PHOENIXVILLE — The meeting room at Borough Hall was filled to the brim the night of July 9, with residents straining to listen from the building’s lobby as borough council heard public comments against a planned development at Friendship Field.
“I think you can pretty much sense the temperament of the community in this council room,” council President Rich Kirkner told attorney Michael B. Murray Jr., who was representing the developer.
After almost a dozen people got up to voice their opposition to the project planned for the corner of Franklin and Fillmore streets, council unanimously voted to strike the project from its agenda amid cheers and applause from those in the audience.
The proposed plan, by Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, which focuses on providing “affordable housing,” called for four-story apartment buildings called Parkview Heights. The plan was originally presented to council in a Feb. 12 meeting.
Two action items directly affected the project. One involved denying a proposed codes amendment to allow workforce housing, which the project originally called its units, and the other lowered the borough’s minimum tract area requirement from 15 acres to 10 acres, which would have benefitted the project.
The developer sent a letter to council requesting that action not be taken on either. Both items were ultimately struck from the agenda.
Murray said the developer wanted to discuss the project more with the community.
During the council participation portion of the agenda, Councilwoman Jen Mayo made it clear she did not support the proposed project at Friendship Field and that she wished to put down any rumors circulating that said otherwise.
Mayo was the person on council who made the motion to strike the amendments pertaining to the project from the agenda. Councilman Karl Bucus seconded her motion.
In response to the request for an extension or more time to discuss the project, Kirkner, who opposed it, didn’t like the idea of waiting more for a resolution to the plan.
“What you’re suggesting is tonight it goes away but it lives in planning commissions for more meetings?” he said.
Murray said more discussion was necessary to find an “amenable solution” and not “force anything through.”
“Our time is already wasted,” Kirkner replied.
Many of those in attendance were there through the efforts of Phoenixville Republican Committee Chairman Brian Peppel and fellow committee member Joshua May, who was recently named as an alternate to the Police, Personnel and Public Safety Committee. Peppel and May circulated flyers during the weekend urging attendance at the meeting to voice opposition to the project.
“Save our neighborhood,” was written at the top of the flyer, followed by, “Do you want: More traffic? More congestion? Decreased safety?” along with the location and details of the plan.
Most of those in attendance were concerned with the project adding 72 living spaces to the neighborhood.
Victoria Viscuso decided to keep it short and sweet, saying simply at the microphone that she opposed MidAtlantic’s plan.
She shared with 21st Century Media the written comments she had planned to make.
“I respectfully say that over the course of the last four months (since the February meeting) little to no support from local residents has been achieved and various concerns have evolved,” she wrote.
Among those concerns was setting a dangerous precedent with the zoning change of reducing the minimum parcel size, saying it would “pave the way for similar, oversized developments.”
“No one is really happy with how this site (Friendship Field) looks now but this is not the answer,” said Maureen Kirkner, wife of council’s president.
With two affordable housing units already in the borough, “to ask us to swallow another is a little tough,” she said.
William Marchione Jr. said the borough has a great resource in preserving the open areas at Friendship Field.
“We now have an open space, a place we can be proud of for the generations of children coming up,” he said.
May also got up to speak to say that those in attendance were sure to keep an eye out for any future plans at the site.
“I advise the council that if the motion comes back in front of them at any time, revised or otherwise, it will be under strict scrutiny and we will probably do the same thing again,” May said of the crowd gathered in opposition.
In the lobby outside the meeting room, May said that he was proud of everyone who showed up.
“We’re going to keep everyone up to date,” he said. “The biggest thing is to pay attention.”
There is a chance that the plan might not make it back to the council’s agenda.
“It’s up to council to move forward,” said borough solicitor Andrew Rau. “It’s up to council when, if ever, to put it back on the agenda.”
Murray, leaving the meeting, said the borough planning committee gave no indication of problems with the proposed building and in open houses before they’d heard little opposition.
“We didn’t get any indication of things like they’re bringing down here tonight,” Murray said.
The opposition doesn’t necessarily mean the end of efforts to build at Franklin and Fillmore streets.
“Now we’re running in some options and we’ll meet with these community groups to see if there’s any options we could do,” Murray said. “If you hear some of the people in there, they’d rather (the site) stay vacant, but I don’t think that’s good for the borough.”