2 projects draw vocal public to Phoenixville council meeting

PHOENIXVILLE — A pair of potential projects in the borough drew a vocal public to a recent borough council meeting.

Most of the public attending Jan. 14’s meeting made their feelings known against a streetscaping project on Main Street approved in December and a proposed retirement community on the borough’s north side.

Those who turned out against the Main Street plans expressed their concern over the planned elimination of 12 parking spaces between Bridge and Hall streets.

“I opened this office here figuring the signage would draw people in and business would come locally. Well, guess what? We don’t get very many people locally,” Charles Wilfong, the owner of Wilfong Tax Services at 21 S. Main St, told council.

Most business in that area comes from people driving and pulling up directly to the business, according to Wilfong.

“Please don’t take it away,” he said. “Please don’t hurt us.”

Last week’s vocal concern against the elimination plan was in direct contrast to the overwhelming number of public commenters in December’s meeting advocating the plan, which passed.

Wilfong told 21st Century Media that the sentiments in that meeting were actually a reverse of a committee meeting held earlier in which business owners wanted the parking to remain unchanged.

The plan spoken out against called for the elimination of 12 spots, “bump-outs” to extend the sidewalk, and other similar improvements for pedestrians to create a Bridge Street-type atmosphere on Main Street.

Dave Chawaga, of Legacy Property Group, produced a petition against the streetscaping plan with 325 signatures and promised more.

He said the current system of parking on Main Street works well because its two-hour limits keep cycling cars in and out and eliminating that in an already competitive area would be disastrous.

Chawaga said the businesses he represents would have to move if the plan goes through.

“You’re driving business out of town,” he said.

A proponent of the parking elimination last month, Brandon Whitaker, owner of the Wells Fargo bank branch on the corner of Main and Hall streets, spoke in favor of it again.

“Right now, Bridge is considered a main street and Main Street is considered a side street,” he said. “I think this plan is more about getting businesses here that can provide products and services.”

No action regarding the Main Street plan was taken Tuesday night, but the project isn’t set to go to bid until mid-February and work wouldn’t begin until April.

FRIENDSHIP VILLAGE

The other issue which drew the public’s attention was a planned senior community seeking conditional use approval on the north side.

A public hearing was held for Friendship Village, the proposed three-story, 72 unit residential area at 501 Franklin Ave.

It is the latest iteration of a proposed project by Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic that drew a large crowd in opposition this summer at the old borough hall when it was called Parkview Heights. It was originally proposed as three buildings of 24 units each deemed “workforce housing” in February but grew to four stories by the summer.

Retooled as senior housing, the project still faced heavy opposition from north side residents, chiefly due to stormwater management this time.

“Historically, people south of this property have a real issue with water,” said resident Matthew Viscuso.

“I can tell you I’ve had a major problem with water filtration. I have spent thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to control the water in the basement,” said Peter Walynetz, a resident and local realtor. “I don’t want any more water in my basement. They have to keep the water on their property.”

Water heading toward the Friendship property’s south side will be “captured through a series of inlets and rain gardens,” said landscape architect Adam Supplee, one of those working on the project. Additionally, the project plan calls for a curb which will brace the far south side with more inlets built in.

An underground basin is planned to collect the stormwater and distribute it into “the public system,” which Supplee called “a significant improvement” from the current situation, which he characterized as “uncontrolled.”

Residents who opposed the plan still remained wary.

In addition the stormwater issues, Councilman Jon Ichter Jr. said he had some “concerns with emergency coverage for this type of housing in this location.”

The project’s developers have not yet spoken with borough’s police or fire chiefs, but the lawyer representing the project, Michael B. Murray Jr., said that is not yet required by borough code at this stage of the process.

Potential increases in traffic in the area was also a concern voiced by residents, a reprise of some worries brought up in the summer.

Resident Linda Hudak was in favor of Friendship Village, saying senior housing in the Phoenixville-area now typically has a five-year wait.

“I hear what everybody has to say and I don’t want water in anybody’s basement, but my husband and I are on a very low fixed income,” she said. “This is adding housing for those who don’t know where to go, whose rent is going up.”

Rich Kirkner, the former council president, urged council to reject the conditional use and step in, buy the property and make it a development-free zone.

Murray said Friendship Village met the zoning criteria it needs to for conditional use approval.

After listening to the concerns of those present, council unanimously voted (with the exception of Council President Jim Kovaleski, who recused himself from the hearing due to belong to the same law firm as Murray) to continue the Friendship Village hearing to next month.

“In my opinion we have got an awful lot of information here, a lot that we just got,” said Council Vice President Dana Dugan. “I see exactly what the public thinks about this and it seems that maybe 95 percent are against this. I think we need to look into it a little further and get some possible conditions we should add on.”

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

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