When a meeting clocks in at a grueling 2 hours and 27 minutes, the sanctimonious dime store philosophizing from the likes of John Pearson becomes that much more insufferable. Pity the poor staff members, who, in spite of being compensated for this waste of their time with your tax dollars, are forced to stick around until the end of this meeting to essentially read their written reports to the Board.
But I don’t know. Maybe it is worth it to get the life-affirming message of “You are special” from the Chairman.
Incredibly, it’s not a hugely full agenda, but as with all things since this new Board took office, everything just seems to take a bit longer to get through. Early on, we get fair warning that Pearson is even less competent than usual this evening, when he “forgets” that the Board held an executive session on personnel matters and announces that he is “a little off” and “a little hazy” this evening because only one hearing aid is working. What this has to do with his memory of an executive session is anyone’s guess, but perhaps Pearson is just so used to holding meetings out of the public eye, he’s smply having trouble keeping track of which ones he has to report and which ones he can continue to keep secret.
Before jumping into the regular agenda, Pearson asks if there are any questions or comments from the “Peanut Gallery,” which is a rather arrogant and disrespectful way of asking for public comment from someone wearing a Three Stooges tie.
Stick around till the end of the post (which takes a lot less time to read than watching this interminable meeting) for an interesting update on the Cellco cell tower at 248 Rittenhouse Road an application that went in front of the Zoning Hearing Board on June 7.
Spares Lane Development: Five Lot Subdivision
The Spares Lane development is in for preliminary approval and it quickly becomes apparent that, not only are there are many Spares Lane neighbors in attendance at this meeting, but Pearson has already talked to these neighbors and, further, that he clearly has an agenda regarding this development. The first order of business is the approval of the following waivers by the Board of Supervisors. Attorney for the applicant, Mike Clement, outlines the eight waivers, which he states are being requested to conform with the existing topography of the site:
- The Township requires a 26’ vertical curve and the applicant is requesting to reduce that to 15’ vertical curve due to site grade
- Township requires a minimum cartway of 32’ and applicant is requesting to reduce that to 24’ to conform with the surrounding area.
- Existing Spares Lane may be required to be widened at the Township’s discretion, and the applicant is requesting that the road not be widened due to the possible disturbance of environmentally sensitive areas in the right of way.
- The Township requires sidewalks along all roads except where not necessary for public safety and the applicant is requesting a waiver of the sidewalk requirement in the cul-de-sac.
- The Township requires concrete curbs to be installed and the applicant is requesting that the cartways remain at the width stated above.
- Township requires that the grade not exceed 3%; applicant is requesting steeper slopes to conform with the surrounding area.
- Driveway grades are required to be 4%; the applicant is requesting a partial waiver for one of the five driveways to exceed that grade.
- Applicant requests a waiver for the installation of ADA ramps since no sidewalks will be constructed.
Township solicitor Joe Bresnan notes that the Planning Commission has reviewed the waivers and recommends in favor of granting them, however, some discussion was necessary regarding fees in lieu of development requirements, specifically with regard to the widening of roads. The township’s ordinance requires that the roads be widened, but because of the unique features of Spares Lane (which will be discussed in detail) it is impossible for the developer to comply with this requirement. Clement agrees to this, and suggests that the discussion of these fees and amounts to be settled amongst the attorneys and the township’s engineer.
Please note: This is a pretty standard practice for waiver granting, which Clement himself has been through numerous times in Upper Providence. Typically, the Township engineer and the Solicitor will apply a formula to determine the dollar worth of the waivers being requested which the developer will then pay to the Township. Clement’s request that the Supervisors grant conditional approval while the fees are negotiated is wholly reasonable and usual (as we will see later during the SEI discussion).
Clement agrees that whatever fees the Township wants, the applicant will put into Township coffers. Vagnozzi states he wants to see this money earmarked for re-investment in the Spares Lane community.
Barker then jumps in, clarifying that the curb and sidewalk waivers are not for the new road going in, but the existing Spares Lane. He also notes that since the road is very narrow, the developer would not be able to widen it simply because there is no space in which to do so. Calci then confirms that she understands this concept correctly.
Additionally, Spares Lane has structures directly next to it in some places. Any widening would have to be with the cooperation from the residents for the obtainment of easements and possible demolition of those structures.
Apparently oblivious to the previous 15 minutes of discussion, Pearson asks what the developer is going to do to Spares Lane, to which Clement responds, “Nothing.”
Barker then asks the Township Engineer, Bill Dingman, what could be done if Spares Lane became a Township project, since most of these issues are off-site from the proposed development. Dingman states that the right of way varies between 20’ and 40’ and at some parts the road is a mere 13’ wide and at others, there are actual structures in the way. There are many property surveys and deeds that would need to researched in order to widen the road.
Vagnozzi asks about the general condition of the road, and Dingman responds that it could use a mill and overlay as it was last paved 16 years ago, so it is about due, though it is certainly not amongst the Township’s troubled roads.
So maybe we pave the roads? Vagnozzi proposes, but for some reason, (it is unintelligible on the video) it is determined that is not what the neighborhood wants.
Bresnan then says that the Planning Commission recommended that the fee in lieu be used to widen the intersection of Spares at 29.
Pearson then jumps in, and wants to know “how much money we are talking about,” and then says he wants to go back to the residents and ask them how they want the money spent.
Ok, time-out here. The residents are at this meeting. Why not ask them now?
Second of all, Pearson has already been talking to these folks. Two weeks ago, he asked the Township’s Traffic Engineer for a status on his request to evaluate a one way in, one way out configuration for Spares Lane. Why doesn’t he already know what they want?
And once again, Bresnan steps in and explains this process of negotiation between township consultants and applicants, a process that has not changed, at least since the last time Pearson was on the Board.
But Pearson is indignant. He wants to know how much money they are
shaking down the developer for getting and wants to know how is he supposed to make a decision without knowing that?
Bresnan states that the resolution was drafted with the intention that there would be some additional discussion.
Clement reminds the Board that some of the things that are required by the Township’s ordinance are virtually impossible to perform, and while the applicant acknowledges that, he has no intention of walking away from their responsibility to the neighborhood.
What comes next is classic Pearson:
“I…I…I …I get that. I’ve been there many many times. And I understand. And that’s why…that’s why it creates angst in me that I have to do something here that’s going to upset those people that have been there for generations. And….ummmm…you know, I want to, I want to do what’s, I want to do what’s best for them. And…and…and it always bothers me sometimes that we are charged with the health, safety and welfare of…uuhhh, the residents of this township and…and…why can’t we do it for the welfare of those residents down there? Errr, you know, it’s like, uhhh, that kinda bothers me. Everybody shoots, everybody, you know, aahhhh, comes to us about the health and safety, the welfare of the residents are important, too. So…ummm, I’m, you know, aaahhh…I’m…I’m inclined to ehhhh to ask aahhh the rest of the Board here that maybe we table this, we find out what kind of money we are talking about, have another conversation with the residents and tell them what we, what we’re physically dealing with, what we actually know we’re going to get and go back to them and say, ‘This is what we have to deal with, what do you want to do with it?’”
What is Pearson even talking about here? How is this land development project affecting the “welfare” of these residents? And why does he keep insisting that he needs to “find out what kind of money we are talking about?” First of all, it’s a formula—or it’s supposed to be a formula—based on the cost of waivers requested, as has been explained by two separate consultants in this conversation alone. Second of all, it’s money that will be given to the township, to spend how they see fit–which this Board has indicated will go back into the Spares Lane neighborhood. There really is no pressing need to hold up approval pending the resolution of the costs of the waivers. That money will be used for improvements that will be completed by the Township, off-site from the actual proposed development.
In my six years on the Board, I do not ever recall holding up an approval over the dollar amount for waivers; this was a figure that consultants negotiated based on the formula; in other words, the dollar figure is going to be whatever the dollar figure is going to be based upon the work the developer is requesting to have waived.
What Pearson is doing here is skirting dangerously close to talking about pay to play.
Clement just wants to get as much approved at this meeting as he possibly can, since this development has been before the Board since November of last year and they already have their tentative approval. He is tired of going around and around on this and wants to stop wasting everyone’s time.
So they start going through the tedious process of the consultant review letters, and Pearson grasps the “Fire Marshall’s” review letter (whose expertise is apparently sufficient when Pearson can use that expertise to suit Pearson’s purpose, but not when it comes to, you know, actual Fire and Emergency services) and asks the applicant’s engineer to read it to him, because, in addition to his hearing aid being out tonight, his glasses “aren’t too good” either.
Barker agrees with not taking any action on the plan, but he would like to engage with the community to see if they could get their cooperation in expanding the road as these improvements are “off site” and the Township cannot require the developer to complete improvements on property that is not contiguous to the development itself.
So it seems that there is some consensus from the Board as to how to move forward, and Vagnozzi, recognizing that there are residents in the audience, would like to hear comments from the residents themselves.
And Pearson says, “Would you like to do that here….or somewhere else?”
Full Stop again.
The whole point of having public meetings is to have meetings in PUBLIC. Where else are these issues going to be hashed out? And why is Pearson suggesting that this discussion takes place outside of the public eye?
Vagnozzi pauses a full beat before answering, perhaps because he simply cannot believe he just heard this from the guy who accused the last Board of a lack of transparency. Vagnozzi then says he thinks it should be on the record.
The residents do come up and start voicing concerns, the primary one of which is the narrowness of Spares Lane, which is an existing issue. They are concerned about the two year construction timeframe which would possibly exacerbate the fact that two cars cannot currently pass each other on this road.
Clement then outlines the plans for construction worker parking, keeping the roads open, and assures the Board that they will handle this issue like they have on every other development that they have done in Upper Providence.
At this point, Vagnozzi summarizes what they’ve just heard, which are construction issues and existing narrow road issues. But none of these issues is a permanent hardship that will be caused by the development and the developer has addressed those issues that will be caused during the construction period. Vagnozzi tells the audience, quite appropriately, that this applicant has a right to develop this land. The Board can work with the developer to mitigate any potential impacts, but they cannot stop the development. It’s interesting that Vagnozzi feels the need to state this; as if someone has told these neighbors that this development can just be blocked simply because they don’t want it. Vagnozzi says, “There must be more [issues] than that. Unless there is someone we haven’t heard from yet.”
So another resident comes up, and she elaborates on another existing issue of the Spares Lane and 29 intersection. She advocates for the aforementioned one way in, one way out of Spares Lanes, which is the issue that was brought up by Pearson at the end of the last meeting. In response, Pearson asks Township Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien to explain to “this lady” why PennDOT would not allow this configuration.
It’s at this point that Pearson completely loses control of the meeting and he allows multiple members of the audience to simply shout questions at O’Brien without allowing O’Brien to answer. Pearson, instead of gaveling for order, starts stammering about the criteria for PennDOT, then he announces,
“I’ll take one more question, and then, Gail, you have my cellphone number, if anyone has any questions or comments about this thing, they want to add to whatever’s happening, you can have them call me, personally, not a problem, and…and…ummm, ma’am, you, we’ll have one more question and then we’ll…that’s it.”
All of these residents showed up at this meeting, and now they are not only being told they are not going to be able to speak, but that they have to deal directly with Pearson and only Pearson?
The classic Pearson move is to go into a neighborhood, rile them all up, and then tell them to gather their torches and pitchforks and show up at a Board meeting to shout their complaints at the Board while he sits back on his hands doing nothing except avoiding responsibility.
But he no longer has to recuit a whole bunch of actors to take part in another episode of Township Meeting Kabuki Theater to put pressure on the Board (like he did as a minority supervisor–unnecessarily—three years ago with the Mont Clare neighborhood’s Produce Junction issues). He’s the Chairman of the Board, with the majority, and in “his girls,” he has what have so far been two utterly reliable “yes” votes this year.
So this is a bit of a different take on Pearson’s usual modus operandi. It is obvious he’s been in communication with these neighbors, but he clearly doesn’t want them speaking at the meeting, nor does he want them speaking directly to the developer, staff, or other members of the Board. By all appearances, it seems as if John Pearson wants to be the singular point of communication between all parties.
Look, no one likes new development in their neighborhood, and that is understandable. New development in anyone’s neighborhood is a source of fear, anger and angst. People tend to think that municipalities simply roll over for developers, because they think that the municipality can just “stop” development. But as Vagnozzi states, the developer has a right to develop this land, as long as it is developed within the Township’s zoning and building codes.
It has been my experience that most of the developers who worked with Upper Providence (including Mr. Clement) were willing to accomodate the neighbors’ wishes, at least to a certain extent. Sometimes the Board would act as an intermediary between residents and developer, sometimes an HOA or neighborhood group would deal directly with the developer, sometimes it would be a combination of both (we will see that in the SEI project, immediately following.) What’s interesting here is that instead of facilitating communications between the residents and the developer, Pearson is trying to completely control the process, and botching it badly, and in so doing, he’s creating more fear, anger, and angst on all sides.
It was abundantly clear that Pearson, and only Pearson, had been privvy to the concerns of these residents prior to this meeting. He could have brokered a meeting between the neighborhood and the developer; he could have come into this meeting with a list of realistic asks from the residents and presented that to the developer. He could have educated the residents on the development process and what they would be likely to achieve as far as improvements to their neighbohood. Of course, that would mean Pearson would have to have a basic understanding of the Subdivision and Land Development process; an understanding that he has repeatedly demonstrated that he does not have.
So the one last comment is, again, about blocking the road during construction. Again, there is shouting from the audience unchallenged by Pearson, and Clement, who has been remarkably patient through this interminable 50 minutes of discussion, sighs, shakes his head, and says, “Ma’am, there will be a space to get your car past.”
Vagnozzi interrupts and tells her that not only will they not block the road, but it is the Township’s job to make sure that they are not blocking the road.
Clement then asks for a vote, which Pearson tells him he’s not going to get. Barker says based on Clement’s history with the township, and always doing what he says he’s going to do, he feels comfortable saying that once the fees are negotiated and they determine what the residents want, the Board is willing to move forward.
So what happened here? Instead of actually helping these residents by guiding them through this process and setting realistic expectations, Pearson met with them and never properly facilitated communication between all parties. His suggestion to listen to the residents’ comments “somewhere else” and his admonistion at his unilaterally imposed end of the discussion to have residents call his personal cellphone confirms this. My guess is that he hung his hat on the idea of making Spares Lane a one way road, with one way in and one way out on to route 29, a proposal he sold to the residents without fully exploring that option with the township’s traffic engineer. When that solution was deemed impossible due to PennDOT restrictions, rather than deliver the bad news, the Yes Man fumbled through this meeting, muddying the process for everyone.
It almost seems like Pearson is more interested in scoring points off of the developer to notch something in the win column for himself, than he is in actually solving problems for the residents. Several months ago, this blog discussed the campaign mode/governing mode of this Board. At this point, it would appear that Pearson is still in campaign mode, even at this late date.
SEI North Campus: Phase 1
Phase 1 of the project consists of a 120,000 sf building, an access drive through South Campus of SEI, two on grade parking lots for 630 parking space and a trail connection of sidewalk from Cider Mill in front of Hunt Club, through SEI Campus and connect to the Montco trail.
SEI’s traffic engineer outlined multiple major traffic improvements to accommodate the influx of additional employees, including:
- SEI will finally upgrade the signal at BlackRock and Upper Indian Head Road and they will also do some significant widening to that intersection.
- Right turn lane on Black Rock Road heading away from Egypt Road to facilitate right turns into SEI.
- Left turn lane on Upper Indian Head Road.
- Cider Mill and Upper Indian Head Road. Left turn lane on every approach and signalized. Plus right turn lanes. Driveways will be right in, right out.
- SEI is also proposing to work with the DVRPA to do a regional improvements.
At 1:17:44, Ed Mullin, the attorney for SEI, mentions that the Planning Commission has recommended approval of all of the waivers.
Michelle Strannon speaks on behalf of the Hunt Club Homeowners’ Association. Association has two specific concerns:
- Potential lighting pollution because the residential area elevation is looking down on the North Campus parking garage, and because there is no way to know what that light pollution is going to be until it is installed, that the Board impose a condition on the developer that they can address this issue in the future.
- The HOA would also like a condition placed on the applicant on traffic issues. Hunt Club residents live that traffic every day, and they recognize SEI’s completed traffic studies but would like the Township to require an additional traffic study to be completed as employees are added to the campus.
Mullin quickly agrees to those conditions on behalf of SEI.
1:33:50 more discussion of waivers of steep slopes.
At 1:37:00, Bresnan announces that the fees in lieu will be negotiated prior to final approval. As is normally the case. Some further detailed discussion occurs.
Pearson, however, does not ask to table this particular resolution until he knows “what kind of money we are talking about.”
He calls for a vote and approval of SEI’s preliminary land development plan is unanimous.
239 Grace Street: Five Lot Subdivision
Ed Mullin again for the applicant for tentative sketch approval. This is a five lot subdivision, including one existing house which will remain. The primary source of concern is the access to the development is too close to the intersection with the access to the Meadows condominium. They will have to get a special exception for steep slopes from the zoning hearing board.
The developer will probably ask for a partial waiver for sidewalks on one side of the new street.
Pearson asks if Traffic Engineer Ken O’Brien has seen the access driveway and if he is ok with it, which Pearson would know if he read the review letters included in his packet. O’Brien says it’s not ideal, but it’s low volume, so not concerning.
Approved unanimously, with no discussion of waivers by the Board.
Follow your passion!
Vagnozzi notes that the manager’s report makes mention of another Board member doing “due diligence” on the structures at the Taylor Farm park. It turns out that this was Laurie Higgins, who “personally” would like to see some restoration, including the creation of an historical society.
Vagnozzi does not like that Higgins has taken it upon herself “scratch the surface” of this. He says that things like this must be done as a Board. He further notes that this has already been looked at by structural engineers.
Pearson of course says he doesn’t think that Higgins has stepped out of line because she hasn’t done anything official.
Calci notes that it is Higgins’ passion and she should pursue it.
While I agree that Higgins should be able to look into this, and any other side projects she finds interesting, I would note that none of what she has pursued so far requires her official capacity as a township supervisor to do it. If she wants to start an Historical Society and preserve buildings, any private citizen can do that (and I’m sure Pearson already has his sights set on a certain privately-owned building at Cider Mill and Arcola that would make a great water ice stand on the bike trail, if only someone would put some money into restoring it).
I would further note that none of these ‘passions” should be pursued at the expense of her actual responsibilities as a Township supervisor. But I have yet to hear her offer a relevant or independently informed comment on any of the land development projects before the board or on any of the various safety issues the Board has contemplated this year. I find it hard to believe she knocked on all of those doors last year simply to be a “yes” vote for John Pearson’s agenda of petty score settling and personal favors for friends, though she’s certainly caught on to that latter bit earlier in the year when she voted to give taxpayer money to her neighbors.
There were three developments up for approval at this meeting, and she offered one question in the course of over two hours of discussion, and that question had already been answered at the beginning of that project’s presentation. The only question she posed at the last land development approval two meetings ago had to do with another “passion” of hers, whether or not the developer would consider adding green roof (they would not).
Development in the Township is permanent and lasting and needs to be approved thoughtfully and according to the Township’s code. It is irresponsible to approach these issues ill-prepared and there are courses in land development that the county offers if she need help. I daresay it’s a better use of time than borrowing the keys to Township properties and asking her friends to second guess the decisions of the prior Board.
Other Business before the Board
- The Board awarded a bid for a new digital LED sign at the Black Rock Campus to Upper Darby Sign Company for $96,257.
- The Board awarded the Kline Road reconstruction project to Road Con Inc. for $398,888. There was some hearing aid/glasses related confusion as Pearson tried to award the digital sign contract to Road Con and had to slowly and patiently be walked through the error by Calci until he got it right.
- The Board approved a capital budget amendment in the amount of $115,000 to repair the sinkhole on Cider Mill Road. The sinkhole problem is due mostly to failing corrugated pipe. MJ Contractors will do the work.
- The Board approved the Solicitor to authorize a tax assessment appeal for a commercial property on Longford Road.
In which the Zoning Hearing Board “does their thing.”
On June 7, the Zoning Hearing Board granted a use variance for a cell tower at 248 Rittenhouse Road, which is a residentially zoned area.
As you may recall (see here), the prior Board had originally sent the Township Solicitor to the Zoning Hearing Board oppose this application. This action was quickly undone at one of the new Board’s first meetings this year. Pearson, whose long time fiancé, Gail Latch, is a member of the (supposedly independent) Zoning Hearing Board, instructed that the Township Solicitor would NOT be attending the ZHB meeting to oppose the application on behalf of the Township, an action that was quickly agreed to by “Pearson’s girls” and opposed by Vagnozzi (Barker was absent).
As I noted at the time, during that meeting, the residents from the three surrounding developments had approached the Board to express dismay at the applicant’s repeated scheduling and then cancellation of the hearings, creating a hardship for the residents who wished to go on record against this application. They begged the Township to continue to oppose this application. At that meeting, Pearson brushed off these concerns and told the residents that he was inclined to let the Zoning Hearing Board “do its thing” without opposition from the Board.
I had several spotters at Thursday’s meeting, and all of them tell the same story: At the conclusion of the meeting, words were exchanged between one of the residents and John Pearson, and at one point during the altercation, Pearson called the resident an “a**hole.”
Friendship, particularly with Pearson, has its privileges and clearly, none of these residents are in his inner circle.