Kennett Township passes two ordinances, tables a third
● By Richard Gaw
At its Jan. 21 meeting, the Kennett Board of Supervisors passed Ordinance No. 221, which redefines how retirement communities will look and how they will be managed in the township, and sets guidelines on how developers will be able to construct an age- and income-restricted retirement housing in commercial districts in the township.
Amended from Ordinance No. 197, Ordinance No. 221 requires that all retirement communities located in commercial districts within the township require an established and reputable community management team company to manage the facility. Additionally, the ordinance calls for residents of the community to provide documentation that their combined household income is at or below 60 percent of the area median income for the Philadelphia metropolitan area; that the residential community be six contiguous acres; and that the height of the retirement facility not exceed 45 feet within the commercial district. The ordinance also includes certain provisions, regulations and definitions for age-restricted homes in a pedestrian-oriented setting.
The proposed ordinance was approved 2-0 by board chairman Scudder Stevens and board member Dr. Richard Leff. Board member Robert Hammaker was not present at the meeting.
Dr. Leff questioned the meaning of the words, "established" and "reputable."
"The original language was a bit more hazy than that," said township solicitor David Sander. "'Established and reputable' I think will be at the discretion of the township. It's possible that if an application [for a retirement community] comes in, and the township asks the applicant who will be managing it, it will be the township's job to do due diligence on that proposed manager and make sure that they're established, that they have experience in the area, and that the township is comfortable with them."
Jim Przywitowski of the township's Planning Commission made reference to the commission's recent meeting minutes, in which they made a motion that the supervisors not adopt the amended ordinance. He said the commission was concerned about the placement of a retirement community in a commercially-zoned district.
"The intent was to have a campus-like environment in these communities, and to have uses for these communities that would compliment nearby commercial establishments and strengthen the economic base of the township," he said. "Our belief is the limited amount of commercial space that we have should be dedicated for commercial use and not for residential use for the retirement communities."
In addition, Przywitowski said the Commission recommended that the retirement facility should be managed by a non-profit agency "that would be guided by altruistic reasons for the benefit of the community," similar to the management of the Luther House, a retirement community located in nearby Jennersville.
"We do not agree with the definition being used in the proposed ordinance, because the term 'established and reputable' is too broad based, too vague and more importantly, too subjective," he said.
Przywitowski said that the commission also disagrees with the six-acre amendment to the ordinance. "The Commission believes that the minimum size of the retirement facility should be at least ten acres, which would allow for more open space that could minimize intrusion from nearby properties, and provide room for gardens," he said.
The problem with permitting the construction of retirement housing in commercial areas of the township is that it may drain the availability of future commercial space, said John Haedrich of the Planning Commission.
"If we assign a big parcel, whether its six acres or ten acres, for a residential use, we're going to strain future commercial development uses," Haedrich said. "When you look at the zoning map, you'll see that the commercial zones are set along heavily-traveled roads. If we start building apartments in these commercial districts, we're going to end up with a shortage of commercial land."
Lou Wonderly of the Luther House Foundation praised the amended ordinance.
"We've been struggling to find appropriate locations in the Kennett Township area for affordable senior housing for the past 15 years, and this would go a long way towards satisfying our needs," Wonderly said.
The board also passed Ordinance No. 230, which authorizes that the intersections of Bayard Road and East Hillendale Road; and East Hillendale Road and McFarlan Road will receive four-way stop signs.
After nearly an hour of discussion and disagreement, the board decided to table a decision on Ordinance No. 229 – which amends the code of the township to reduce the number of members of the township's Planning Commission from nine to seven – until the board's work session meeting in early February.
The intention of the ordinance amendment was being proposed as a way of increasing efficiency and enhancing communication between the commission and the supervisors. The Planning Commission acts as an advisor to the Board of Supervisors on matters of community growth and development, and reviews all subdivision and land development plans for consistency with the township's comprehensive plan and compliance with township ordinances.
Several current commission members strongly objected to the proposal, which stemmed from a Jan. 5 board meeting when the board voted not to reappoint two members to the commission for 2015 – Matt Sabo and Bob Listerman.
Praising both Sabo and Listerman, commission member Jim Guthrie said that reducing the number of commission members will "make the township less responsive, less transparent and less representative."
"The township has always tried to maintain a diverse representation on the Planning Commission," Guthrie said. "We have strived to maintain geographic balance, so that all areas of the township have representation. We have been aware of demographic diversity, looking at age and gender, and whether perspective members have school-age children. We have searched for members with unique interests, individuals who have connections with other community organizations to enhance the flow of information to the township.
"We are not strengthened by reducing the Planning Commission from nine to seven," Guthrie added. "We are weakened. I was particularly disappointed and disheartened that the proposal was created without consultation with the commission. So why are we doing this?"
"This is not about individuals, who are highly respected and continue on other important committees on behalf of the township," Stevens responded. "It's not a personal matter.
"The things that the Planning Commission were to address, were to be addressed by the Planning Commission. The things that the Board of Supervisors were to address were to be addressed by the Board of Supervisors," Stevens added. "We don't need to overlap the two and change the areas of responsibility, which is what, in my view, was happening. As a consequence, because there is not going to be an expectation that the normal business of the board was going to reviewed or otherwise regurgitated by the Planning Commission, you don't need as many people doing the work."
Sabo commented on the board's proposal, telling Stevens and Leff that the Commission would have been willing to discuss the proposal before the board chose to not reappoint Sabo and Listerman.
"The decision is always yours," Sabo said, "but people just like to be talked to and have a chance to get their input in before that decision is made. That would be my advice to you in all manner of decisions like this in the future."
In other township news, Township Manager Lisa Moore updated residents on the status of a project that will install sidewalks in Kennett and New Garden townships, as well as in Kennett Borough. She said that projects are underway along Old Baltimore Pike into Kennett Borough; a portion of sidewalks are currently being built on West Cypress Street from Kennett Borough to the intersection of Scarlett Road; and a sidewalk is being installed on MacFarlan Road to Rosedale Road, and from Rosedale Road into the Kennett Borough. She anticipates that the construction of the project, which has received an $850,000 grant, is expected to be finished in spring of 2016.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.