I find it quite peculiar when a newspaper criticizes or praises a public body without fully analyzing the reasons for the actions they take. I feel Monday' s column by Mr. Lawrence is just a continuation of mischaracterizations of the Phoenixville Planning Commission and their actions that has been going on for many months now. The Planning Commission has been in a state of change for the past two years with the loss of four very experienced members. These were very important members and their loss is still being felt. As the current commission matures, so will their argument and decisions. This is not to say that they are not doing their jobs, but some of our arguments may come off as disjointed. I have full faith in the decisions that are rendered by the full commission.
The Phoenixville Planning Commission has been placed in a tough spot with the current slate of development. There has been a huge rush of developers approaching the Borough for approvals of projects that do not meet the current Borough zoning ordinances. Instead of the traditional path of attending the Zoning Hearing Board and having them decide on the validity of their project as it relates to the ordinance, the developers have decided to bypass them and write their own ordinance. The planning commission is supposed to then determine whether the zoning ordinance amendment is in the best interest of the Borough as a whole and then decide whether the project is in the best interest of the Borough. It adds a whole new aspect to the commission's duties that makes the process more difficult for everyone involved.
Developers, the Borough Planner, and Planning Commission members have been claiming that our zoning ordinance s are antiquated for a while now. When a developer comes to us with a plan for a particular project that does not conform to our current zoning, they use our poor ordinance as an excuse to recommend an ordinance amendment. What I have been saying for the better part of a year now is that if our ordinances are broken, they need to be fixed. We need to stop placing band-aids on the problems but we need to fully rework them with the future in mind. Many of these ordinance amendments that come before us are valid requests. There are serious gaps that limit our ability to expand. I feel that this is the perfect opportunity to step into the light and change a broken system. We are not fixing anything with the current process. W e are validating projects against the current zoning. Though I express this very often, it goes unreported and is never discussed by Mr. Lawrence.
The Holy Ghost senior living project is a great example of the problems we are faced with. I was not at the meeting but I submitted a memo about the project outlining, among other things, the problem with the process. The problem, as I see it, is that the subsidized senior living use does not fit in with the current revitalization plan or the strategic plan of 1999. Members have been saying for a few months that we need to open these plans and amend them to includ e new uses and ideas. We need to have a solid map that will guide us to where we are going. I don't feel th at more subsidized senior living has any place in downtown Phoenixville. It does have a place in Phoenixville, just not in the downtown. The Commission was asked to write the use into two zoning districts that it obviously doesn't believe in. For me, the argument is a bit simpler than that. Just because a parcel is there to be developed, doesn't mean it should be developed. This is a historic property. We should spend as much time trying to preserve this property as we did trying to preserve the Vale Rio Diner. The Planning Commission should not be a facilitator for the development of such a property. If the developer came in with a use covered under the zoning, we would have less of an argument . We are being asked to assist the developer in circumventing our own zoning. Borough Council has every right to disregard our opinion and support the amendment. They are as entitled to their opinion and vision of the future as we are.
The problem with the Planning Commission is in the process not with the members. I wish that some newspaper space was taken up with this issue. I understand that the little spat between Mr. Wagner and I was a bit juicier for the readers but I don't think it helps the casual reader understand the problem. The Borough needs to study how its current zoning ordinance fits into its plans for the future. If there are deficiencies, we need to rework the ordinances so that we can take the guess work out of these projects. If we continue on this path, we will be stuck with a patchwork of ordinance changes that will only need more reworking in the future.
George Martynick Jr.
Vice-Chairman, Phoenixville Planning Commission