Petition Against Rezoning

On March 6, a petition was published that concerns the proposed rezoning of the Conference Center at Valley Forge (CCVF), which would allow for the development of a continuing care retirement community (CCRC). I want to take a moment to address the petition with an objective perspective and discuss how I would tackle the issue in the role of Township Supervisor.

Background

On December 31, 2013, University of Valley Forge (UVF), formerly known as Valley Forge Christian College, received the 47-acre parcel of land known as the National Christian Conference Center as a gift. Included on the site is “[t]he original Inhill Farm house and barn (1731), two main buildings, a swimming pool, hiking trails, and a ropes course” and it is bordered by the Schuylkill River. 1 As recorded in the Schuylkill Township Planning Commission meeting minutes from September 2016, it appears that UVF anticipated tax-exempt status for the CCVF. UVF argues that the property is now a liability to the university’s financial health and seeks to sell the property so that they can reinvest in programs on their main campus in Charlestown Township.

The property is currently zoned Residential R-1, which allows a density of about one dwelling per 35,000 sq ft parcel (about 0.8 acres) where both public water and sewer are accessible to the dwelling. To enact the current proposal for a CCRC, brought forward by anticipated partner Endeavor Property Group, the area would need to be rezoned to a C (commercial) or APO (apartment / professional office) classification to allow for higher density occupation at about 9-10 dwellings per acre. The township expressed a concern for open space and possible increase in traffic that may arise from the addition of approximately 425 new units just off of Route 23 during the Planning Commission discussion in July 2016.

At the following Planning Commission meeting in September 2016, the developers showed its members an initial concept design for the CCRC, provided by BSB Design, and discussed some of the expected challenges and requirements for the project. The need for rezoning was reiterated, as the property does not currently allow for high density living arrangements. Neighboring township residents were present and added to the discussion. There was a general focus on preserving open space and the effect on neighbors in the township. A connection to Flintlock Lane from the CCRC, currently a cul-de-sac backed by wooded area, would be necessary for emergency access. Residents also expressed concern about the effect such a project would have on property values, to which Mr. Rosen, of BSB Design, responded with assurance that appreciation is typical in other areas in which this type of project has been completed. Mr. Rosen also noted in response to concerns of increased rush hour traffic that the trips from a typical CCRC usually take place between 10am-3pm. The latest iteration of the plan repurposes the historic buildings on the site for use as event locations.

It should be noted that no formal development process has actually started. Endeavor Property Group was testing the waters, so to speak, in September and has only requested approval to allow for a traffic study that may begin in spring or summer 2017. This proposal is in the earliest concept stages and is, in my opinion, likely to be an issue on the books for late 2017 and beyond.

Concerns Cited in the Petition

The petition’s author makes various salient points regarding concerns that township residents might have if the latest proposed development project proceeds. The listed concerns regarding the proposed rezoning are as follows:

  • Infringement on open space
  • Effect on property values
  • Increased local automobile traffic and noise
    • In particular,Flintlock Lane and McKinney Lane due to required emergency access shown in the concept drawings
  • Increased foot traffic in adjacent neighborhoods
  • Long-term planning, adopted in the 2008 regional comprehensive plan set forth by the Phoenixville Area Planning Committee, for the zoning of the conference center area supported low density residential classification for future land use
    • Schuylkill Township supervisors identified the CCVF for targeted open space preservation in 2009
  • Neighboring homeowners invested in the north end of the township for its low density residential area and did not expect to live next to a bunch of townhomes (or similar high density dwellings)
    • UVF, having received the property as a gift, did not make an initial financial investment in Schuylkill Township as homeowners have done

Course of Action as Supervisor

As Supervisor, a matter such as this would only officially cross my desk once all invested township commissions have had their say on the concept design. Once in front of the board for discussion on the vote, the developer will be given the opportunity to put forth their ideas and present their best case for how this will benefit the township and surrounding community. A public comment period will be enacted, during which the proposal will be advertised to the community for feedback on the final concept. It is important to note that public discussion should be welcome and encouraged at all board and commission meetings. I would personally like to hear public input throughout all stages of the process so that it can be weighed properly against the proposal.

I believe that ensuring all affected residents have their say is crucial to the process. I would try to address concerns with the developer and correct misconceptions as they arise. Residents’ concerns must be fully addressed and the proposed development project must meet the exceptional standards for our community’s growth if I were to support the CCRC facility on the current CCVF site. At this time, it would take a lot of evidence for a developer to convince me that a radical repurposing and rezoning of the conference center lot is in the best interest of the township and its residents.

Barring unforeseen events, I expect to be at Planning Commission meetings every month, so I will be up-to-date on all relevant details. This being the case, I will review the proposal documents and studies as they become available so that I am prepared for the Board of Supervisors vote on rezoning.

MJD

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Petition Against Rezoning of Conference Center at Valley Forge

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