The East Vincent Township Planning Commission met for a regular meeting on Tuesday night with a hot topic on the agenda. The 7 p.m. meeting was scheduled to post its “final recommendation” about the petition for zoning change from residential to professional office and general industrial on the Pennhurst property, owned and operated by Richard Chakejian.
Much to the surprise of the seven members of the commission, Chakejian was a no-show to the meeting and much to the surprise of the public attendees, committee chairman Jason Herron said this petition is nowhere near finalization.
In attendance were regular interested residents like Michael Pavesi, Diane Benelli, Saul Rivken, who is running for a supervisor position on the board in November, and current board member Chistine McNeil, who all spoke on the topic and are members of the Concerned Citizens of East Vincent, which put out a urging the public to attend the meeting on Monday.
With the understanding of the PC making a final recommendation, Spring City borough councilman Jim Burns asked Pavesi to read a letter to the board regarding Pennhurst.
“I do know that borough council does want me to take action on Mr. Chakejian’s petition,” Burns said in the letter, who could not make the meeting because he is out of town. “It is the feeling of Spring City and others that higher density would require construction of a feeder and secondary roads before any possible subdivision. The existing roads to Pennhurst are less than secondary roads. Since it’s application, unlike Jones Motor, borders directly on Spring City, it’s common practice for the PC to solicit our comments prior to consideration. To do otherwise would be considered a bad precedent.
Burns then dropped what would be the biggest bomb of the night at the meeting.
“In closing, as for the Halloween attraction, it has all but been decided that pending any contact with the borough, we are considering restricting any commercial traffic on N. Church Street, excluding local delivery. That would include Penn Organic traffic and PennDOT, as well as non-profit traffic to the attraction. Chakejian does not have fire or police approval to close or otherwise detour Bridge and Church Street traffic.”
The commission held a similar point of view to the public concerning the petition, which was said to need a lot of work.
“There does seem to be a merit to the concept of moving some of the more intense and less attractive industrial uses away from the residential areas to the Pennhurst track where it’s a little more removed from most of the residential areas in the township,” Herron said. “What they’ve proposed here is basically three uses as permitted in both our PO (Professional Office) and GI (General Industrial) district, which in my opinion is far too broad. They really need to think about tearing that list down a little bit and coming back to us with a list of what it is they really want there, because right now it basically permits them to do anything they possibly want in a residential and I don’t think that’s what we want.”
Herron and the commission felt a master plan is obviously needed before any decision is made, along with a traffic study. Lester Schwartz pointed out two big statements made in the petition that need specific work, including “under utilities, they said public utilities, including water and sewer are adequate to serve the purposes of the listed land uses.”
Under streets, Schwartz pointed out the petition said “the existing network is sufficient to serve the planned usage. Those are two really cavalier statements. They’re not serious about really knowing what they need. They need to do some planning.”
The commission made it clear they did not want to talk about the moral implications of a haunted attraction at that site, as Chakejian used it for last year; however, citizens brought to light the noise, trash, public urination and traffic concerns from last year. There are also even concerns about the release of asbestos and other harmful chemicals into the air from that property, which Herron responded would need to be looked into if or when development on the property occurs.
On the other end of the spectrum, Paul Chrisman, along with the support of a friend, asked if anyone in the public or on the board had actually been to the haunted house last year, to which only two hands were raised: his own and his friend’s.
“All the rumors that I hear aren’t what I saw,” Chrisman said. “I can’t believe it. I don’t live there and see it every day. When I was up there, it was so organized, I couldn’t believe it. I was dumbfounded Even the Jones Motor parking lot – I heard how trashy it was – the next morning, I looked out there and it was all cleaned up.”
The biggest concern of McNeil was the request for use by right by Chakejian, which she would like stricken from the petition. While he is requesting a zoning change to PO, he is also asking that he be granted allowance to use all uses of the PO terms. Some uses are only granted on conditional use, but Chakejian wants them by right.
McNeil also brought up a case on spot zoning from a case from Shippensburg Township. The zoning ordinance from Shippensburg makes clear that a property should not differ from the makeup of the surrounding land “from which it is physically indistinguishable.” The ordinance also stated “If this land should have any possible detriment to public health, safety and welfare, then it should be denied.”
The commission will await edits to be made to the petition and explanation by Chakejian on specific questions it has. Patch will have more coverage as information becomes available.