Conditional Use Application Withdrawn
On October 28, Birch Run Village LLC withdrew the Conditional Use Application for their development proposal for the Birchrunville Schoolhouse property. We have no doubt that this was due in large part to the member support of the HBNA which gave us the ability to engage an attorney and land use professionals to develop our case. Although the developer withdrew before we were able to present testimony, simply having our team in attendance at the first hearing was enough to convince them that it would not be possible to prevail.
In fact, less than a month after the application was withdrawn, the township entered into an agreement of sale to purchase UPI #25-4-79 (the portion of the Birchrunville Schoolhouse property which has the garage and salt sheds). It is unlikely that this agreement would have occurred if the developer had prevailed at the Conditional Use Hearing.
Township Purchase Agreement
On November 25, the West Vincent Township Board of Supervisors announced that the township has entered into an agreement of sale to purchase UPI #25-4-79, the portion of the Birchrunville Schoolhouse property which has the garage and salt sheds. The purchase is subject to an appraisal and other conditions, but the agreement is expected to close before March and possibly earlier.
The Schoolhouse building will remain as an office building under private ownership. The Board discussed their intention to demolish the sheds and create a park in the parcel to be purchased.
On March 3rd the deal to be finalized and the Township purchased of UPI# 25-4-79 for a price of $160,000.
HBNA Case Summary
In light of these events, we will never need to formally present our case which is summarized in the following paragraphs.
First of all, the development plan contained several clear violations of the Township Zoning Ordinance. The most prominent of these was the violation of the setback from a historic structure. The developer requested that the Board waive the ordinance and approve a major reduction of the setback. Not only would this be an affront to the spirit of the ordinance, it is not legal. The state Municipal Planning Code (MPC) is clear that zoning issues can only be decided by the Zoning Hearing Board (not the Board of Supervisors). The Zoning Hearing Board has a very stringent set of criteria with which to judge and in this case they would certainly not prevail.
Second, the density of the proposed development is based upon an interpretation of the Zoning Ordinance by the Township Zoning Officer. Again, according to the MPC, zoning interpretations are clearly under the purview of the Zoning Board.
Finally, there is the notion that the township must make accommodations the developer to avoid a lawsuit. This has been mentioned intermittently throughout the past year in Township Board meetings and again during a past campaign for a Board of Supervisor seat. Accordingly, it was one of the first questions HBNA had answered by our legal team when they developed our case. Simply put, the township cannot be successfully sued for following their own ordinances.
The owner of a property has a legal right to develop within the zoning ordinances, but there is no consideration for ordinances to be waived to ease an economic hardship for the owner. In this case, the developer knew when they purchased the Schoolhouse that the historic setback ordinance existed. They also knew they would not be asking for a small waiver of a few feet.