Welcome to part 2 of the September 4 Board of Supervisors Meeting held at the Oaks Firehouse on Greentree Road.
I’d start off this post with a copy and paste of a fluffy little anecdote from Chicken Soup for the Soul, but your time is valuable and I won’t waste it with a frivolous ego indulgence.
As mentioned in the previous post, we’re taking things out of order, so this second post is actually covering the first hour and a half of the meeting.
Bear with us for a moment during John Pearson’s interminable paper shuffling, while he gets his bearings to run this meeting. It seems like it’s always a surprise to him to find himself in charge.
We’ll pick things up right after Pearson finishes butchering the names of the Community Day sponsors.
During public comment, a number of neighbors from the Greentree neighborhood approach the Board to ask their assistance in getting BRVFC to turn off the outside siren. The intent of the neighbors to address this issue was telegraphed via the flyer below, which was also posted on NextDoor Oaks.
The first resident is David Lauser, who states that he wrote a letter to each of the Board members back on June 21 to asking to evaluate the necessity to the fire siren and eliminate it if possible. Lauser does not reiterate his points for the Board, but instead asks them for a response to his letter, since many of them have not responded.
Pearson answers that they received a letter from the BRVFC Chief that they are looking to silence it between 9pm in the evening and 6am in the morning.
Lauser asks if there is any justification for not eliminating it completely.
And because, up to this point, BRVFC policy is largely indistinguishable from Township policy, and because he hasn’t bothered to follow up on this issue independently, Pearson defers to BRVFC President Joe LoCasale to answer this question. LoCasale states that BRVFC has already reduced the number of cycles from 12 to 6; and that they have tried a number of different ways of alerting their members; he claims that the technology they are using is not 100% reliable and that the siren is the most reliable way to notify members of an emergency call.
“I’m of the opinion that the technology does exist, that the need for this siren has passed. Many fire companies have turned it off. It’s beyond me how you can say that the siren is the most reliable way to summon firefighter to the firehouse for a fire. I’ve asked [BRVFC] about this [turning off the siren] and was basically told ‘It’s not happening,’ I’ve asked the leadership here and was told ‘It’s not going to happen.’ The folks here, they live right here, they are waking up during the night, [addressing Lauser] you, 26 years, many others who I can see are here in the audience. They live it every day. And the technology works, so I don’t know how you can now advocate to keep the siren running when most other fire companies have turned off—not all, but most—and I just have to come down on the side of the residents who live in very close proximity to this building, that you should turn it off.”
Calci asks Vagnozzi, “So what are the technologies that we don’t have that other places do have? Do you know Al?”
“We have the same technologies that every other fire company in Montgomery County has.”
“We currently have that?” Calci can’t believe it.
“We have the same technology that every fire company in Montgomery County has. We probably have the most advanced systems to notify our firefighters that there’s a fire. The siren is an emotional issue. It’s an emotional issue for the firefighters, and as a life member of a fire company, I can say it: It’s just emotional. These people live it every day. They are being woken up in the morning, in the middle of the night, can’t go back to sleep. I live on the other side of Wegman’s, and I can hear the siren. So, the technology exists, again, the minute emotion walks into the room, the ability to reason walks out of the room. I think we need the reason, and turn the siren off.”
In what is perhaps the most predictable statement of the year, Pearson then stammers through his 100% unquestioned support of LoCasale’s earlier statement on the necessity of the siren and says that their offer of shutting off from 9pm at night to 6am in the morning is “very accommodating.” Pearson then goes on to say:
“I think it’s bothersome, uhhhh…in the afternoons, of course, ummm… but I don’t think it’s waking anybody up, it’s not disturbing anybody’s sleep, unless, of course, they’re doing uhhhh…uhhhhh…a third shift type of a thing. Ummm…I, I have to go with ehhhh, with what, what ehhh, Black Rock is suggesting and ehhh that’s the direction on which I’m leaning on this thing. I don’t think we’re gonna take a vote on this thing this evening, I think it’s up to the, I’m not, I’m not really sure who’s responsibility it is.”
Vagnozzi interrupts and says, “We can’t take a vote; it’s not our siren.”
Pearson, “Well that’s what I’m getting at, wondering who’s responsibility it is, and I think that they’ve been very, very nice about doing this…but, Ma’am? Please?”
He then recognizes another resident, Heather Bitzer, for public comment.
She begins reading prepared remarks by reminding the Board that there are many ways of serving their community, and that many of the neighbors do just that as doctors, nurses, 911 dispatchers, police officers, etc. A lot of these folks work odd hours. She acknowledges that, yes, many of the folks knew the fire house was there when they moved in, and many of them have been there a decade or more. It then becomes apparent that Heather Bitzer has done her homework:
“So what has changed? Recently it has come to our attention that the use of the house siren, which we always assumed was a required piece of equipment widely used by all firehouses, is actually not mandated by any governing body or a recognized standard at all. Instead, it is a preference, based mostly on tradition, whose optional usage varies from house to house.
With that in mind, your neighbors ask the leadership of Black Rock Volunteer Fire Company that they consider to continue to best serve the needs of its volunteers and the community by modernizing and eliminating the use of the house siren. We ask you to consider your well respected and highly trained peers. We ask you to recognize the measurable, repeatable, fact-based evidence on record of the absolute excellence of the following surrounding companies who no longer use a house siren: Lower Providence, at both buildings, Royersford, Perkiomen Valley, Phoenixville, Limerick, Spring City Liberty, Norristown and Norriton, Trappe, who limits their usage to day time hours between 8am and 8pm, and Collegeville Borough, who is currently out of service with their siren due to construction, but when it’s operational, they limit their siren to daytime hours between 7am and 10pm.
These outstanding companies are the same as Black Rock; held to the same local, state and federal standards for calls, response time and redundant communication systems that are needed for backup. They serve the same community base, the same terrain, the same geography, in fact some of the volunteers even come from the same family, and arrive on scene to back up the Black Rock Fire Company at the same calls. To say that Black Rock cannot, or should not eliminate or amend its siren usage drastically is to say that these facts do not exist.”
After a brief meeting derailment regarding the spotted lanternfly, Vagnozzi circles back to the siren, noting that the Township cannot mandate what BRVFC does with their siren. Vagnozzi thinks they can do better than silencing it between 9pm and 6am and asks if BRVFC would consider silencing it between 8pm and 8am. It is unclear as to whether Vagnozzi gets any agreement on that. Since the siren went off at 6:50 am over the past weekend, my guess is no.
As usual, when the policy she’s supporting seems to fly in the face of logic, Calci seems to think this issue needs further study and, once again, asks what kind of technology the other fire stations are using. And once again, Vagnozzi says, “It’s the same.”
Barker adds, “I understand that Collegeville and Trappe only use their sirens during those times because they have a lot of college students that do not necessarily have that technology available to them.”
The next resident, Laura McAtee comes up and reiterates that many of the neighbors work odd hours (nurses and policemen) and the siren wakes them up when they have to sleep during the day. She says it’s hardest on the children, saying that it is very disruptive for children not being able to sleep through the night. She points out that children playing ball in the fields below are actually covering their ears in pain because of how loud it is.
The next resident is State Trooper Watkins, who directly contradicts Pearson’s earlier statement about not the siren not waking anyone up during daytime hours. Watkins says that the siren terrifies his children and is unequivocal in his assertion that the siren does cause problem for the community and the neighborhood.
Pearson stutters his response, “Thank you for your comments, and I’m, I’m, I’m sure that they’ll try to compromise and, and meet the needs of the neighbors….uhhh uhhh along with, you know…s-s-staying with their prac, their normal practices, so….”
Pearson, of course, does not ask BRVFC to turn off or limit their siren usage because Pearson is completely unaccustomed to making any accountability demands of this organization.
As residents approached the dais about the siren, it became increasingly obvious that the only opinions that Pearson had sought regarding the siren are those of BRVFC, because many of these residents are having issues with the siren and are indeed folks who keep odd hours: a nurse, a state policeman, people with young children and babies. Pearson hasn’t talked to any of the people who are asking for his help in negotiating for the quiet enjoyment of their homes.
On this issue, it is abundantly clear Pearson is only there to do the bidding of the fire company and his role is to sell the voting public on what BRVFC has offered in the way of “compromise” on this issue.
Just like the Cellco Cell Tower issue a few months ago, Pearson is not going to ask his political cronies to compromise their interests for the benefit of the residents of Upper Providence.
The Board heard a pre-development proposal from Pulte Homes for a zoning map amendment for 24 acres along Ridge Pike across the street from Target. Land use attorney Joe Kuhls states that all they are asking for is for the Township to accept the application. The proposal is to change the zoning from NCC Neighborhood Convenience, which is commercial zoning, to R3 zoning, which is residential zoning and allowing for approximately three units per acre. This proposal would most likely yield a townhouse development of approximately 96 units.
Vagnozzi, who is already cranky, wants to cut through most of the presentation.
Barker asks what exactly this application is, since his paperwork indicates that it is a zoning text amendment and not a zoning map change, as Kuhls originally said. Kuhls states it is a map amendment.
Township Planner Geoff Grace steps in and note that the applicant has not actually submitted an application because they wanted to take the Board’s temperature prior to submitting the application, a process that was previously handled in staff meetings.
The Developer’s planner begins by explaining that he believes that the NCC zoning is more for infill and that this parcel is the largest NCC parcel in the Township. Also, that demand for commercial development is very soft. In my opinion, this soft demand for commercial space is the primary reason for the request for the zoning change.
We now interrupt this meeting for an important word about zoning map changes: Near the end of my term in 2017, I met with the Township Planner and the Assistant Manager and we went over the remaining undeveloped parcels in the Township, as we were receiving many of these types of rezoning requests; either to change a commercial space to dense residential or to increase the density of an existing residential parcel. I told them that I would be opposed to all zoning change applications until we had some idea of how the Parkhouse parcel was going to develop.
These proposed zoning changes add residents to our township and those new residents will all require municipal services and infrastructure to support them. As this Pulte presentation demonstrates, a landowner or developer can simply approach the Board and ask that the zoning for the parcel be changed. It is entirely at the Board’s discretion whether this request gets granted.
At this time, the future of Upper Providence is punctuated with a giant, 220 acre question mark in the form of the land surrounding Parkhouse. When Montgomery County sold this open space in 2014, it threw our entire comprehensive plan into disarray, as these 220 acres were never contemplated to be anything other than Open Space. Though it is still zoned Open Space, with an institutional overlay, it can still, by rights, be used for an assisted living or another residential continuing care facility, and the development under the institutional zoning can be quite dense.
It should also be noted that as part of a cleanup of our zoning ordinances, in the summer of 2013, the Township changed the zoning on all publicly owned parcels to Open Space. The underlying zoning on the Parkhouse parcel was changed from R1 residential (one unit per acre) to Open Space. This happened immediately prior to the County announcing the parcel was for sale. And it should further be noted that the Montgomery County Commissioners fought the Township on the zoning change.
Without rehashing the entire tragic story of how those County Commissioners—Josh Shapiro, Bruce Castor, and Leslie Richards—and some of their cronies—-betrayed this community and the public trust by selling this Open Space, I have always believed that the sale of Parkhouse was all about the land from the beginning. Not knowing what the politically-connected owners of Parkhouse have planned for that space is a thought that keeps me awake at night. And knowing who is now in charge of the decision on this certainly doesn’t make me sleep any better. This Board has not exactly inspired confidence with their crony-benefitting decision making process thus far, and while there haven’t been many land development proposals before the Board this year, those land use decisions that have been heard have been utterly politicized by the Democrats.
Though great pains were taken to make it look like one, the Upper Providence First effort to expand the Board of Supervisors from three to five members was never a grass roots effort, nor was it intended to give residents more of a voice in their community, as King Pearson has so aptly demonstrated this year. Instead, that effort was designed to dilute the voices of the sitting Board members, should the wrong members get elected. It’s fairly obvious in both Democrat and Republican political circles in Upper Providence that Pearson’s buddy, fellow Upper Providence First member, and former “Republican” candidate for Township Supervisor, Bill Kasper, was supposed to be sitting where Laurie Higgins is now, with Kevin Holohan proving he was far to mercenary for any side to fully embrace.
Nor did the Upper Providence First group simply dissolve once the five-member board was passed, either. These folks still meet for Quizzo at the Fitz, sip Chardonnay at “outstanding” “Make Upper Providence Great Again” parties and gleefully post about it all over Facebook. These are the folks who backed Pearson (and then his Girls® when Kasper lost the primary, because Higgins and Calci were deemed –and have proven to be–controllable by Pearson) and they continue to pull his strings to this day. Residents who are worried about the future of that 220 acres surrounding Parkhouse should perhaps be concerned about just who it is that is ultimately holding Pearson’s strings, because it strains credibility that those puppet masters expended all of that effort to put Pearson in power simply to provide Pearson with an opportunity for his own petty personal score settling. The puppet masters have an agenda of their own and that day of reckoning is coming.
And now, back to our regularly scheduled meeting.
Barker notes that there really aren’t any residential developments with frontage on Ridge Pike and asks if it would be possible to maintain the commercial frontage on Ridge and keep the residential to the rear of the property. The developer explains the challenges of the wetlands in the property and says the frontage is only about 800 feet and reiterates the problems stemming from the soft commercial market. He claims any commercial pad site put out there would just “flounder.” Barker also notes that there have been bad experiences with townhouse developments, parking and storm water management elsewhere in the Township, some of which were with Pulte.
Pearson tells the developer to start the process.
Not so fast; Higgins has something to say: “Your proposal said there were no negative impacts to the Township, but a couple of things I’d like to know is, what is the benefit to the Township? How is this going to actually add value to the Township? Also, I don’t think that the layout and the design of the homes is very creative, imaginative, new and different; they look like cookie cutter townhomes that you see everywhere and I’d like to see something different than the same old, same old.”
When the attorney for the developer states that they will walk the Board through the process and define the impacts, Higgins stops him and says, “Well again, what I’m looking for is an added benefit to the Township, not necessarily what the impact is. I understand what the impact is, I read your thing, it’s less impact in townhomes in terms of traffic, etc., but I’m looking for the good stuff. What’s the good stuff? What’s the benefit to the Township that’s going to bring value to the Township in general? And I’d like to see more thoughtfulness and creativity and inventiveness and vision regarding the whole development in terms of layout, in terms of individual design of the townhomes. I don’t currently see any amenities in this particular sketch plan right now, and there’s no secondary access as you have it right now. So those are the four things that concern me. But I’m, in general, not opposed.”
Credit where credit is due: I have to give Laurie Higgins props for these questions. This is exactly what she is supposed to be doing. I don’t necessarily agree with all of her comments, but she clearly did her homework on this development.
Half a million dollar hookup
Township Engineer Bill Dingman presents a proposal for a public sewer extension for 10 homes on Old State Road, between Yeager and Hafner Roads. This extension will cost approximately $440,000; approximately $76,000 would be assessed to the individual properties, with the balance to be funded through the Township’s sewer fund. Construction would be in late 2019 if the Board decides to move forward.
Vagnozzi asks if the residents are required to hook up and Dingman says no. Vagnozzi wants to know if they could put a time limit on that and Dingman responds that the planning module can be modified to include that.
Still cranky, Vagnozzi says if it’s going to cost the Township a half a million dollars to run sewer to ten homes, then the Township needs to re-evaluate making hook-ups optional. “We should at least require them to hook up within a certain period of time, because it’s the Township’s money; it’s everyone in the audience’s money.”
In response to a question from Calci, Dingman estimates it would cost a resident approximately $20,000 in assessment, tapping fees, and plumbing to hook up to the sewer.
Three residents have indicated an interest in hooking up so far and Barker suggests a communication be sent to the affected residents outlining the plan and the potential costs to the residents for hookup.
Calci asks what the incentive would be for anyone to hook up if they are not required and Dingman says that it is unusual for a township not to require hookup.
Barker suggests that the Board hold a meeting with the affected residents, much like they did with the Borough Line, Lewis Road sewer job.
The sewer issue is eventually tabled for further discussion.
The Board voted to engage Field Goals US to conduct a recreation needs study for the Township. This survey will cost up to $57,690 and is a direct result of the Board’s hasty decision to shut down the Township’s fitness center at Anderson Farm Park.
Recall that the Board had no idea what they wanted to do instead of the fitness center, so now they will be spending up to $57,690 of your tax dollars to figure that out.
Other Board Business
- The Board watched a presentation from the Chester County Planning Commission regarding Phoenixville Region Multi-Modal Transportation study.
- The Board approved the amended MS4 storm water plan.
- Pearson directed the Township Manager to set an adoption date for the revised administrative code.
- The Board voted to spend $1,144.14 to acquire a sanitary sewer easement at 713 Second Ave.
- The Board agreed to waive SEI’s special events fee of $75.
- The Board approved a settlement stipulation for an assessment appeal of a property in the Township. The re-assessment was driven by the School district, who will collect $144,000 on the settlement. By contrast, the Township will receive an additional $760 for 2016 and 2017.
- The Solicitor asks the Board to approve a settlement on a personnel matter, which they end up tabling. The matter was already discussed in executive session, but Pearson never turns down an opportunity to have a legitimate executive session.
- Township Planner Geoff Grace notes that the proposed apartment development behind Wegmans will be on the Planning Commission agenda for September 10. Grace notes there is quite a lot of interest in this development and that the developer has submitted revised plans. Pearson asks if the Planning Commission will be meeting at the Oaks Firehouse, and Grace confirms that they will. “That’s good,” says the guy who didn’t see a need for a bigger municipal meeting hall, “so they will have enough room in the audience for them.”
And now you know the rest of the story.
The next regularly scheduled Board meeting will be held, once again, at the Oaks Fire Hall on September 17 at 7pm.
The last fifteen minutes of this meeting are the subject of another post, which can be found HERE.