Controversial Zoning Change Comes to Forefront on September 12 – Whitemarsh’s Board of Supervisors to Decide on 58 Townhouses

On the agenda for the September 12th meeting of Whitemarsh Township’s Board of Supervisors are two items that are intertwined.

The first involves the Supervisors considering the repeal of 11 conditional uses from the VC-4 zoning district. The Board of Supervisors has already publicly committed to doing this in response to public outcry over the process that led to their adoption.

The second involves a conditional use hearing for a townhouse community proposed within the VC-4 district. The proposal involves 58 townhouses on a farm property located near the intersection of Butler and Skippack Pikes (basically behind the water tower).

They are intertwined because townhouses are one of the conditional uses being considered for repeal, but it will not impact this application as it was submitted before the process to make the repeal started.

These two items are the culmination of a process that started when the public started asking questions during a Planning Commission meeting in May on how the 11 conditional uses were approved. That night the Planning Commission decided to not make a decision and bring the application back at a later meeting.

The next month on June 16th during the meeting of the all-Democrat Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors, Chair Melissa Sterling (and current candidate for Judge of the Court of Common Pleas), read a statement that the Board of Supervisors released earlier in June about the 11 conditional uses. However, the statement read by Sterling had one line that didn’t exist in the statement that was originally released.

The one line that was added claims the Board of Supervisors did not know that the amendment that was reviewed and recommended by the Planning Commission never went back to the Planning Commission for additional review once the 11 conditional issues were added.

A little background. During the summer of 2018, the Planning Commission reviewed and recommended a zoning amendment that was deemed a “housekeeping” amendment. A “housekeeping” amendment is meant to fix minor issues within the zoning code. After the Planning Commission made its recommendation, it then moved to the Board of Supervisors for consideration. The 11 conditional uses in question were added between the time the Planning Commission made its recommendation over the summer of 2018 and the vote taken by the Board of Supervisors in October of 2018.

During the Planning Commission meeting in May (the one where the public started asking questions), the township’s zoning officer, Charlie Guttenplan, stated that he was instructed by the Board of Supervisors to alter the amendment and add 11 conditional uses (including the one for townhouses). Guttenplan stated he asked the township’s solicitor, Sean Kilkenny, on whether the amendment needed to go back to the Planning Commission for review. Kilkenny advised it did not.

It is important to note that neither the first or second version of the statement addressed Guttenplan’s claim that he was instructed by the Board of Supervisors to make the change. It just refers to a process that could be improved.

Then during the Board of Supervisors’ meeting in July Supervisor Amy Grossman (who was the chair in 2018) made a statement that after reviewing documents she was the one who instructed Guttenplan to add the 11 new conditional uses.

What is important to note is that Grossman was in attendance at the Planning Commission meeting at which Guttenplan first made his statement that he was instructed by the Board of Supervisors to make the change. She is the Board of Supervisors liaison with the Planning Commission.

To recap, Grossman didn’t remember this while she sat through the Planning Commission meeting in May and heard Guttenplan state he was instructed by the Supervisors.

She didn’t remember when a written statement was released on this issue in June.

She did not remember when the statement (with the one line added) was read during a June meeting of the Board of Supervisors.

Grossman’s statement and that of the Supervisors overall ignore whether Guttenplan remembered. Did the other Supervisors ask him prior to making the June statement?

As we mentioned at the top, the 58 townhouses are before the Board of Supervisors on September 12th at 7:00 p.m. at the Whitemarsh Township Building. Note that the Planning Commission voted to not recommend granting the conditional use during an August meeting. The final determination is up to the Supervisors.

Let us know what you think in the comments.