled “Sketch Plan: Considerations” which provides for a threshold for which a simpler version would be acceptable, for example when the site is relatively unconstrained. For standard sketch plans, he asked the group to consider whether there should be an appendix listing the items to be included, using the handout “Subdividing in the Wildlands of Maine” as an example.

Mr. Westhafer said encouraging the sketch plan process would help the property owner test the waters prior to spending time and money engineering a plan. Mr. Allen noted that a sketch plan is not a requirement, so it’s essential that property owners understand its value. Mr. Westhafer suggested formulating an encouraging phrase indicating the Township wants to help the property owners use their engineering dollars more efficiently. Mr. Motel said the ordinance could state that property owners are strongly encouraged to start with a sketch plan. Mrs. Csete said this could be added to the Township website so it’s the first information an applicant sees when searching for subdivision and land development information. The commissioners were in agreement, suggesting a simple graphic accompany it.

Review draft of Renewable Energy Ordinance

Mr. Comitta discussed amendments to the existing Part 23 of the Charlestown Township Zoning Ordinance presently titled Solar Energy. It would be expanded to Solar Energy and Other Alternative Energy Regulations. Regulations from Birmingham, West Bradford and Westtown Townships were gathered for review as many are a good fit for this amendment. He distributed a draft Ordinance that included elements from these townships but with less detail for the time being.

Mr. Westhafer asked about including geothermal energy. Mr. Wright said this is currently addressed through the building permit process, which includes plumbing, electrical, and erosion and sedimentation control permits, the latter only when over 500 square feet of land is disturbed. Mr. Motel asked if a commercial application would need further scrutiny. Mr. Comitta said he can ask the aforementioned townships whether they’ve had any problems with geothermal systems, particularly visual impact, and will forward any responses to Mrs. Csete for circulation.

The ordinance will be reviewed in more detail at the February 9th meeting.

Other Business

Spring Oak

Design Review Committee (DRC) Chairman Mike Allen updated the Planning Commission on several concerns at the Spring Oak development now under construction. He said that after the Planning Commission tour of the TND district in November, he circulated summary minutes of the tour, then he and township consultants met with JP Orleans on December 7th to discuss issues raised at that time. Subsequent to that meeting, the DRC put into place a schedule for progress meetings to be held every two weeks that include Mr. Wright, Mr. Comitta, Dale & Susan Frens and JP Orleans representatives.

At the progress meeting held this morning at the Township office, several issues were raised. Some garages have been constructed that don’t meet the ordinance since it was amended in October. While the permits were issued prior to the adoption of that ordinance, JP Orleans was aware that the regulations would be changed. Another situation was identified when a new building for Units 53 & 54 was found under construction with an attached garage when the approved permit is for a detached garage. This creates a row of four garages that is visually unappealing. JP Orleans had said this was done to include an office, although Susan Frens says it’s a master suite, which wouldn’t be possible if the garages were detached. Another concern is that framing is underway for several units that only have foundation permits approved. Mr. Allen said he’s asked Mrs. Frens for a list of all the houses that don’t have proper permits and request that Mr. Wright issue a stop work order.

Mr. von Hoyer asked if the noncompliant garage can be deducted from the approved garage count. Mr. Allen said it already counts against it. He said another option is to direct them to take the garages down. Mr. Allen spoke of having a Township appointed project manager on site. Mr. Wright said that beginning next week, Susan and Dale Frens will be going out once a week, and that along with his and Mr. Merklinger’s inspections, oversight should be sufficient. Mr. Allen noted that Mr. Wright would be the point person to act as enforcer.

There was additional discussion on the difference between the Spring Oak and Pickering Crossing TND developments, noting that Pickering Crossing has a less flexible design making it easier to regulate. Mr. Allen said that for the future, Frens & Frens will issue a bulletin for the various combinations of houses and garages for Spring Oak for the consultants, inspectors and JPO Orleans to use as a guide.

Administrative Note

Any documents referred to in the minutes are available to the public upon request to the Township office.


There being no further business, Mr. Westhafer adjourned the meeting at 10:15 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Linda M. Csete
Township Manager