Candidate Questions: Frank Scarpello (R) Running for Whitemarsh Township Supervisor

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I have professional experience working in employee benefits, health insurance and financial planning and analysis.   I sometimes feel like I am pursuing a second career in zoning and land development given the amount of time I have studied what is going on in Whitemarsh with respect to development. I decided to run for a few reasons. First the communication from the township in regards to the sharing of information is poor. Simple, but vitally important, information is kept from the public. As an example, taxpayers must file Right To Know Requests, which are then reviewed by the township Solicitor, to see documents that should be public. Note, we pay the Solicitor for these reviews.  Secondly, it is my opinion the current board of supervisors do the bare minimum required by law when it comes to communication to the public on development concerns. Finally, I care about this community. I chose to live here for a reason. I want to preserve what makes Whitemarsh special.

What is the most important issue in your neighborhood and how would you address it if elected?

The single most important issue in all of Whitemarsh is the method the township uses to communicate to the taxpayers.  For example, regarding hearings on development, notice to the taxpayers is in the form of 1) two ads in an unnamed newspaper-meaning the township will not even tell you on what date and in which newspaper to look for information on hearings, 2) a small white sign placed on the property in question and 3) a letter from the township to only those who live within 500 feet of a proposed development.  These are the requirements in the PA Municipal Planning Code.

It only took me a few days of studying the PA Municipal Planning Code to see how communication about development is stacked against residents, and how Whitemarsh only does the bare minimum to keep taxpayers informed.  It is incredible to me that people involved in this system for years on end do not see how this type of communication in the year 2019 is archaic.  One must be lucky enough to subscribe to the newspaper Whitemarsh uses and check the Legal Notices section daily, drive aimlessly around the township searching for small white signs or live within 500 feet of a proposed development to even have the faintest idea of what is going on with development in Whitemarsh.

Information on Whitemarsh’s financial situation is also just as hard to come by.  At one of the last Board of Supervisors (BOS) meetings I attended it was mentioned that the township had $1.2 million of expenditures for a given month, and out of that roughly half is for salaries and approximately $50K is for pension obligations. I asked what the remaining expenditures are for and was told I needed to file a Right To Know Request (RTK) to find this out.  The RTK is a pesky requirement imposed by Whitemarsh that keeps coming up when dealing with the township.  As an example, I asked to see a letter from the PA Historical Society that was given to the Whitemarsh Planning Commission and was told I needed to file a RTK.  We are talking about an innocuous document that incidentally was already given to a Whitemarsh resident by the MONTCO Planning Commission!  Taxpayers and residents should know that the RTK requirement is self-imposed and that we pay the township solicitor to review each RTK request.  At one of the township budget meetings it was mentioned that the billable hours by the solicitor’s office reviewing RTK requests are on the rise and make up a one of the largest increases in bills paid by Whitemarsh.  I know I do not get billed by my bank to see how much I withdrew and deposited each month.

The way to fix this is detailed under our pledge on . The solutions mainly revolve around timely and clear meeting agendas, posting of information in a timely manner on the township’s website (it is 2019!), removal of the ridiculous RTK requirement and eliminating the current culture that is in practice of requiring taxpayers to jump through hoops to receive basic information.  The days of reading legalese without clear explanations would be over, the township website would have pertinent information on it and development would occur in the open. All those wishing to participate would have the ability to do so; and, finances would no longer be hidden behind RTK requests.  Also, nothing like the mess that was presented to residents with respect to the development at Butler and Skippack would ever occur. 

How have you funded your campaign and who are your five largest donors?

Our campaign has been fully funded by the Whitemarsh Republican Committee.

The county has a plan to fix Butler Pike, but it doesn’t have a plan to address the ongoing issue of storm water along Butler Pike in the historic district. During the September presentation by the county on the status of Butler Pike, it was apparent neither the county or the township had made an effort to get all of the property owners along that portion of Butler Pike in a room to start a discussion on solving the problem. If elected, what would you do differently?

I was at that meeting and asked if anyone did a study on the cost this road closure has on commuters and businesses.  The answer I received was no.  I also asked the county representatives how long would it take to fix the sink hole if the bridge were deemed too dangerous for rail traffic.  I received a few strange looks but when I suggested it would not take the two plus years they said it will, all agreed with me.  

I would not support continued development in that area until a viable plan was produced that addresses storm water run-off, and more importantly sink holes.  Time and time again when these issues are brought up by residents at meetings the answer always is “that will be addressed later in the land development phase.”  This is kicking the can down the road.  Property owners have rights that must be respected, but development, especially on Butler Pike, needs to have plans in place for storm water, traffic and sink holes BEFORE a green light for a project is given.  I will also add that I would not accept any so-called expert telling me that retention basins are open space, or that all traffic from sixty plus townhomes will turn right and not left.   

The Colonial School District recently underwent a bidding process for a new middle school. The bids received under its “Responsible Contractors” policy resulted in just two bids and both were over budget. After the school board waived the policy for the general contractor and rebid the project, it received double the number of bids. The school district was able to secure a general contract at a savings of three to four million dollars. Should Whitemarsh Township review its RCO and consider repealing it?

I would like to hear the reason for a Responsible Contractor policy.  My understanding is that it will de facto secure safe construction of a better quality.  If this is truly the reason, then is the Colonial School Board saying they are now OK with construction of an inferior quality?  To the extent Whitemarsh has such a policy, and the reason is for quality of work along with safety, it should be reviewed. 

Over the past couple years there has been growing concern about development, especially as it pertains to townhouse developments. What is your view of townhouse developments? And if they are a concern, what would you do to manage their growth?

My views on overdevelopment are well known.  For anyone interested on what I have done to help combat this please watch the video of any BOS meeting where overdevelopment was on the agenda.  This is not easy stuff- there are landowners with rights that must be respected, there are zoning rules, there are township issue, etc.  However, what is easy to do right away is inform taxpayers of development.  As I mentioned, I would propose we do much more than the minimum required by law should I be fortunate enough to be elected supervisor.

With respect to townhomes, or any other type of high-density development, I am against the practice of what we see today- cramming as many units in the smallest parcels as possible.   High-density development comes at a cost: increased consumption of township resources both in dollars- police, fire, trash removal, infrastructure, school taxes- and quality of life issues like traffic, congestion, loss of open spaces.  

A few things I would do to manage development: 1) stop the current practice of granting waiver upon waiver to developers that have allowed huge townhome developments to proceed, 2) require real traffic studies by developers and not what is presented as analysis today (this would be more than the minimum required by law) 3) address issues like sink holes or storm water earlier in the process and 4) tighten up the zoning code- today we have many contradictions in the code and ambiguous definitions.

Does Whitemarsh need a connection to 76? If so, how would you advocate for it?

When I need to take 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), which by the way I try to avoid, I take 476 (when it was easy to get to without all of the road closures) to get on 76.  To me this is a connection to 76.

The business district in Lafayette Hill has outdated strip malls with bad parking lots. What could be done to encourage the property owners to make improvements?

If you mean along Germantown Pike, the majority of that is currently zoned VC-1.  Are the requirements of VC-1 hindering this section?  We should review that.  Also, I do not know the details on who rents and who owns at this location, so it would be different for each owner.  Whitemarsh should make it easy for businesses to be successful.  I think some type of business association could offer good input.