Whitemarsh’s zoning hearing board grants approval for apartments. Plus, policy change in Whitemarsh reduces the role of planning commission

During a November 3rd hearing, Whitemarsh Township’s Zoning Hearing Board voted unanimously to grant several variances to KRE Acquisitions to allow for a 598 unit apartment community straddling the Whitemarsh/Conshohocken border at 401/433 Washington Street. This approval only pertains to the smaller Whitemarsh portion of the property and the project has not yet appeared on any agendas in the Borough of Conshohocken.

One interesting thing to note. This application went before Whitemarsh Township’s Planning Commission on September 28th, and as MoreThanTheCurve.com reported, the planning commission voted against recommending the granting of all but one variance.

However, due to a recent change in policy within Whitemarsh Township, the recommendation from the planning commission was not provided to the members of the zoning hearing board.

The role of the planning commission has been, as stated on the township’s website is to “provide advice to the Board of Supervisors and the Zoning Hearing Board with respect to comprehensive land use planning and existing land use in Whitemarsh Township.” The new policy removes providing advice (a recommendation) to the zoning hearing board.

From the October 26th minutes of the planning commission:

Mr. Walko summarized the memo from the Solicitor’s office regarding how the Planning Commission or individuals on the Planning Commission should communicate to the Zoning Hearing Board. It is recommended that if the Planning Commission would like to take any action or make any recommendation to the Zoning Hearing Board, it should be a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors as to taking a position on a case, if any, the Board might take. If a Planning Commission member wanted, they could always attend as a resident speaking as an individual and not as a representative of the Planning Commission.

Walko is attorney John Walko who is a member of the Kilkenny Law, which serves as the township’s solicitor. The memo mentioned above is dated October 20th and was written by David Sander, another attorney with Kilkenny Law, and states:

At its October 12, 2001 meeting, the Planning Commission (“PC”) discussed issues concerning its review of zoning hearing board (“ZHB”) applications and the procedure by which the PC may express its opinions/recommendations on ZHB applications.

It is our office’s recommendation that if the PC provides a recommendation on a ZHB application, that such recommendation be made to the Board of Supervisors (“BOS”) who will then review the PC’s recommendation and make its own informed determination as to whether the BOS wishes to take a position on the application. If an individual PC member would like to express an opinion on a ZHB application directly to the ZHB at a zoning hearing as it is their right as a resident of the Township, the member should make it clear to the ZHB that they are speaking on behalf of themselves and not the PC as a whole.

Charlie Gutterplain asked me to advise the PC as to how he chooses which ZHB applications he brings to the PC for review. Charlie advised that he chooses cases that meet one or both of the following criteria: (1) the case involves a question of use (use variance, etc.), or (2) the case involves a major environmental issue such as floodplain impact, etc. ZHB applications involving setbacks, impervious coverage, accessory use locations, etc., are not taken to the PC. Charle advises that the PC probably is asked to review 5% or so of all ZHB applications.

The application for the 598 apartments met the criteria established by Gutterplain, the township’s zoning officer, to go before the planning commission (due to the property being located on the floodplain).

However, under this new policy, any recommendation for or against an application made by the planning commission goes directly to the board of supervisors. It is then up to the board of supervisors to decide whether to take an official position on an application going before the zoning hearing board (which is a power they already had). This new policy basically makes the planning commission irrelevant on zoning applications unless the board of supervisors chooses to make them relevant.

Let us know in the comments if you agree with this policy change.