We interrupt your regularly scheduled gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the outrage du jour to bring you this important Parkhouse update:
Dr. Rifkin, the owner of the Parkhouse parcel and aspiring developer, submitted a revised plan to Upper Providence Township last month. Then two weird things happened.
The first was that shortly thereafter, Rifkin asked the Township NOT to start the development clock because they are not ready to discuss it. Weird and rare, but not unprecedented.
The second was that they copyrighted the plan. This is not only weird, but, to my knowledge, UNPRECEDENTED.
It’s also a very bad look. As if they are trying to hide something.
We can only speculate about the motives behind this strategy, and speculate we shall, Gentle Readers, based solely on your Humble Blogress’s past experience with this issue.
Because I’m thinking that perhaps this weird ask from the Rifkin team may have something to do with the gubernatorial election.
What if Josh Shapiro took a look at his current polling, in which he is neck and neck with Doug Mastriano (current polling is currently so close, it’s within the margin of error ). In my observation, Josh is all about three things: getting elected to next higher office, controlling the narrative, and his image. It would be embarrassing to have a poor showing in his home county.
What if, immediately after Rifkin submitted this plan, Josh Shapiro got wind of it (and make no mistake, there is a direct line from Upper Providence Township directly to the AG’s office for just this reason, in my opinion) and asked his friend and campaign donor Scott Rifkin to make this go away until after the election, because he certainly doesn’t need anyone remembering how, exactly, Josh Shapiro led the “fiscal turnaround” in Montgomery County that he is currently campaigning on.
Just a theory, and we’ll explore it in this post.
But let’s look at this latest plan first.
The arts and crafts picture you see above and below is the result of my Right to Know request and my meticulous note taking during my “viewing” of the plan because I was not permitted to get a copy of the plan that became a public document the moment it was submitted to the Township.
Because the Rifkin development team copyrighted the plan, it cannot be physically duplicated by the Township (or presumably anyone else) without written permission from the engineer.
For those unfamiliar with Right to Know, basically all documents, with some exceptions, once submitted to the government, are discoverable by the public by filing a Right to Know, or RTK request. Things exempt from RTK are usually those items regarding personnel or those subject to ongoing litigation. That’s pretty broad, but you get the gist.
Government officials have often played fast and loose with these laws when it suits them (see Montgomery County, circa Fall, 2013). In this case, its not the Township blocking the copying of these documents, it’s a copyright filed on the plans themselves by the developer team. I suspect this strategy has a two-fold motive:
- To prevent any definitive plan being seen by the public before the gubernatorial election this fall,
- To hopefully create a large distraction by filing suit against anyone who is granted their RTK request and may somehow take a copy of it and publish it on the interwebs, so that they could then sue for copyright infringement.
That’s why, Gentle Readers, you will have to make due with my arts and crafts project, based on my copious notes, memory, and drawing skills.
Behold, what I am calling “Josh Shapiro Acres,” in honor of the guy who’s political ambitions are what is ultimately responsible for bringing this mess to our doorstep. (note: plan is not to scale and feature placement is approximate)
Your color key to this drawing is as follows:
The Reds are Single Family Homes, of which there are 153
The Oranges are Townhouses, of which there are 177
The Purples are something they are calling “Multi Family Housing” which are essentially smaller apartment buildings with either 10 or 12 units in each. Total units: 144
The Blues are apartment buildings, of which there are 684 units
The one Green building is a barely perceptible nod to the Upper Providence Zoning Code and that building contains 45 Assisted living units. It’s technically the only building on the entire plan that our zoning permits. They even make sure to note on the plan that the assisted living is by “conditional use” per Upper Providence Zoning Code. As if the rest of this plan is “by-rights.” It’s not.
The Black area is paved impervious surfaces. And believe me when I tell you I’m being very conservative in that representation.
The Gray area is the existing Parkhouse facility.
The remaining area is wetlands/steep slopes that cannot be built upon. Rifkin wants to count this, along with two parcels separated by Second Ave and Old State, respectively, as his “open space.”
Total: 1,203 Units.
What, you didn’t like Plan A, the quaint little “Williamsburg Lite” of Dr. Rifkin’s dreams? Well, Rifkin’s gonna show you who’s boss Upper Providence. Here’s “Josh Shapiro Acres” and mud in your eye.
Doesn’t Williamsburg Lite look so much better in comparison?
Well, that’s exactly what you’re supposed to think. It’s called bait and switch and it’s a common developer tactic.
Except the bait and switch usually involves a “by-rights” plan, which is, for these purposes, is usually the upper limits of what a developer can build according to the current zoning. But this is not a “by-rights” plan. I’m not sure WHAT this is.
This plan literally crams as many units as possible on this property. It even creates extra little horseshoe shaped quasi-roads, just to maximize the density.
It’s like it was designed to specifically to offend.
All the units are residential, which is a use that does not conform with existing institutional zoning. The open space is not contiguous, which also does not conform with existing zoning. And there is less than 50% of the land dedicated to open space, and that also doesn’t conform to existing zoning. Both plans, however, did contain 500-700 apartment units. Because Rifkin’s not giving up those apartment units. Oh no siree.
So the question you need to be asking yourself is, “Why is Rifkin coming back with the same basic plan that requires a zoning change, only with MORE density, when any plan requiring a zoning change was so soundly rejected, not only by the public, but supposedly by
Sitting Supervisor and Candidate for Upper Providence Board of Supervisors last year?”
Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it in a moment.
Again, this plan, like the one before it, does not conform with the existing Institutional zoning. And despite some hyperbolic rhetoric I’ve seen on the interwebs, or stuffed anonymously in peoples’ mailboxes, no, he cannot just “build whatever he wants there.”
The Township has a zoning code that developers must follow. The only way they can get around that zoning code is if the Township Supervisors allow it.
Stop me if any of this sounds familiar.
To expound on aforementioned anonymous hyperbolic mailbox stuffer above, I have two points:
- To my knowledge, there is no zoning district called “Institutional with exception.” As noted previously, the statement that Rifkin can just “build whatever he wants there,” is a flat-out falsehood. Zoning, by definition, is the very antithesis of “build whatever you want.” Parkhouse is zoned Open Space with an Institutional Overlay. The Open Space zoning became moot when the land was sold by Josh Shapiro in 2014 to further his political career. The property then reverted to the Institutional District, the parameters of which are not “anything you want,” but are very clearly defined. I’ve supplied a link to the Township’s zoning ordinance, which is very easy to find on the Township’s website, if one is so inclined and can take a deep breath before heading over to Kinkos with their anonymous mailbox stuffers.
- We’ll discuss this point below: The letter called for people to show up at the Township meeting, because “(t)here needs to be pressure to vote AGAINST the proposal. If there is no opposition [sic] then this proposal will move forward.”
I ask, to what end?
Now we need to apply “pressure” at the township meeting to voice our opposition to this plan? Didn’t we just hold an election where this very parcel was a significant issue? And didn’t every single sitting supervisor and candidate eventually stake out an anti-zoning change for Parkhouse claim once Al Vagnozzi led the way? In fact, the entire Board, who had been friendly to the plan, ultimately did an about face on it when they finally figured out public sentiment was against this.
So weren’t they telling the truth? Shouldn’t we all be able to sleep well at night knowing Helene Calci and all the rest of the Board are responsibly stewarding this property? Now we have to show up and REMIND THEM, not even a year later, that nobody wants this plan? What gives Anonymous Letter Writer?
I wonder what kind of message the Board received when this Township overwhelmingly re-elected the one Supervisor who rolled out the red carpet for Rifkin in the first place?
Exactly what kind of leverage does the public have left if they throw their local votes away based solely on pure partisanship?
Are you going to give them nasty looks if you pass them in the aisles at Wegmans? Refuse to wave when you see them across the street? Stop sending
Christmas Holiday cards?
Those are some dire consequences. That should work on changing some votes.
Or maybe you’ll say you won’t vote for any of them again. Fine. Laurie Higgins and John Pearson are up next year and it’s questionable whether they will even run for another term. Theoretically, they have nothing to lose by voting in favor of changing the zoning. Bill Starling has four years left. Helene Calci has six more years in office, as does Tom Yeager. Are your memories that long?
Or will the next national hot take issue distract you from your own back yard again? Or maybe it has already?
Because, by all means, be sure to reward Josh Shapiro for selling Parkhouse with your vote for him for Governor. After all, the land is already sold and selling Parkhouse is how he “cleaned up the mess” in Montgomery County and advanced to Attorney General from whence he launched his campaign for Governor. It’s all been a carefully scripted climb up the political ladder if you pay attention. It’s one of his campaign platforms, for Pete’s sake.
Now let’s talk about our question above: Why did Rifkin come back with this exponentially worse plan? Why would he waste money on engineering, legal counsel, and COPYRIGHTING, for God’s sake, when he knows the Township has no appetite for this? It defies explanation.
Unless, of course, there is surreptitious Board support for this plan.
But that couldn’t be, because politicians never lie. Especially to get elected.
So why do we need to show up and make our voices heard? Their stated positions could not have changed that much just since November. Right???
Except that the results of last November’s election were a strong message to the Board that there would be no consequences for them due to their actions on Parkhouse. I’m sure they got that message. I’m sure Rifkin did too.
In fact, if I was Rifkin, I might strategically present this horrible plan, if only to buy the Supervisors a little cover. Then they can heroically reject this obnoxious overdeveloped plan, and instead “save us all” with that refreshing little “Williamsburg Lite” plan.
You know, the plan that had 500 to 700 apartments included in it.
But at least we’ll get a horse barn.
The First rule of Parkhouse is TO TALK ABOUT PARKHOUSE
A few years ago, the Township stirred up a temporary tempest in a teapot when they proposed building the new firehouse on three acres of the Anderson Farm Park property. As per usual, there was much clutching of pearls and rending of garments over the loss of this precious three acres of township-owned open space.
Your Humble Blogress attended that meeting, and it infuriated me. Because none of the people at that meeting were anywhere to be found in 2013 when we were trying to stop the County from selling to a developer the the 180 acres of open space just down the road, and I took to the podium and said so.
I suspect many of these folks have forgotten their passion about that critical three acres of open space on which was only going to be built a firehouse, not 1,203 new homes. I further suspect that they will only wake up to this issue when the bulldozers drop blades into the ground. Or maybe it will be when another 2,400 or more residents start clogging the roads in our township. Or maybe it will be when the school board starts talking about overcrowding and raising taxes to build a new school. Or when the Schuylkill River floods the Mont Clare neighborhood more often due to the increased runoff from the many impervious surfaces in the development. Or perhaps, they won’t notice until their township taxes go up to support the increases in services all of these new residents will demand.
So fair warning: I am no longer tolerant of anyone accusing me of politicizing this issue in order to justify their own partisan ballot choice.
This issue is political. I didn’t make it political; the politicians did.
This land was sold for one reason and one reason only: to advance the political career of Josh Shapiro.
Shapiro took a “no-tax” pledge when he first ran for commissioner, but already had his political stepping stones laid out in front of him. On the campaign trail in 2011, when he first ran for County Commissioner, cameras recorded the one time he met the press corps and oh, for the days of a cynical courthouse reporter like Peggy Gibbons! When he was asked directly how he was going to solve Montco’s budget woes, he engaged in magical thinking by refusing to admit he’d need to cut any county programs and used impressive sounding terms like “zero-based budgeting” to tap dance around the direct question. Shapiro is excellent at staying on message and will just repeat his talking points ad infinitum until pesky reporters give up.
Do you think Shapiro would have been elected to County Commissioner in 2011 if he had told that reporter the truth, that he was going to sell Parkhouse to solve Montco’s budget problem?
The budget hole he had to fill for Montgomery County going in to 2012 was $10 million. He did not consult the residents of Montco about selling Parkhouse, which served as a safety net for the County’s most vulnerable population. Instead, he gaslighted Montgomery County residents with a story about getting the County out of businesses that are not within the “core competencies of government,” (this despite the fact that Parkhouse was a five star facility in those days. I have no idea what it ranks now) never admitting that what he was really doing was having a fire sale of county-owned assets to fill that budget hole without raising taxes (the entire story of the the Parkhouse sale is documented HERE if you need a refresher).
Shapiro used the sale of County assets to fund County operating costs. That’s like selling your car to pay for gas.
THIS is what Josh is talking about when he brags today about leading Montco’s “fiscal turnaround.” He campaigned on it to get re-elected to a second term as County Commissioner. He campaigned on it to get to the Attorney General’s office. He’s campaigning on it now to get to the Governor’s office. And he’ll campaign on it again when he launches his campaign for President of the United States from the Governor’s mansion in Harrisburg. If he gets that far, which is by no means assured.
The sale of Parkhouse benefitted only one person: Josh Shapiro.
Maybe he’s still involved with Rifkin’s plan to develop this land. Maybe he’s not. It doesn’t matter. He’s the reason we’re facing this situation. The very least we can do is take this talking point away from him once and for all.
So if you are a person who is inclined to vote for Josh Shapiro for Governor, I have no use for you whatsoever. I don’t care what your reasons are, just like I didn’t care what your reasons were for voting for Helene Calci. When our politicians betray us, we don’t reward them with another term or by promoting them to the next office up their obvious political ladder.
The only voices that politicians hear are votes.
Don’t confuse “political” with “partisan.” I would say the same about any Republican politician, and in fact have said the same and then some with regard to Bruce Castor. Check the record.
Ultimately, it will be politicians making the choice about Parkhouse, and politicians have agendas. I grow tired of explaining this.
In my opinion, anyone who voted for Helene Calci squandered their voice on Parkhouse because, for whatever reason, they couldn’t vote for the one person who was standing against this development.
And if you vote for Josh Shapiro this fall, you are compounding the error.
This Township’s voters failed to demonstrate to the Township’s decision makers that there would be consequences for making the wrong decision on Parkhouse..
The best, most effective way to make your voice heard about Parkhouse is to use your vote. As I said earlier, that is the only voice our politicians hear.
Because this is how politicians work: they do the math and make decisions based on which constituencies are expendable. They don’t “care” about you, your problems, your safety, or your issues; they care about your vote. And they say words to get those votes. Some of them occasionally follow through with action, too. But if they don’t need your votes, or your cause doesn’t have enough votes in order for them to win an election, then they don’t to pay any attention to you at all.
And that’s why:
The second rule of Parkhouse is to TALK ABOUT PARKHOUSE
Hitting a “like” on a post is not enough. You have to talk to your friends and neighbors. You have to share posts. You have to put a sign in your yard. You have to become a Parkhouse bore. You have to be engaged.
You have to grow the constituency beyond expendability.
Its that simple.
I don’t know if we will be able to stop Rifkin’s development.
I do know that by my reading of the Institutional Zoning that this latest plan is NOT a “by rights” plan. The Supervisors currently see the Parkhouse constituency as expendable, as evidenced by the November election results.
We have to change their minds and that doesn’t happen if I’m the only one talking about it.
If we are to effectively challenge this, we are going to need boots on the ground, and dollars in our pockets.
We need everyone in Montgomery County to vote as if they REMEMBER PARKHOUSE.
I told you Rifkin would come back in after the election.
Al Vagnozzi told you Rifkin would be back in after the election.
And here he is. More obnoxious than before.
Now what are YOU going to do about it?
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcomings, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at best knows, in the end, the triumphs of high achievement, and who, at the worst. If he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank among those poor souls who know neither victory or defeat.Teddy Roosevelt