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Chester County Press

New Garden board hears testimony from company seeking to occupy vacant facility

03/21/2023 03:27PM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw         Michael Murphy, center, senior project manager for Purolite, LLC, testified before the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors on March 20 in a conditional use hearing that seeks occupancy for the company to begin a manufacturing facility on 380 Starr Road in the township.  

By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer

After a nearly two-hour testimony at its March 20 meeting, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors voted to extend a conditional use hearing with Purolite, LLC as part of an application by the company to open a resin-based, purification and extraction manufacturing facility at the currently vacant building at 380 Starr Road in the township.

The board will hear further testimony from the company on April 17, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at the New Garden Township Building, prior to its regular meeting, when it is expected that the board will render its decision.

In a hearing conducted by township Solicitor William Christman and Michael Gill, Esq. an attorney with the law firm of Buckley Brio in West Chester, the board heard from Michael Murphy, Purolite’s senior project manager, who said that the company has purchased and is seeking to occupy the vacant, 107,000 square-foot building and its 12- acre property as a site for light industrial use in the making of Agarose resin beads, a material extracted from certain types of seaweed that is frequently used in molecular biology for separation of large molecules and protein purification.

Headquartered in King of Prussia, Purolite is a world leader in resin-based separation, purification and extraction technology, and produces more than 1,000 active commercial products that serve the environmental, business and healthcare industries. It employs over 1,000 staff around the world across 40 sales centers, five research and development centers and five manufacturing sites.

If the board grants conditional use approval, the site will provide high-skill jobs for over 100 employees, and operate on a seven-day, 24-hour basis. If the company is granted conditional use to occupy the building, it won’t be a simple turn-key transition. Murphy said that the interior will be completely upgraded and retro-fitted to accommodate Purolite’s manufacturing needs – a process that he said would take about two years to complete.

The exterior of the building would include a utility unit, a storage tank farm for raw materials, a stormwater management facility and an underground, water-based fire containment suppression system. All structures, Murphy said, will be accompanied by state permits, and that the township will be informed in the case that Purolite violates the conditions of those permits.

Murphy said that from start to finish, the making of the Agarose resin beads takes about 70 days per batch, and that the distribution of the product will be limited to 50,000 liters a year, and an average weekly distribution equivalent to the capacity of four four-foot-by four-foot skids.

The facility, which had been leased by W.L. Gore beginning in 2008 and employed a staff of 250, was vacated by the company after its lease expired in 2018. By a 3-1 vote at the board’s Jan. 22, 2019 meeting, the supervisors gave a conditional use approval for Matrix-PA, LLC to establish a medical marijuana cultivation and manufacturing facility. Ultimately, the formation of the company never materialized.

Throughout the hearing, supervisors -- and selected residents who live near the proposed facility were granted special party status -- pressed Murphy to provide information about the safety of the product. Murphy said that the beads are not toxic or explosive, although some materials used in the making of the product are flammable, and that the making of Agarose resin beads does not emit foul odors into the atmosphere.

Murphy said that some raw materials used in the making of Agarose resin beads are classified as toxic, and will be contained and safeguarded in the storage tank farm. If Purolite is granted conditional use approval, he said the company will share all of its data with local fire companies.

Consistent with the requirements set by Section 200-152.C of the township’s zoning ordinance, Murphy sent a latter dated Feb. 8 to all landowners who live within 500 feet from the property line of the facility. In the letter, Murphy stated the company’s case for establishing a presence in Landenberg.

“…Our proposed investment will fund an expansion of our healthcare and life science-focused manufacturing capabilities, helping our customers make pharmaceuticals better, safer and more effective,” Murphy wrote. “Additionally, the facility will ensure security of supply for our customers who manufacture life-saving drugs, while bringing more than 100 new skilled jobs over the next five years, and increase economic investment to New Garden Township.”

In addition to the continuation of the conditional use hearing on April 17, Murphy will also meet with the township’s Zoning Hearing Board on March 29.

KCSD receives conditional use approval for new elementary school

The Kennett Consolidated School District (KCSD) received a conditional use approval from the New Garden board for the construction of a new elementary school at 265 New Garden Road. The approval follows a conditional use application the district filed with the township on Jan. 9, and a conditional use hearing that was held on Feb. 21.

As spelled out in prior presentations, KCSD plans to construct a new 105,240 square-foot school on the rear of the 25-acre property that will require the demolition of the current New Garden Elementary School. The property will also contain playfields, parking for 154 vehicles and include upgraded sewer and stormwater facilities.

Slated to be completed by August 2026, the new school will serve 660 students in kindergarten through the fifth grade.

As stated in the agreement with the township, the new school meets the general requirements for conditional use: it is in the public interest and its location will best serve the public health, safety and welfare; it is consistent with the goals of the township’s 1993 comprehensive and open space and environmental resource plans; it is consistent with the intent of the township’s zoning ordinance as a permitted use and is appropriate for the subject property as it will replace an existing outdated facility; it is appropriate to the existing area and will not detract from the use of surrounding properties or the neighborhood; it contains sufficient land area to buffer adjacent uses and is designed to conserve building and property values and to protect public safety; and it contains sufficient safeguards for traffic safety and control.

During the public comment period of the hearing, Lisa Straughn, the owner of Hands for Heart Healing on New Garden Road, voiced her displeasure with the planned construction of the new school. She told the board that the playground for the new school is planned to be 57 feet from her property line and will be detrimental to her business, which is located in the back of her home.

“It is the ideal location for the healing work that I do, where the environment surrounding my space and my home is held with peace and quiet,” Straughn told the board. “Where the children currently play on the playground in the distance has been nothing more than delightful white noise in the background, but a playground within the sight of my work space could only be described as an intolerable racket that would make the sessions I do in complete silence near impossible.”

Straughn that despite sharing her concerns with a KCSD representative, she was told that after spending a half million dollars to design the parameters of the new school, the district had no plans to change them.

“When I asked if it had occurred to him to see who the neighbors were prior to making those plans, I was told that it was not his responsibility, and he could do with the property whatever was within their legal rights to do,” she told the board.

Straughn urged the supervisors to protect its residents and its businesses who may be left vulnerable in the event of large-scale development in the future.

“If the current plans go forward as they are, I will be forced to either move my business out of my home, or renovate my house to create as sound proof a space as I am able,” she said. “It seems to me that [KCSD] should have to pay for one of those options since they could have avoided putting me in this position, but didn’t.

“I am a healer, and while it is impossible for me not to be emotional about what’s happening to my business, I am not an unreasonable woman. I am asking for, and would have expected common courtesy, neighbor to neighbor and business to business.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].