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Chester County Press

Council hears ideas for creating affordable housing options in Kennett Borough

08/15/2023 01:54PM ● By Richard Gaw

The increasingly crucial issue of making housing more affordable in Kennett Square Borough -- one of the key priorities of the current Kennett Borough Council -- took a step forward on Aug. 9, when council heard from a Planning Commission member who proposed three new initiatives. 

Finding – and ultimately developing – affordable housing options in a borough that is a little more than one square-mile in size “is a complex challenge,” said Planning Commission member Luke Zubrod, who in a public workshop suggested that council direct the seven-member commission to develop “first-step” changes in the form of three policies that aim to improve housing affordability and increase “non-luxury” housing supply in the borough:  

  1. That the construction of internal, attached and detached accessory dwelling units (ADUs) be permitted in the development of future borough residential development within all zoning districts. (ADUs are defined as smaller, independent residential dwelling units that can be in the form of additions to new and existing homes or new stand-alone structures. Now supported by cities and counties across the U.S., ADUs have the potential to increase housing affordability and create a wider range of housing options.) 

  1. Reforming minimum parking mandates at new developments and redevelopment sites. 

  1. Taking the steps to accommodate “Missing Middle Housing,” an initiative that will invite greater density within a community while still attempting to enable development at a neighborhood scale.  

The initiatives proposed by the Planning Commission were included in its July 11 letter to the Borough Council that stated the need for policies aimed at housing affordability in the brough are supported by several compiled facts: 

  • Twenty-nine percent of households in the borough had four or more residents, but only 19 percent of housing units had more than three bedrooms.  

  • Realtors have indicated that houses listed for sale in the borough often receive double digit offers, and most are well over the original asking price.  

  • New housing construction in the borough – either in rental or in owner-occupied – continue to rise substantially, making these units unaffordable for those at lower income levels. 

The encroaching reality in these possible options, however, lay in the simple fact that demand has exceeded supply in the borough, which affects a development company’s need to take affordable housing into serious consideration. The hard-to-digest truth is this: that realtors are seeing potential gold in the growing popularity of a borough that has consistently ranked as one of the most popular small towns in the U.S.: The Flats of Kennett, opened in 2020, is at full capacity with a long waiting list, with monthly rents that start at $1,920 for a one-bedroom apartment; the Lofts at Kennett Pointe are anticipated to reach full capacity when completed, and where one-bedroom apartments start at $2,150 a month; and the current construction of Kennett Square Apartments on West State Street and Mill Road will showcase 166 Class A luxury units. 

Zubrod then shared another reality. 

“The 2020 census tells us that the median family income level in Kennett Square was $76,000, and housing experts tell us that at that income level, a family can afford a house selling at $260,000,” he said. “A recent review of home prices in the borough suggest that there were no family homes selling for less than $320,000.”   

Council provides feedback, direction 

Following Zubrod’s presentation, members of council addressed various issues. 

“We don’t regulate pricing of apartments or homes as borough council,” councilmember Kathleen Caccamo said to Zubrod. “In creating more units in the area, it’s a struggle between what the market bears and what people charge. Council can’t suddenly say [to realtors], ‘You can only charge this much for an apartment’ without input from people who publicly and privately own the buildings. It’s their choice on how they’re priced, so how does council work within those constraints?” 

“Price is a function of supply and demand, so when you increase supply, that lowers price,” Zubrod told Caccamo. 

“We are one square mile, mostly densely populated currently and everybody wants to live here,” Caccamo replied, referring to the marked spike in the value of homes in the borough. Her response was followed by a comment by a borough resident in attendance, who told Zubrod that the issue is not one of zoning, but population. 

“Where are you going to put all these people?” he asked. “You can’t put ten pounds in a five-pound bag, and we’re a five-pound bag. Our roads can’t handle it and we can’t expand them. You put another one or two thousand people here, you’re going to ruin this town.” 

Council President Doug Doerfler said that while several initiatives to provide for more affordable housing in the borough are beyond the council’s control, “one of the things that is in our control is to look at zoning polices and regulations – which we could have some control over.” 

“I strongly think that we owe the folks in the borough who can least afford to live here the opportunity to take a look at how we can help affordability in the borough – across all of those folks who need a place to live,” Councilmember Bob Norris said. “They are the ones who are the most vulnerable. In my opinion, we owe them a look to see how we can make certain properties in the borough more affordable than they are now. 

“It was our second-highest priority last year. When we sat down, we said what is the most important thing we can do as a council, and it was to get our financial house in order, and number two was to do something about affordability.” 

“Our situation is not a unique one,” Zubrod said. “Communities in Chester County and in the state are facing similar challenges. These aren’t silver-bullet solutions, but they would lay a foundation for progress in this area. 

“The Planning Commission’s goal is to spark a conversation about housing policies. I think the value of going through a process like this is that we are looking at all of the issues and pursuing some concrete action steps in parallel. I don’t think we need to get through the end of the journey in order to start making progress on it.” 

Enhancing communications in the borough 

Deputy Borough Manager Sonny Greco conducted a public workshop that spelled out the many upgrades the borough is making to improve communications with borough residents. They include monthly e-newsletters that now have 6,000 subscribers; inclusion in the ReadyCheso notification system, a county-wide application that has 5,000 subscribers who obtain pressing information about road closures, floods and emergencies; Facebook postings; two annual mailers; digital borough forms that allows for two-way communication between the borough and its residents; and the development of a Kennett Square application, which is scheduled to be unveiled in the fall. 

Greco told council that the borough held strategic planning sessions in March that invited residents, community stakeholders, business leaders and councilmembers. The feedback from those sessions identified the need to better integrate borough information to the Hispanic community. Since June, all borough newsletters are now published in English and Spanish, as will the end-of-the-year mailer. 

In other borough business 

Council approved the formation of a borough infrastructure committee that will be charged with the responsibility of exploring short- and long-term infrastructure initiatives in the borough that will include discussions on the prioritization of road development and the capital replacement schedule for the borough building. 

Norris said that the timeline for finalizing the borough’s 2024 budget will include a first draft presentation before the public in October and at some before the end of the year, the borough will hold an information session open house that will allow residents to speak with members of the borough government. He said that residents also have the option to review the borough’s budget on the borough’s website. 

Police Chief William Holdsworth reported that the Kennett Square Police Department held an active shooter training session at Kennett High School on Aug. 3 in cooperation with the Kennett Consolidated School District and local fire and EMS units. He said that the police department has been working with the school district for the past three-and-a-half years on implementing safety and security protocols in district schools.  

Holdsworth called the session “an incredible collaborative effort that gave us the opportunity to see how well our protocols actually work, assure us that what we have put into place are in fact life-saving measures and will reduce the severity if [a shooting incident] ever did happen.”  

He said that the department and district will continue to develop its training efforts over the next year.  

Several residents in attendance urged the council to explore ways for the borough to end the contract it has the Kennett Area YMCA to operate the outdoor pool at 636 South Walnut Street, obtain the financial resources to purchase the pool and hire a management firm – and possibly community organizations -- to operate the pool. They complained that while the YMCA has opened the pool on the weekends for the community, the wading pool for children is not in use.  

The board approved the appointment of Lynn Sinclair as a borough representative for the Brandywine Valley Scenic Byway Commission’s Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Project. 

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