Duly advertised in The Pottstown Mercury and posted at www.schuylkilltwp.com
The Schuylkill Township Board of Supervisors held their public work session on Thursday, March 28, 2019 at 7:00 p.m. This is an informal meeting to discuss township related business with the public without making any motions or voting on any discussed items. The work session was called to order at 7:00 p.m. by Supervisors’ Chair Majewski. In attendance were Ann Hutchinson and Rick Tralies of Natural Lands and the Township’s Ordinance Study Committee Members, Jim Morrisson – Board of Supervisors, Curt English – Planning Commission, Michael Roscoe – Environmental Advisory Council, and Robert Cooney and Bereth Graeff – Open Space Commission. Also in attendance were Supervisors Martha Majewski, Mark Donovan, and Susan Guerette, Township Manager E.J. Mentry, Township Solicitor William Brennan, and for Township Engineer, MaryLou Lowrie, P.E. Absent were Supervisor Fred Parry, Michelle Garg – Environmental Advisory Council, and Michael Pellegrino – Planning Commission.
The working meeting’s agenda was primarily a review of the suggested revisions to the SALDO and Zoning Ordinances for the Conservation Subdivision Overlay design, as discussed at previous workshops and reviewed by the Township Solicitor, Township Engineer, and Natural Lands consultants. The proposed revisions would affect SALDO Articles II, III, IV, and V, and Zoning Ordinance Articles II, III, IV, V, and XXIX. Zoning Ordinance Article XXIX – Conservation Overlay District, is a new proposed article. Other discussion topics were reserved for the end of the working session if time permitted.
Mr. Tralies began the working session by giving a presentation to summarize the goals of the ordinance changes and the steps of the conservation development process. Mr. Tralies explained that municipalities cannot afford to buy up all undeveloped land for preservation, so they need to structure the development process to preserve open space. The principles of conservation development are designed to avoid developments that are consumed by roads, large lots and lawns, with no open space or natural resources. The purpose of going through this exercise is to write a subdivision ordinance that requires developers to set aside open space as a first step of the design process. Mr. Tralies presented a Conservation Opportunities Map, which showed all undeveloped lots greater than 5 acres in Schuylkill Township, to which these new ordinance provisions would apply.
Mr. Tralies then gave a detailed explanation of the 4-step design process that is proposed for the SALDO Article V – Minimum Design Requirements. Before the 4-step process can even begin, the developer/applicant must complete an existing features inventory plan, and a site walk is strongly encouraged. The 4-step design process is: Step 1 – Delineate open space and stormwater management areas; Step 2 – Locate the dwelling units; Step 3 – Locate the infrastructure (roads, trails, etc.); Step 4 – Draw the lot lines. Mr. Tralies explained that this process leads to much better development than the traditional process. In order to get the maximum density allowed, a developer must follow this 4-step process. Ms. Hutchinson that what sets the conservation development ordinance apart from typical cluster ordinances is its focus on usable and interconnected open space, as opposed to just quantity of open space.
Ms. Hutchinson and Mr. Tralies next went through several examples of developments in Chester County that were designed using these standards and showed some side-by-side comparisons of a traditional design versus a conservation development design. Ms. Guerette asked where in the proposed ordinance is a developer required to either preserve trees or replace trees that have been removed? Ms. Hutchinson explained that these specific proposed changes do not include tree planting requirements, as they are already contained in other sections of the Township’s ordinances. Mr. Morrisson explained that those provisions are included in Zoning Ordinance Article XXVIII – Natural Resources Conservation Overlay District. Ms. Graeff responded that the entire ordinance should be amended to ensure stricter tree replacement standards. Ms. Hutchinson responded that the Township’s ordinances, as presently written, are quite strict in terms of tree removal/replacement. Ms. Graeff stated that the Township could also look into a fee-in-lieu arrangement for vegetation and trees. Supervisors Guerette and Morrisson agreed that these standards should be investigated. Ms. Hutchinson noted that any tree removal/replacement changes would not go in the conservation overlay section.
Ms. Hutchinson stated that on average, about 62% of open space is set aside under the types of ordinance guidelines that are being suggested. She reiterated that a developer in the FR and R1 Districts will be required to follow the new guidelines in order to get the maximum density, and that it is not an increase in density over what the ordinances currently allow. A conversation ensued regarding the specifics of the formula used to calculate density under the proposed ordinance guidelines. An alternative to using the formula is a yield plan approach in which a developer is required to draw a conventional plan and prove that he/she can get the same number of homes. Ms. Hutchinson explained that most municipalities use the formula approach, which is what’s currently drafted, and that that would be her recommendation. Mr. Roscoe asked if the changes proposed by Natural Lands are similar to other nearby municipalities? Ms. Hutchinson responded that West Vincent Township, Wallace Township, London Grove Township, and Newlin Township all have very similar ordinances, and that Schuylkill Township is one of the few Townships in Chester County that does not have some sort of conservation or open space development overlay. A long discussion ensued over whether the formula option or the yield plan option would be better for Schuylkill Township. Mr. English suggested to use the formula approach while adding some sort of percentage to take out of the developable area to account for road frontage, utilities, etc. The committee agreed with this approach.
Mr. Morrisson added his comments and edits after reviewing all of the proposed ordinance sections. In Article IV, he suggested that “specimen trees” should be clearly defined in the Definitions section of the ordinance. He pointed out inconsistencies in ordinances sections where “open space” is used in place of “conservation land” and suggested that all sections use “conservation land” for consistency. Mr. Morrisson also suggested some formatting changes for several articles. The committee decided to remove the reference to “tot lots” in proposed Article XXIX and replace with “playgrounds”.
After reviewing all of the ordinance sections, the committee determined that the changes were ready to go to the Township Planning Commission. Ms. Hutchinson stated that she would make the requested edits and send to the Township Manager for transmittal to the Planning Commission. Once the Planning Commission has time to review the changes, a special meeting will be scheduled for Ms. Hutchinson and Mr. Tralies to attend and present to the Planning Commission. This concluded the discussion on the Conservation Subdivision Ordinance.
Mr. Mentry requested to briefly discuss with the Supervisors the proposed PSATS (Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors) Resolutions, By-Laws Changes, and Nominations for the 2019 PSATS Annual Conference. Ms. Majewski stated that she reviewed all the proposed actions from PSATS, and she is in agreement with all of them. Mr. Donovan had a question regarding proposed Resolution 19-28 dealing with how closely zoning ordinances relate to comprehensive plans. After a brief discussion, he concurred with the PSATS recommended action. Mr. Mentry stated that the Supervisors could make one motion at their upcoming April 3 Business Meeting to authorize him to vote in accordance with the PSATS recommendations at the upcoming conference.
Mr. Mentry stated that there were certain sections of the Zoning ordinance dealing with accessory structures that should be discussed and possibly amended. Mr. Morrisson explained that the main issues are with the maximum permitted height of accessory structures, which is 35 feet in all districts. Mr. Mentry stated that other guidelines to consider are size restrictions for accessory structures, as well as better definitions for different kinds of accessory structures.
Mr. Mentry suggested that the April working session be entirely devoted to reviewing these potential changes and any other sections of the SALDO and Zoning Ordinance that need to be amended. He explained that any additional changes can be incorporated along with the conservation development ordinances and adopted as one major code change. The Board agreed with this approach.
Ms. Majewski adjourned the meeting at approximately 9:15 PM and the Board entered into Executive Session. Present for the Executive Session were Supervisors Martha Majewski, Mark Donovan, and Jim Morrisson, Township Manager E.J. Mentry, and Township Solicitor William Brennan. Supervisor Guerette had previously exited the working session early and was therefore absent for the executive session. The purpose of the executive session was to discuss legal issues.
The next work session date is April 25, 2019.
Township Manager/Assistant Secretary