London Grove board denies Three Groves Ecovillage application
● By Richard Gaw
By a unanimous vote, the London Grove Township Board of Supervisors has denied the conditional use application for the planned development of the Three Groves Ecovillage in West Grove, bringing to a halt a concept that would have created an environmentally conscious, 7.5-acre pedestrian village adjacent to Goddard Park.
The decision was reached at a hearing at the board's Feb. 6 meeting.
The board was in agreement with the comments shared by board chairman Richard Scott-Harper, who said that the applicant does not conform with the definition of “ecovillage,” as is defined in the township's zoning code. In addition, he said that the proposed boundary is not within one-half-mile walking distance to at least seven “diverse and unique uses” in the township's commercial district.
Further, Scott-Harper said that the applicant did not identify seven uses – both within the half-mile distance or outside of it – that are designated as “unique and diverse.”
Scott-Harper also said the distance from the proposed village to the identified uses is not walkable, due to the lack of proper sidewalks on Prospect Avenue and West State Road, which Scott-Harper identified as busy roads that would make walking dangerous to residents.
He also said that the existing design plans do not provide adequate internal access ways, and does not meet parking footage requirements, as set by the township.
In his comments, supervisor David Connors agreed with Scott-Harper's comments.
“I'm a big fan of the concept, but I think the issues you outlined are valid, so I would move to deny the application, based on those issues,” he said.
The final written decision will be made available on Feb. 20.
The board's ruling was the latest blow to a project that has been lauded for its sustainable ideas and the ingenuity of its design concept, but hampered by its many starts and stoppages.
On Aug. 7, 2013, the board gave final plan approval for the development of Three Groves, which was at the time advertised as a 37-unit complex – made up of 1, 2, 3 and 4-bedroom units – that incorporated sustainable and energy-efficient practices and were designed to meet Net Zero Energy and LEED Platinum Certification. The village was going to have a rain garden, an orchard, a natural pool, walkways, and a common house that would be used for public gatherings. Its plans called for all cars to be parked on the periphery of the site for safety, so that the visual emphasis of the village would remain on its open spaces.
In addition, the village was to be built in partnership with nationally recognized green building developers and architects, and be constructed of durable and recycled materials.
Over time, however, cost estimates to construct the village were coming in well above proposed budgets, while the proposed per-unit costs were thought by many to be above the price points for most families. From a lifestyle standpoint, its original design proposed a pedestrian-only village, which would not be conducive for individuals and families who were used to accommodations like being able to park their vehicle near their home.
During its five-year dormancy period, Three Groves received a reboot, with revised plans and a firm commitment to see the project from drawings to construction. On Nov. 19, 2018, Michele Adams, principal and founder of Meliora Design, presented revised conditional use plans for the village.
It was the planned project's third conditional use hearing before the London Grove Township Board of Supervisors, following hearings in August and September, which heard comments from township engineer Ron Ragan and township fire marshal Robert Weer.
Adams said its revised plans called for a reduction of units from 37 to 32, in a breakdown that would offer 24 three-bedroom town homes between 2,000 and 2,400 square feet per unit, and eight town homes that were sized at 1,650 square feet per unit. The inclusion of a common house in the first design had been removed in the second design, and the original plans for two access driveways – one to State Road and the other to Prospect Street – would remain the same in the new design.
Adams said that the parking area would include 64 spaces, and will be slightly reconfigured to allow for more room for fire and emergency service vehicles. In addition, she said that the village would include a pedestrian walkway that will extend from the lower units and connect to the sidewalk on Prospect Street.
When reached for comment after the decision, Alyson M. Zarro of Riley, Riper, Hollin & Colagreco and the attorney for Three Groves and key principal Peter Kjellerup, said that she was aware that there were “at least a couple of concerns that were raised, so the ruling is not completely surprising to me.”
She said that she will now consult with Kjellerup.
In other business, township fire marshal Robert Weer delivered a presentation on the future goals of the township's emergency service initiatives, which include developing a strategic plan for fire, rescue, and EMS services.
The key findings of the report focused on the recommendations of the township's Emergency Services Committee, that will be applied to the Avondale and West Grove Fire companies. The committee's recommendations were inspired by the Standard of Response Cover (SORC), a tool to help define, identify and achieve goals and objectives; determine levels of service; and measure the rate of performance over time.
One of the top goals set forth by the committee will be to quicken the response time and delivery of service from the two fire and EMS units. The report stated that the future goal will be for a fire department to respond to an emergency call within one minute of the initial call and be en route to the emergency with one piece of fire apparatus in four minutes of the call, with a crew of three qualified members, 90 percent of the time; and that a full complement of 14 firefighters will be on scene within ten minutes of dispatch, 90 percent of the time.
Currently, emergency calls for service from township residents to these units are provided within 90 seconds of the call, with one piece of apparatus departing the department within four minutes of the call and arriving on the scene within 12 minutes, with three qualified members, 80 percent of the time – followed by 14 firefighters who arrive on the scene within 20 minutes of dispatch, 80 percent of the time.
The commission also recommended that each fire company develop its own mission and vision statements in order to better ensure that their stakeholders understand the unit's expectations for levels of service in the future, and to assist emergency responders in achieving what is expected of them.
Weer also spelled out a long-term strategic action plan for the next three years, which will include the adoption of standards and responses; the implementation of a fire tax plan; and the twice-a-year inspection of all fire hydrants in the township.
The board supported a project that was proposed by Jack Wharry of Boy Scout Troop 191 to construct and install 20 distance markers along the 2.5-mile-long stretch of the Goddard Park trail system as part of his Eagle Scout project. Wharry, an 11th grader at Avon Grove High School, said that each sign will be constructed of four-by-four beams and aluminum and will be inserted 18 inches in the ground and protrude to a height of about one foot. He told the supervisors that the project would take him between two and four weekends to install, which he will do with his fellow scouts.
The board agreed that the township will fund the project, which is estimated to cost $100 for the posts, and the township's Department of Public Works will work with a contractor to create the signage.
Wharry told the board he chose to do this project for two reasons.
“First off, it helps with emergency preparedness, that if somebody breaks their leg or can't find their way out, the markers will help them identify where they are, so that emergency responders can get to them very swiftly,” he said. “Secondly, for those who hike in all kinds of weather, it will help them identify exactly where they are along the trail.”
On Feb. 28 beginning at 6 p.m., the township will host a Community Vision Project for interested township residents that will include members of several township boards and commissions. The event will take place at the township building.
The board voted to approve the demolition of a twin home at 3239 Gap-Newport Pike in the township.
Brian Lee was appointed to the board to serve on the township's Open Space Committee for a term that will extend to Dec. 31, 2022.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org.