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Chester County Press

Big Elk project looks poised for resurrection

06/07/2016 11:33AM ● By J. Chambless

Penn resident Jim Mundell presented the supervisors with two photographs he took of the Red Rose Inn, before and after the recent demolition work, but before any reconstruction.

By Nancy Johnson

It appears as if Big Elk, a planned community first discussed in front of the Penn Township Board of Supervisors in 2002, may finally become a reality. At their June 1 meeting, the supervisors conditionally approved a revised plan for the 204-unit age-restricted development which is to be built in three phases.

Penn’s solicitor, Sam McMichael, has worked with Joe Riper, representing Big Elk, to find a way to make it work for CalAtlantic Homes, which will develop the 104-acre parcel on Baltimore Pike, adjacent to Jennersville Regional Hospital. CalAtlantic was recently formed through a merger of Ryland Homes, a prominent East coast builder, and Standard Pacific, a well-known West Coast developer.

The board discussed a few issues regarding revisions to the previously approved plan with Riper and CalAtlantic representative Sam Tarantini. Several board members were opposed to the developer’s request to decrease the size of the community center to approximately 4,000 square feet, from the originally approved 6,700 square feet. Board chairman Curtis Mason said that some age-restricted community in the township feel their community centers are too small.

“We’d like to keep it under 4,500 square feet,” Tarantini said, claiming that a smaller building would result in a lower HOA fee, which is important to residents.

“People in Penn Ridge and Ovations would tell you your numbers are wrong,” said vice chairman Victor Mantegna.

Mason agreed. “We’ve had experience with this, and the community center is very important to the residents,” he said.

“[Residents] consider that their town hall and party place. It’s an issue,” Mantegna said.

Another change to the original plan was relocating some of the housing so that the first phase would have a better mix of single family homes and townhouses. The supervisors had no issue with this request. Also discussed, and easily agreed upon, was the site and entrance lighting. The board asked that LED lighting, which was not prevalent at the time of the original plan approval, be implemented.

“We want to see this thing happen,” said Mason, speaking for the board. “It’s good for the community, good for the schools, and right beside the hospital, it’s a great location.”

Riper expressed his appreciation for the board’s willingness to work with his client. “I would like to thank everyone. This project has been around a long time, and we are looking forward to finally getting underway with CalAtlantic,” he said.

In other business, Karen Beehler, president of Ovations HOA, addressed the supervisors. She was seeking assurance that everything is finally in place for the township to take dedication of the community. While there were a number of small items on the punch list, the biggest issue was that Penn Township did not want to take responsibility for any damage that may occur, especially during snow removal, to the Belgian block curbing used along Ovations roadways.

McMichael confirmed that Ovations has agreed to retain ownership and will maintain the curbs. He added that all they are waiting on is a bond for the road before the dedication can go forward.

Scott Steele reported for the Historical Commission, which has been sorting a large number of documents and artifacts in Penn’s possession. Steele recently did some research at the courthouse in West Chester about the establishment of Penn Township. “Contrary to what the signs say, we were established in 1819, not 1817,” Steele announced. “I’m glad we hadn’t planned the bicentennial celebration yet,” he added, chuckling.

His research found that an undated petition, signed by 57 residents of Londonderry Township, was the spark that led to the establishment of Penn Township. The petition stated, “That the township of Londonderry – from the extent of territory and the great increase of population – hath become inconvenient and very bothersome to its inhabitants. We therefore pray the honorable court to grant a jury to divide the township.” General boundary lines for the subdivision were suggested in the petition, as was the name for the new township, Penn.

Steele believes that the incorrect date came from “History of Chester County, Pennsylvania,” written in 1881 by Futhey and Cope, which stated, “Penn Township was formed by a division of Londonderry in 1817.” Steele unearthed documentation in the Passmore, Baker, Hindman report filed with the court that the official date for the establishment of Penn Township was Nov. 1, 1819.