Decision on controversial Phoenixville senior housing plan expected in March

PHOENIXVILLE — The public conditional use hearing for a planned senior housing project on Phoenixville’s north side finished last week at borough council’s monthly meeting with the project’s fate undecided.

Representatives for Friendship Village, which is planned for 501 Franklin Avenue by Housing Development Corp. MidAtlantic, finished presenting their plans in the hopes of gaining conditional use approval from council to move forward with construction of the 72-unit development.

Stretched out between this and last month’s council meeting, the hearing has been filled with public comment, overwhelmingly against the project, due mainly to concerns about water control and how the project will fit into the current neighborhood’s “character.”

Former council president Richard Kirkner again turned out to voice his opinion and concerns about the project in the ward he represented until this year.

“I think the units along Fillmore Street significantly alter the character of that neighborhood there,” Kirkner said.

“I live in a one-and-a-half-story Cape Cod. My mother lives in a Ranch. You go down to the Grant Street homes: I believe it is ranch, ranch, ranch, ranch, ranch,” said Victoria Viscuso, living in the neighborhood near the proposed development. “The height of this building: totally not in character for that neighborhood.”

The project is planned to be three stories tall.

It also will not have to adhere to zoning which was recently passed by borough council since the application predates the zoning change, according to the borough’s solicitor, Sean Kilkenny.

Among others, Kirkner questioned the transportation plan set forth by developers for Friendship Village, which will rely heavily on public transportation like Rover Community Transportation buses and the taxis that operate in Phoenixville.

“I am of the age where I’ve used Rover,” said Marie Ashton, a north side resident. “You can spend 25 to 45 minutes trying to get Rover to be able to answer. That’s how busy Rover is. People all do use Rover. And you have how many more units...of people who are going to be using Rover?”

Kirkner did say he felt the developers addressed the concerns he expressed in January regarding water control, though some others were not yet convinced.

Adam Supplee, the landscape architect attached to the project, said it will use existing stormwater infrastructure to dispose of water after it goes through the designed measures including inlets and an underground basin.

He said the borough “pipes are new and designed to handle” a residential development.

Bruce Weinsteiger, the project’s architect, told council that wait-lists for local senior housing in the area run from “25 to 200 households.”

“In senior projects, that’s significant. That’s essentially saying that most of these people won’t be able to get into these homes their lifetime,” he said, before echoing the sentiments of a resident who voiced her support last month. “There is a serious need for senior housing within this region.”

Making no immediate decision after the public hearing closed, council went to an executive session around midnight as their agenda came to an end.

Council President Jim Kovaleski works for the law firm representing the Friendship Village project and has recused himself from all proceedings involving the project dating back to its origin as “workforce housing” called Parkview Heights.

In the middle of the executive session, Kovaleski came out. It was assumed that council was discussing the Friendship Village project but no decision was made Tuesday.

Since council must accept, reject, or accept the project with conditions for the developer after the hearing drew to a close within 45 days, council will likely have to make its decision at next month’s meeting, March 11.

Follow Frank Otto on Twitter @fottojourno.

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