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Chester County Press

Kennett Library Project Clears Two Hurdles in One Night

07/16/2020 02:01PM ● By Steven Hoffman

The Kennett Library project cleared two hurdles in one night when Kennett Square Borough Council voted 6-0 to approve a conditional-use application that provides some relief from the borough's zoning requirements. At the same meeting on July 6, borough council also approved a certificate of appropriateness for the design of the new, 33,000-square-foot library that is planned for the Weinstein lot at the intersection of State and Willow streets.

The conditional-use application was discussed by borough council during a formal public hearing that was held during a regularly scheduled council meeting. 

Attorney Joe Riper, representing the Kennett Library during this public hearing, outlined some details about the project. The new library is planned to be approximately 33 feet tall. Riper explained that there is a need for relief from some of the setback and yard requirements in the borough's ordinances. To that end, Riper said, the Kennett Library was seeking conditional use approval under the provisions of the borough's Tall Buildings Overlay, which eliminates the side yard setbacks and provides relief for certain improvements to the side yard, as well as some of the regulations pertaining to impervious surface coverage.

During the hearing, Riper asked questions of Keith Leonard, an architect and director of operations with RRMM Architects, and Jim Fritsch, an engineer with Regester Associates Inc. Both firms are working on the library project.

Leonard talked about the design of the new library includes high ceilings and large reading rooms with lots of natural light to make the building pleasing to those inside it and inviting to people who are driving or walking by.

Leonard said that they do not think that the two-story building will cause significant issues with shadows on neighboring properties.

Once Riper finished asking questions of Leonard and Fritsch, Kennett Square Borough’s solicitor, Mike Crotty, explained that the borough council had 45 days in which to make a decision on the conditional-use application if the council members felt it was necessary to take that time.

Instead, the council members were willing to move forward on a decision immediately after the public hearing was concluded. 

Council member Peter Waterkotte made the motion to approve the conditional-use application, and Ethan Cramer seconded the motion.

After some discussion, borough council voted 6-0 in favor of the Kennett Library's conditional-use application. Council president Dr. Brenda Mercomes, who represents the borough on the Kennett Library board, abstained from the vote.

A little later on during the same meeting, Kennett Square Borough Council also approved the certificate of appropriateness for the design of the new Kennett Library.

Cramer explained his support of the design by noting that the borough has a very eclectic mix of buildings. Buildings in the borough’s historic district were constructed at different time periods,  so there is a mix of styles.

Borough council supported approving the certificate of appropriateness, moving the project forward another step.

Council member Doug Doerfler noted that there are still some issues that need to be worked out in other avenues, including the subdivision and land-development reviews.

The Kennett Library issued a statement the day after the project cleared the two hurdles during the borough council meeting. Jeff Yetter, the president of the Kennett Library’s Board of Trustees, said, “The Kennett Library is grateful for the continued support of the Borough of Kennett Square to help make the new Kennett Library a reality. The library is so much more than a building. It is an institution that has served the community for 125 years. It’s a place of learning, a pathway to literacy and employment, a steppingstone for educational success, and a community gathering place with a warm welcome for all, regardless of race, religion, income disparity or sexual orientation.  Never has a library been more important than it is right now in our nation’s history.” 

In other business at the July 6 meeting, Kennett Square Borough Council unanimously agreed to start posting recordings of borough council meetings that are taking place through videoconferencing. These recordings will be posted on the borough's website. Waterkotte, speaking in favor of posting the meetings online, said that making recordings of these meetings accessible to the public could help encourage residents to be participants in their local government. Council members could also direct residents to the recorded meetings if a resident has questions or concerns about a particular issue.

Cramer, the council member who first suggested posting these meetings online, seconded Waterkotte's motion. Cramer also suggested that, for now, the borough only post those meetings that are taking place through videoconferencing. Once regular meetings resume, borough officials can evaluate whether they want to continue posting the meetings online. The motion that was approved by borough council also established that the recorded meetings should be kept available online for a period of three months.

In the Finance Committee report, Cramer said that the borough's finance staff has been monitoring and evaluating the impact that the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting economic slowdown has had on the borough's revenues. Cramer explained that the earned-income revenues will not meet the projections that were made in the 2020 budget. Additionally, some other line items in the budget, such as parking revenues, will also fall short of projections. Cramer said that it's likely that the borough will need to dip into its savings this year to help offset the revenue shortfalls.