The Schuylkill Township Planning Commission held their regularly scheduled meeting at 8:00 p.m. on Wednesday, May 17, 2017 at the Township hall. Members of the Planning Commission present were Mr. Jim Reading, Mr. Morris Quigg, Mr. Eric Rahe, Mr. Michael Bauer, Mr. Curt English and Mr. Mark Donovan. Mr. Reading chaired the meeting. Also in attendance were Mr. Mark Fischer, Esq. of High Swartz representing the Planning Commission, Mr. John Sartor, the Township Engineer, from Gilmore & Associates, Mr. John Gregory of the Historic Commission and 8 members of the public. No Board of Supervisor members attended the Planning Commission meeting due to the need for separation of the Board from discussion of the Conditional Use application before the commission.
On motion by Mr. Quigg and seconded by Mr. English, and passed, the Planning Commission approved the minutes of April 19, 2017.
Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC (Wawa) – Julie L. Von Spreckelsen, Esq. came before the commission regarding the conditional use application for a proposed Wawa convenience store and retail building located at the corner of Route 23 (Valley Forge Road) and South White Horse Road at property addresses 11 and 19 South White Horse Road and 808 Valley Forge Road in the C – Commercial District. Ms. Von Spreckelsen stated that revised plans were submitted to the Township on May 4. The Revised Plan was in response to the Gilmore & Associates review letter dated April 14. She stated that she is in receipt of the Township Engineer review letter dated May 12 that reviewed the Revised Plan. In addition, the Township Engineer has reviewed the Alternate plan dated May 9 for the site that proposes to keep the historic “Twin Bays” (aka “Jacob Rossiter”) house and submitted a letter dated May 16.
Ms. Von Spreckelsen advised that the alternate plan was submitted to the Historic Commission for their review and recommendation. At their May 15, 2017 meeting the Historic Commission recommended to the Board of Supervisors that the carriage house be demolished on condition that the Twin Bays house be preserved. Ms. Von Spreckelsen stated that the applicant is seeking a recommendation from the Planning Commission regarding the Alternate conditional use concept plan of the proposed Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC land development.
Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC, equitable owners of the properties, will need to go before the Township Zoning Hearing Board (ZHB) to request variances to allow for the gas pump canopy to be located closer than 75 feet from the legal right-of-way of South White Horse Road Valley Forge Road; to permit more than one principle use on proposed lot #2 and to allow parking along the internal lot line between lots #1 and #2.
To allow for the preservation of the historic Twin Bays house the access driveway on South White Horse Road was shifted approximately 20’ closer to the intersection of White Horse Road and Valley Forge Road (Route 23). Mr. Greg Richardson of Traffic, Planning & Design stated that 6 cars could stack along White Horse Road at the intersection before they reached the proposed development entrance. He advised that the proposed plan has reduced driveway entrances from the original three parcels from five driveways to two. Mr. English questioned the sight distance looking south from the proposed White Horse Road driveway. He was concerned that a motorist would not be able to see past the historic structure. Mr. Richardson stated that they are in the process of completing a full traffic study that will include that concern.
Mr. Sartor advised that he was not clear as to the proposed use of the historic house and therefore could not comment on the number of parking spaces that would be needed in the review letter. He stated that he cannot confirm if there are sufficient spaces for lot #2 for both the historic house and the proposed retail store. Ms. Von Spreckelsen stated that the applicant may need to go to the ZHB for a variance for the number of parking spaces.
Mr. Sartor stated that the trash enclosure shown on the plan needs to be wholly sited on lot #1. He advised that the Township Zoning Officer has concluded that the air dispensers and underground fuel tanks are accessory uses to the convenience store. He advised that the plan needs to show some type of screening. Mr. Sartor stated that although screening is a land development issue and not necessarily a conditional use issue, it would be helpful for the Board of Supervisors to have some type of rendering showing what a screening buffer would look like since the proposed Wawa development is surrounded by residents. Mr. English stated that the residents should be shielded as much as possible. Mr. Mark Donovan stated that “effective” screening should be used. Mr. Rahe suggested that the applicant provide a cross section plan that shows the height of the buildings and the screening.
A resident questioned if the site would be developed in phases. Ms. Von Spreckelsen stated that the site would be developed all at one time. The shell of the historic house will be protected but nothing will be done to the interior until a tenant is found. Mr. Bauer questioned what happens if there is not a tenant for the historic house and does the structure fit into the business plan for the site. Mr. Bill Dion, the representative of Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC, stated that it will be challenging to find a retail tenant to lease to. He stated that there needs to be income generated by that structure. He advised that the second floor of the structure may be “mothballed” because of ADA accessibility. The Historic Commission wants a preservation plan for the historic house by final plan approval.
Mr. Morris Quigg requested if there was any traffic studies done that showed traffic to a Wawa with and without gas pumps as an accessory use. Mr. Richardson stated that gas pumps add about 15% more traffic to a Wawa site than would Wawa “legacy” stores that do not have gas pumps. He advised that that percentage is based specifically on Wawa convenience stores and not national data.
A resident that has lived in the Township for 40 years questioned the Planning Commission if they could make a recommendation on whether a site should have low-level or high-level commercial activity. Mr. Reading stated that the Township is concerned about the impact of this development on the surrounding residents. Mr. Reading stated that the Planning Commission is bound by the Zoning and Subdivision and Land Development Ordinances (SALDO) as to what type of activity is to be developed in any one area. In the case of the proposed Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC development, the developer is placing commercial businesses in a Commercial District. As per Ordinance 370-169, a convenience store with accessory gas pumps is an allowed use in the commercial district by Conditional Use. Both Mr. Reading and Mr. Quigg stated that economics is not a factor that the Planning Commission looks at.
Ms. Sarah Sterling of 856 Valley Forge Road stated that Schuylkill Township has limited commercial areas. She stated that she is not seeing a diversification of commercial uses in the area and that Wawa is getting around the Zoning with the proposed gas pumps and is building a gas station. Ms. Sterling advised that the residents will be impacted by crime, lighting and sound. She stated that the Wawa development will most likely put the other two gas stations out of business. The gas pumps are an accessory/secondary use to the convenience store use and they are not the primary use as a gas station would be considered.
Ms. Sterling questioned the buffering of the site. Mr. Quigg stated that buffering of the site is a land development issue. She also was concerned with the safety issue with the 24 hour convenience store use and the gas pumps within 200 feet of residential zoning district. Mr. Gregory asked what was proposed for lighting. Lighting will be in compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.
The issue before the Planning Commission is the Conditional Use application for the proposed convenience store use. The Planning Commission will make its recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Should the Board approve the Conditional Use, Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC will then need to develop engineered plans that will need to be reviewed by the Township including the Township Planning Commission and Environmental Advisory Council, Chester County Planning Commission and any other agencies that may be applicable. Part of that land development review will encompass traffic, screening, lighting, stormwater management and other Zoning and SALDO requirements. Should the Board of Supervisors grant final approval of the land development plan, it would only be then that construction could begin.
A resident asked if there was something wrong with the Royal Bank that it would not be a good fit. Mr. Rahe advised that it is private property and whoever buys the land has the right to develop the property within the Township’s Zoning and Subdivision and Land Development Ordinances. Another resident questioned the possibility of open space and if the proposed development would increase impervious surface and how that would affect stormwater management. The applicant stated that there are many stormwater management ordinance requirements they would need to comply with as well as impervious surface requirements.
Mr. Gregory questioned if the site could lend itself to a WalMart sized commercial establishment. Mr. Rahe stated that setbacks and parking would not allow that building size on the total lot size for the proposed Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC project. Mr. Gregory stated that they cannot retract the alternate plan that shows the preservation of the historic house. A resident stated that he was okay with the Wawa being built but not the gas pumps.
Ms. Sterling stated that she would be impacted with the increase in traffic associated with the Wawa. She stated she would prefer a sidewalk in front of her property instead of Valley Forge Road being widened. Mr. Richardson stated that they are proposing not to widen Valley Forge Road and that it is not their intention to impact the neighbors. He advised that the edge of pavement is not changing; however, the white line may be shifted closer to the edge of pavement. They are proposing no added asphalt. Mr. Richardson advised that White Horse Road will only be widened in front of Lot #1 and the driveway. The road cannot be widened in front of the Historic house. Another resident stated that PaDOT could request widening and other items for this development. Mr. Richardson stated that TPD will look at the full intersection.
A question came up regarding how the Comprehensive Plan fits into the review of the proposed development. The Comprehensive plan is the overall planning document for the Township that provides a base for decision-making in the areas of land use, circulation and community facilities. The Plan is considered a guide only; it is not an ordinance that must be strictly followed. Mr. Reading stated that the Comprehensive Plan is updated every 15 years or so. The Township adopted an addendum to the Comprehensive Plan in 2005. Mr. Curt English stated that the Phoenixville Regional Planning Committee (PRPC) is currently updating the regional comprehensive plan. When completed, individual municipalities that are members of the PRPC can update their individual comprehensive plans or adopt the regional plan as their own comp plan.
Mr. Bauer advised that at last month’s meeting he had expressed his dislike of the retail building on lot #2 being too far back in the site and it remains there still in the revised plan. He stated that with the preservation of the historic house there is now a third retail building. He stated that in his opinion the developer is keeping the house to gain approval for the overall development of the site.
On motion by Mr. Rahe, seconded by Mr. English, with Mr. Bauer dissenting, the Planning Commission approved the Alternate Conditional Use Plan dated May 9, 2017 that depicts the preservation of the historic Twin Bays house and recommended to the Board of Supervisors that they approve the Conditional Use for the Whitehorse Road-Phoenixville LLC two-lot development for the proposed Wawa with accessory gas pumps on lot #1 and two retail spaces on lot #2, one being in the historic house with the entire development both lot #1 and #2 being effectively screened from surrounding residential areas and incorporating the recommendation of the Historic Commission to approve the demolition of the carriage house on lot #2 and the granting of any required zoning relief.
There being no further business for discussion, the meeting was adjourned at 9:35 p.m.
Mary R. Bird
Next Meeting: June 21, 2017