The Schuylkill Township Planning Commission held their regularly scheduled meeting at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, September 21, 2016 at the Township hall. Members of the Planning Commission present were Mr. Jim Reading, Mr. Michael Bauer, Mr. Jim Lombardi and Mr. Curt English. Mr. Reading chaired the meeting. Mr. Morris Quigg and Mr. Eric Rahe were excused from the meeting. Also in attendance were Mrs. Barbara Cohen, Ms. Susan Guerette, Mrs. Martha Majewski, Mr. Jim Morrisson and Mr. Fred Parry from the Board of Supervisors, Mr. John Sartor, Township Engineer from Gilmore & Associates, Mrs. Sandy Momyer, Chair – Schuylkill Township Historical Commission, Mr. Bob Cooney, member – Open Space Commission, and Mr. Jerry O’Dell, Chair – Schuylkill Township Environmental Advisory Commission.
Mr. Reading addressed the audience, explaining that The Endeavor Group was before the Planning Commission with a second conceptual plan for discussion only, that there is no timeline in place for decisions or approvals on the concept plan. Mr. Reading advised that the developer would make the presentation and requested that questions be held until the end of that presentation.
On motion by Mr. Bauer and seconded by Mr. Lombardi, and passed, the Planning Commission approved the minutes of July 20, 2016. There was no Planning Commission meeting in August.
The Phoenixville Regional Planning Commission discussion as shown on the agenda was moved to the October 19, 2016 meeting.
University of Valley Forge (UVF) - Mr. Lou Colagreco representing Endeavor Property Group (EPG), Mr. Peter Monaghan, of Endeavor Property Group, and Mr. Mike Rosen and Mr. Kevin Smith of BSB Design came before the commission to present an updated concept plan for the former 50 acre National Christian Conference Center now owned by the UVF. Dr. Dan Mortensen, Vice President of Development for the University of Valley Forge, was also present. Mr. Colagreco reiterated that the college would like to sell the property and use the profits for their campus on Charlestown Road. The property is currently zoned Residential - R-1.
Mr. Colagreco stated that updated concept plan was in response to the Planning Commission’s request for a more refined illustrative plan at EPG’s initial presentation in July. Mr. Colagreco said that this is not a plan for action but rather an idea concept for development. EPG’s design team is developing Continuing Care Retirement Communities (CCRC) across the country, Mr. Colagreco went on to say, and if the CCRC concept goes forward for this property, traffic and civil engineers will be engaged to create a development plan but EPG does not want to invest in those services until the township is comfortable with this concept that would include independent, assisted living and personal care type living along with townhomes, carriage homes and apartment “villages” located on the property. Mr. Colagreco said the community would be age specific and would fulfill a need for a development where residents could “age in place” within a familiar community. This concept provides transitions from entry level independent living to assisted living to a memory care unit.
Mr. Rosen of BSB Designs advised that his company has 11 offices across the country and has designed everything residential including CCRCs. Mr. Rosen said they are familiar with the issues and wish to engage in a responsible way. Mr. Rosen stated that this particular property is a flag lot which presents unique complications for development. Mr. Rosen said the concept plan was analyzed from both an environmental and historical perspective. He advised that a quadrangle concept is proposed with three areas requiring clearing and the fourth containing existing buildings which would be designated for assisted living that would take advantage of the outdoor space. Mr. Rosen said that the present concept plan was updated with the input from the last meeting and now includes a trail connection, a wider buffer in the center of the property around the stream and slopes, and is respectful of density. Mr. Rosen added that this is being planned as a walkable community with trail connection and a trolley system to reduce car use. Mr. Peter Monaghan of EPG reiterated that this is at the concept stage and they were here to listen and gain input on the project.
Mr. Reading asked Mr. Rosen to review the project site calculations relative to the units being proposed. Mr. Rosen advised that this development is planned to be age specific for residents 62 years of age and older; townhomes and carriage homes typically would be occupied by residents 62 – 75 years of age; apartment homes by those in the 75 – 85 year range and those over 85 would be in the assisted living units. Mr. Rosen said the present concept plan shows 425 independent living units with 39 in the townhome village, 34 in the carriage home village and 192 apartment home units. Mr. Rosen advised that there would be a total of 162 assisted living and memory care units. Mr. Bauer noted that the site is zoned R-1 and asked if assumptions were being made about zoning. Mr. Monaghan responded that the township does not presently have zoning for this community concept; if the concept is favorable to the township, an ordinance would have to be written to allow it. Mr. Reading noted that without being site specific, it is his opinion that this use is needed in the community. Mr. Reading opened the meeting to the public stating that comments should be limited to 5 minutes.
Mrs. Majewski asked if EPG was aware of the pipeline easement on the property. Mr. Rosen said they are aware of the pipeline. Mr. Parry asked about occupancy expectations; Mr. Monaghan said he expects it to be comparable to similar communities across the country. Mr. Parry then asked about the target income level. Mr. Monaghan replied that no market studies have been done yet; Mr. Rosen added that they expect to target the middle to upper-middle income bracket. Mr. Morrisson asked if the 3:1 ratio of independent to assisted living units is typical in the industry. Mr. Monaghan replied it was.
Mr. Barry Mulzet, 62 Flintlock Lane, inquired about the connection to Flintlock Lane shown on the concept plan; Mr. Rosen said this was intended as an emergency access only as dictated by township ordinance. A resident questioned EPG’s experience and how many similar projects they had operational. Mr. Monaghan replied that EPG had about 1500 senior housing projects in various stages of development with one 63-unit independent living community in operation since 2005. Mr. Monaghan added that it is the intent to bring in an operator for the assisted living unit. Ms. Vanessa Matta, 18 Flintlock Lane, said that she had voted in favor of the open space referendum many years ago in the hopes this type of development would never take place in Schuylkill Township and she did not understand why this could not be preserved as open space. Mr. Elias Karkalas, 80 Flintlock Lane, stated that he strongly opposes the breaking of cul-du-sacs, even for emergency access purposes, and added that this particular cul-du-sac on Flintlock Lane is privately owned by him. A resident who lives adjacent to the former National Christian Conference Center property asked how this type of community affects neighboring property values. Mr. Monaghan said that with a good project there is usually significant appreciation. Mr. Rosen added that the intent of this project is to enhance the surrounding community. A resident from 55 Powderhorn Drive expressed concern about increased traffic volume and asked about the level of staffing; Mr. Monaghan said there would be about 15 staff per shift with 3 shifts per day. Mr. Rosen added that under the current condition of the property, with the conference center dormant, traffic volume is almost non-existent, but if the conference center should be reactivated, there could easily be 500 vehicles entering the property in the morning and 500 exiting in the evening. Mr. Rosen added that with age-specific communities, there are significantly lower trip volumes and these trips typically take place between 10:00 AM and 3:00 PM and do not add to rush hour congestion.
Mr. Bob Cooney, 1750 Rock Hill Lane, identified himself as a 4th generation township resident and added he knows the subject property well. Mr. Cooney questioned whether the sale of the property was ethical under the terms of the agreement between Valley Forge University (VFU) and Hobby Lobby. Mr. Cooney said his understanding was the land was donated by Hobby Lobby to VFU to be used for ministry-related work. Mr. Cooney also questioned the loss of tax-exempt status on the property by VFU stating his belief that it was a convenient oversight leading to the sale of the property. Mr. Cooney objected to the density of the CCRC development stating the property was currently zoned R-1 which allows 1 house per acre; the proposed concept plan pushes that to 9-10 units per acre. Mr. Cooney stated his opinion that VFU is seeking financial gain by breaking the current zoning and opined that there was no need for a CCRC development in the township because he found about 90 retirement developments within a 20-mile radius. Mr. Cooney called on the Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission to reject any request for a zoning change to allow a CCRC development. Rejecting a zoning change, he said, might open the way for an open space transaction. Mr. Cooney urged VFU to take the high road in this matter. Dr. Mortensen, VFU, responded saying that when the land was gifted to VFU by Holly Lobby, the intent was to use the property for university purposes but when tax-exempt status for the property was denied, the property became a liability to the financial health of VFU and it was decided the best use would be to sell the property and use the proceeds for enhancement of their programs on the main campus. Dr. Mortensen said VFU has tried to be a good neighbor since 1976; had looked upon this concept as a win-win for the community and the university, and invited anyone with questions or issues to call on him. Mrs. Sandy Momyer inquired as to what EPG intended to do with the historic structures – farmhouse and barn – currently on the property. Mr. Rosen said the current intent is to reorient the buildings and use them in the event space shown on the concept plan.
A resident from 110 Ferry Lane stated that Valley Forge National Historic Park is the most endangered park in the country due to development. Mrs. Cohen responded that the township must combine sustained growth with open space. Ms. Yue Lynn Butler, 63 Flintlock Lane, asked VFU and the township to communicate openly with residents going forward. Mr. Reading responded that every board and commission holds public meetings once a month, the public is always welcome and that no township business is conducted in secret. Ms. Guerette questioned whether VFU has met with the township’s Open Space Commission; Mr. Cooney stated that the OSC has been bypassed. Mr. Reading added that when the planning process for this project begins, it will cycle through all relevant township committees, commissions and councils before approaching the approval stage.
Mr. Rosen said the question before the Planning Commission tonight is should the property be developed; the owners are seeking the interest level in a CCRC. Mr. Colagreco added that no formal development approval process has been started; this meeting is purely exploratory and is needed before spending money to move forward with the concept. Mr. Colagreco added that most communities are receptive to a CCRC concept; EPG has received a different response here.
Mr. Bauer advised residents that this property will be sold eventually; being zoned R-1 it may be sold to a developer and all rights to development are in place under current zoning. Mr. Bauer said that EPG will work with the township and that residents should keep an open mind; this concept may be the best option for the property if neighbors don’t want to see 50 homes constructed here.
There being no further business before the Planning Commission, the meeting was adjourned at 9:40 pm.
Next Meeting: Wednesday, October 19, 2016