Charlestown Township Planning Commission
Initially, the developer was to follow guidelines, with the Township in control of progress. But, Spring Oak:
However, in Pickering Crossing the Township has had fewer concerns. The developer has learned from Spring Oak, and built more according to Township vision.
Mr. Churchill voiced his dismay at the Township having this degree of control. Especially because it still did not receive the desired look, or quality it wanted. Mr. Allen would like to have Township consultants watching over the design manual and ordinance, more closely, enforcing the DRC’s vision.
Mr. Allen was disturbed to find code enforcement gaps, such as varying foundation sizes, existing even with inspections and design manuals. Members wondered if this has exposed the need for a Township advocate or project manager to be on site daily. Although someone is doing inspections, this person is not an architectural construction manager. The TND Ordinance does not “provide” for this kind of site coverage, especially at a level Mr. Allen feels Charlestown needs. He wants to be sure the standards of design are maintained, just like maintaining the Code. Currently, Mr. Frens will document problems and bring them to Mr. Wright’s, or Mr. Merklinger’s attention. Mr. Allen hopes that this enforcement will begin to fill the design gaps, and this issue is solved. But, as a rule, Mr. Allen should not have to police adherence to the design manual. The developer may need to hire a design architect.
Members want a brochure for the lobby, newsletter, and website. It will be a sample of what applicants can bring to the Township, that ensures that neighbors and the environment are protected. Included will be a list of consultants that the Township has worked with in the past. It will not include recommendations. To draft this brochure, Mr. Comitta is going to invite a few experts to a session to discuss and design it pro-bono. Their cooperation will mean inclusion in the brochure, being listed as consultants, engineers, and planners/designers that have worked with the Township in the past. This meeting will hopefully be held before the March 8th meeting.Conditional Uses & Standards
Members discussed specifying standards and criteria. Last year Mr. Bender discussed the complications of criteria being too specific. He suggested using the Zoning Hearing Board. Now, Mr. Churchill suggested reviewing their decisions, going back two years. Mrs. Csete will provide participants with a list of reviews. Before sending more reviews to the Zoning Hearing Board, Members thought it a good idea to be sure they are in agreement with the decisions being handed down.Comprehensive Plan Update & Focus
Dividing the Townships’ FR district into smaller zones is still undecided.
A major concern is the pressure of encroaching growth from the south. Members want to be proactive to the consequences of the new Great Valley Center, Atwater, the building of connecting commercial within East Whiteland, and resulting traffic congestion. Mr. Comitta would like to promote bridge building at East Whiteland’s monthly Comprehensive Plan Task Force Meeting. Mr. Motel will act as liaison to East Whiteland. He plans on discussing Route 29 challenges, major connector road issues, and promoting some of Charlestown’s attributes, such as the Devault Rails-to-Trails, and the many green spaces.
Mr. Comitta does not think there is enough in the Phoenixville Regional Plan to use it exclusively. He suggested using both, the Township Plan and the Regional Plan, supplementing with the Regional.
Mr. Allen feels pressure building, due to not having enough apartments, from the growth pressures coming from the south. The Township is in between the density of employment coming from the south and the growth from the Route 422 corridor for Phoenixville. There is a trend to rezone unused commercial zones for apartments. Apartments are a hot market to millennials (example Eagleview). However Charlestown has a fragile environment, due to its many streams and hills; there are few places suitable for apartments.
Members wondered if the Township could be challenged on apartment data. They discussed the Filippo property, Devault zoning, Phoenixville Pike, and the quarry, as potential apartment locations. Mr. Comitta will add the note about being under intense pressure to accommodate more growth to the CCPC grant application. Mrs. Csete stated that only 1% of the Township homes are zoned for apartments. Although TND2 is not apartment friendly, some Members feel the need to plan for them.
The Board of Supervisors is looking for a recommendation about the Comprehensive Plan for Charlestown. Mr. Westhafer was in favor of accepting the Regional Plan. It is easy to withdraw, but acceptance must be unanimous.
Mr. Westhafer moved to recommend the adoption of the Phoenixville Regional Comprehensive Plan as the Charlestown municipal plan as a supplement to that plan in the interest of Charlestown Township. Mr. von Hoyer seconded. Mr. Westhafer called for discussion, and there being none, called the vote. All were in favor.
What does Charlestown have to offer neighboring municipalities? Devault trails, a green roadway to the slip ramp, recreation fields, and the Mill. Mr. Churchill suggested working with East Whiteland would be easier, if the Township approached East Whiteland with what Charlestown has to offer. As a note, Mr. von Hoyer would like the trailheads better marked, and easier to follow if the Township is going to use them as a plus item.Viewshed and Heritage Resource Protection
Members discussed Swiss Pines, since it is privately owned. A foundation overlooks this land with some of the parcels under easement. Restoration is possible per Mr. Motel. The owners have been plagued by the problems that often face large land owners without a lot of capital. The problems of littering, upkeep, gates being left open, and visitor noise have contributed to its deterioration.
Mr. O’Leary spoke about Chester County’s strong reputation for land preservation vs economic development. It is also well known for land planning, open space preservation, urban revitalization, and Vision Partnership Grants.
His mission is to continue the positive direction the County is going. He also wants to update the County’s Comprehensive Plan with a series of workshops, with municipal and official input, and update the Landscapes2 program.
Mr. Comitta told Mr. O’Leary that the Township was denied the VPP grant, and described the East Whiteland and Phoenixville area push for development. Besides bridging the gap in communication with East Whiteland, how does Charlestown begin dealing with these growth challenges?
Mr. O’Leary said the County likes to see regional plans, and municipalities working together. Since Charlestown has an intergovernmental agreement with the PRPC, this would give the Township the number of apartment units it needs.
Mr. Churchill asked Mr. O’Leary what he felt was priority for the County. Mr. O’Leary said the Commission is working on traffic, open space pressures, and urban revitalization. There is a new concern about office parks and employment centers. Due to shifts in the market, the County is studying how to make suburban offices more competitive. They want to maintain the high quality open space but create work places with all the amenities desired by companies and millennials. By doing this in the suburban office zone, the County can keep its standing of having the highest employment in the state. This means:
Since the idea to add a toll on Route 422 died, it eliminated the local train idea (Schuylkill Valley Metro), because the tolls would have funded it. There is a strong possibility that there will be a Norristown high speed line to King of Prussia and a startup service from West Chester to Route 1 near the Franklin Mint.
Mr. O’Leary described “benching”, where companies provide much reduced office space per employee, but many varied amenities (coffee shops, gyms, stores, restaurants). However, he believes this has a fad element, though to a small degree, it will be here to stay.
Devault Rails-to-Trails is a “spine trail” that links people, places, and communities within Chester County. The group should begin building foundations with small scale advocacy conversations, promoting its relation to a larger project, like linking a regional network. He suggested the next step for the Trail’s task force be to arrange a meeting between all the municipalities. He thought it was too early to target specific organizations for support. Plus the County wants to work with the task force, and they aren’t ready. It will be more of a 10 year, not a 2 year process, like the Comprehensive Plan. Many people still need to change their mindset, that it isn’t a railroad anymore, and never will be. He wants to meet with the task force and asked Mr. Churchill to contact him via email.
Mr. Motel asked Mr. O’Leary if it would help if the Township committed funding. Mr. O’Leary said first the right of way needs to be secured. And although there is no county grant program for trails, there are state funds, such as the William Penn Foundation and DCNR. Funding can vary, for example Struble Trail near Marsh Creek can be extended with the transfer of a comparatively small amount of land, but the price is exorbitant.
Last year the Vision Partnership Program had less money to distribute. This year’s applications must be in before March 2, 2016. The CCPC also helps in housing, pipelines, economic development, agricultural development, and historical preservation. There is a lot of expertise available at the County to be used.
Mr. O’Leary discussed resources for the sketch plan lite idea. He suggested contacting National Lands Trust, and Conservation by Design.
His suggestion for applicants:
In other words, residents should not start with what they want, but start with the constraints.
Final Notes: The Alternative Energy Ordinance draft has been reviewed. Mr. Churchill wants the Members to rethink the constraints. He and Mr. Allen discussed consideration of aesthetics when encouraging alternative use.
Mr. Comitta shared with the PC that he has been nominated for election to Fellow, which is one of the highest honors that the American Institute of Certified Planners bestows upon a member. He will attend the National Planning Conference April 2-5, in Phoenix, Arizona.