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The Abington Citizens Network
where Abington, PA residents can share ideas and join forces to build a better community
 

PSU Academic Building
 Proposed 2019  

   YOUR HELP NEEDED    Please call /email your Commissioner and also your Township Manager 
267-536-1001 Richard Manfredi, and ask for a SINGLE PAGE  to be created on the Township website for this issue.
This page would have all the links to relevant documents, meetings, and information on this  issue- to be stored on the page chronologically.  And ask them  to video tape all meetings for those whose schedules may have conflicts - or who may not have learned about this until later and need to go back and review. Having the right tools is important to having success in protecting your property and personal rights.


  ISSUE AT HAND -
The construction of a new academic building - coupled with a request to rezone both certain residential units both in and out of  the Penn State  campus and to amend our zoning laws to make zoning favorable to Colleges & Universities .    (Manor and PSU currently)  
Penn State conceived the idea, perhaps circa 2015 or earlier, of having a new academic building located on campus   where the small "Conference Center" now is,  between the Cloverly Building and the Rydal building.
  ( see campus map here : https://abington.psu.edu/photo/13664/2017/06/13/campus-map )

 MEETING FOR NEIGHBORS  9-3-19   --- well OK - theoretically. The crowd in the room was largely PennState people & affiliates  involved in some way with the project.... but there were neighbors there, too!   Below  are some rough notes from that  meeting - if you spot errors please help us correct them  -- Use this as only as a guide to help you verify  what  may be of interest and confirm any facts before you rely on these.

CURRENT ZONING  CS Community service is found on  Page 35 in this Zoning Code passed 4-27-17 and the use matrix is on page  350
https://www.abington.org/home/showdocument?id=6055   The  R1 ( Single family residential) can also be found there .



9-3-19 MEETING NOTES
SEE YELLOW HIGHLIGHTED SECTION NEAR THE END  TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PROCESS

The new building will be between the Cloverly building and the Rydal building in the place of the conference building that is now there.  All three of these buildings are relatively small.

 There will be a new driveway on to Cloverly. A small additional parking lot will go right next to the one that is there.   There are houses all around that driveway that are owned by the University  - 3 parcels with one house demolished and 2 remaining are particularly in the crosshairs . 

We all had a chuckle as the traffic engineer told us there would be a  “nearly nil” by way of a traffic increase with this new building 

SHUTTLE TRAFFIC  Shuttle routes  - There are 7 routes  served by 6 small van shuttles and 2 yellowbird buses.    The shuttles go every hour – and some  “on demand “  rides or specialized service is also included in the over-all picture

PARKING  50 additional spaces at Target were mentioned ( I missed that discussion so fill me in if you know )  and the new lot will add more spaces, too. That will be an extension ( of lot K I think ).  75-80% of students drive. Circulation in the area while looking for a parking spot is an issue
Assigning spots is difficult because people are sometimes there for only a short while – not all day

TRAFFIC CALMING  There were discussions about speed humps – eliminating driveways , chicanes, rumble strips, multi-way stops, etc All options will need to be further considered .  They did studies from 6 am to 9 pm and studied 23 external intersections

ZONING  BY TEXT AND MAP - NOT VARIANCE  :  The zoning change will be by way of   a text and map amendment  -  Every developer's favorite new way of going around our zoning laws. Marc Jonas of Eastburn Grey said that they would be intending to create specialized zoning for Colleges and Universities  because Private Schools and Public Schools have very different needs than Colleges and Universities.
 
(and may I add in here that when the Colleges and Universities are writing the zoning for Colleges and Universities we have a problem. That is…. the neighbors/residents/citizens  who actually ELECTED the legislators to serve their interests and build their communities the way they would like them to be, are left largely out of the picture.  Unless when you voted, you thought you were electing someone to find developers, hospitals and universities that would decide how your town should work for them, not for you.  For them that might mean bringing in lots of outsiders, and expanding non-profit uses to the max. Or having more concrete  so as to have more "clients". The shoe seems to be on the wrong foot.   I don’t think the college had even ONE vote in any election - why is their voice given preference over the citizens who did vote. Who exactly is putting  residents second….instead of first? )

The Township was rezoned in 2017 and people from both the hospitals and the colleges were part of the process. Commissioner Kline said that because those 2 uses were so different, he expected that it would go this way ... that  they would write the zoning more appropriately later via text and map amendment
   (  Commissioner Kline did , in fact, try to zone things differently on behalf of  some of these entities.   I personally worked with people in 3 transition zones where the effort was to try to turn residential housing into “light commercial”. In the case of, for instance Highland Ave, next to Abington Hospital, the neighbors learned about it warly on and told him, in no uncertain terms, NO.  Doing this would have paved the way for non-owner occupied  medical offices around Abington Hospital, and affected yet another row back into the neighborhood. Something similar is happening here where a request for CS zoning of residential parcels is representing the efforts of the school to expand into the community further.  At Abington Hospital  the residents revolted and demanded it get taken out BEFORE they were dragged through hours and hours of meetings until they were worn down. A similar early effort  here could prevent hours of painful meetings and could make for a very different ending  ---- unless neighbors are happy with the school  expanding into the neighborhood. )  

 REZONING RESIDENTIAL  PROPERTIES    Jonas went on to say that they intend to ask the Township to allow limited use of the houses across the street….    Neighbors wanted everything to remain as residential as possible. There are three residential properties they want to change to a community service zoning rather than residential (2 of them have houses - 1  house was already demolished.  From the neighbors I believe that the houses owned by Penn State, on their side of Cloverly are :

1639 (already demolished), 1665 , and  1681  and their carriage house, 1687 is also there.  Across the street there is 1718 and 1694.  If this is not correct please let me know. I don't want someone to be shocked their house is mentioned here when it is not involved .

 If I understood it correctly, there was talk of  expanding  to something beyond  R1 single family residential use in the ones across the street ( perhaps to apartments????) but  no specifics were given ), but they would remain residentailly zoned . But I have to get all that straight first. Help me out if you have any of the docs or know the facts on this . We need to get hold of the slideshow and the documents ….  It is a shame this meeting was not  on video so we could review anything we might have missed or misunderstood. Commissioner Kline has been asked to video and share docs and links  since he arrived in 2008 - ---over 11 years ago. He still refuses.  Your rights are dimisnished when you can't learn the facts in time.

One resident said that they sued Penn State years ago and they required them to develop from the inside out - I will try to get more on this.

It was also asked why they would build on green space when they could build on the concrete where the parking lots are. Didn't hear the response.  

Kline explained the difference between the request via the text and map amendment and a zoning change that is requested via a variance:    A variance is a quasi judicial process - you make your application before the Zoning Hearing Board and you need a hardship.  Penn State is looking for purely a "legislative" process, meaning that the legislators, your Commissioners, have the right to zone anything anyway they want to zone it- and they will need only 8 votes ( a majority) to win the zoning.

Kline said we can put some stipulations in the ordinance- we can work with resident’s concerns.

     Yes they can, but they often don’t.  This new way of zoning things has come up only in more recent years. Previously it was considered that people’s zoning rights were protected and that developers,  universities or other challengers had to follow the law via variances or waivers to make changes in the zoning. But some years back, a little more than 10 years perhaps , developers began to get the idea they didn’t need to go through all of that hassle at all because they could go around it and still avoid "spot zoning" by taking other parcels along with them.  Let’s face it,  they almost never had a hardship and often would lose. The Wawa wanted 24 variances - but had no hardship. So instead they just asked their friends, the commissioners, if they would approve a brand-new zoning use.  The residents filled the rooms and were lined up in the hall to speak - still they were ignored and the developer got what he wanted. 
    
          
One of our first challenges with a text and map amendment was the Baederwood Shopping Center debacle… Commissioners Kline and Peacock said they were making better zoning --- residents largely disagreed.  Their wishes were ignored and 246 units were approved  on eight sloped acres that would at most have had eight homes. The slope might have prevented even all 8.  But common sense was also ignored.  The floodgates of "legilative zoning"  were thus  flung  open for the Wawa , the BET/YMCA  and other developerss who now freely write zoning for their own properties however they like it, just as the college is doing here.

      To avoid spot zoning, they often  have to zone  or provide the same conditions for other properties, as well -- changing our zoning protections along the way.   When they rezoned the Wawa,  we had trouble getting them to tell us what other properties now could have gas pumps by right - and didn't have to even ask the neighbors.  One such document sought to eliminate all  normal zoning processes and allow the Commissioners to alter what they wished almost at will.  The public is largely oblivious.By the time they understand it, multiple  steps are already approved.  If we are not paying attention or not savvy enough, our rights get written away by developers ( or universities or others). Again, in the text and map amendment style of zoning only eight commissioners need to say yes in order for the zoning to change.  56,000 residents might wish it to be the other way but only eight need to say yes.   I hardly need tell you what a set up for corruption that is........ 

Marc Jonas tried to explain the advantage of the text and map amendment over variance method. He said all of this will be in black-and-white. The worst thing he said is to have something happen by variance…. (no it is not - because you can ask your Commissioners to have your Zoning Hearing Board  members removed if they repeatedly approve variances that are in nobody's interest)

It was asked whether the three houses are paying taxes. Kline said no. ( Universities are nonprofits) then the president of the University said yes they were. ( I guess,  apparently, because they are residential and not zoned as part of the non-profit community service use they aren’t nonprofit .  I’m not sure what other  reason there might be.

Question :  how much impervious surface would be left at Penn State and Jonas said they were not close to maxing out

Question :  if these buildings were all built and decades down the road the University decides we don’t need these buildings anymore ( okay they could conceivably move the college or funding could become an issue or something else we can’t anticipate)  he asked if there are safeguards about how such a complex could be rezoned?

Jonas answered by saying that zoning is always up to the commissioners and Kline followed that up by saying anyone can request anything to be rezoned, unless prohibitions were put on the deed.   And any CS use would be allowed . All the properties that are or become zoned CS(community service) would be able to be used for any community service use

 ( CS Community service is found on  Page 35 in this Zoning Code passed 4-27-17 and the use matrix is on page  350 here :
     https://www.abington.org/home/showdocument?id=6055
)

Jonas added that the zoning stays with the land.

Question :  what other schools are affected?  
Kline said in 2017 they went through the changes of uses and then he explained the Hospital and University issue and the fact that these 2  propertiy types were very different so the Zoning Ordinance Committee decided not to do anything ...  and to let hem come in and propose what’s useful to them in the manner that this is being done   ( as I said above- I don’t buy that hook line and sinker - they did indeed try to make some changes but met with resistance - and didn't want to sour the whole rezoning endeavor, I think).

.Question:   about what the projected date of completion was? The President of the University said this is his fourth year and the project itself was approved before he came. The project manager said it’s still a long way away and it could be a 16 to 18 month design  -And another 18 months of construction

Jonas said the zoning processes would be expected to take several months- perhaps 6 to 9 months -  or a year with state agencies’ reviews

Kline said they hadn’t submitted anything formally. 1 years ago they met with neighbors. The first step would be to go before the board and ask to advertise for instance in an October meeting. (Sometime in November they would then possibly hold the hearing)

Question:  about the zoning process---we were  told that they would come in 1st for a zoning map and text amendment--- they probably would do a reverse subdivision later…. But there would be more say for residents before the ordinance was approved.  (Yes but possibley  in hours long meetings where the developers drone on and the residents are given just minutes. )

Jonas said to some degree that is true, but the critical part is land development. The building is on land that is already zoned CS. Kline agreed -   but he said I want things written into the ordinance    (  This is the biggest  deceit, in my opinion, that I see again and again and again. See below

Jonas said when we did Lions gate we had a meeting with everyone and then he remarked how nicely he thought that came out.  And there were a few more questions about Memorial Field and Penn State being proactive with traffic and controlling student behavior, putting up traffic signs that tell students to slow down etc.. The President agreed they could do things like that . Kline said that the school has contributed $30,000 a year to police for patrols


The bolded and underlined part above is something that I find to be a complete disgrace over and over in this Township.   I have sat in meeting after meeting after meeting where residents were told that land development was where their issues were largely addressed and they needn't bother so much wiht the text and map amendments . Although Kline said that he wanted to write things into the ordinance, what he did not tell everybody is that very plainly and simply the Commissioners have no obligation whatsoever to entertain this request for a text and map amendment.   That should allow for  a massive advantage to the benefit of the residents . But instead,  the leverage is being given away to the advbantage of developers.
 
    If they went for a variance, the law requires that their request for a variance be heard. But when they are going outside of the system in this manner, the law allows that the commissioners do not even have to hear their  request for a change in zoning  done in this manner. The Commissioners are elected to serve the people who elected them. Not thier own interests. Not the interests of oursiders.  Yes Penn State is an entity under Kline's purview - but they do not vote. They should be there only if and how the residents of that political subdivision choose to have them.  Otherwise....whose interests are the Commissioners serving? 

      As you can imagine  this gives the commissioners every ounce of leverage that they would need to negotiate on behalf of their residents.  (You know, the people who elected them. Now granted,  Kline is going to be leaving. Possibly before the end of the year, if the grand jury report is ever  released, or at the very least by the end of the year because he is not continuing as Commissioner in 20120.  Tom Hecker and Christina Baker are vying for the Ward one job starting in January.   So this is not a fortuitous time for the residents in Ward 1 to be meeting a mega challenge of this sort.  And Commissioner Kline did not share with you the fact that the Commissioners have no obligation to hear this application for an academic building at all. So in whose interest was that?

          In the case of the YMCA, the residents learned this information on the very night that the commissioners gave away the farm -- agreeing to let BET start the formal process, when they had no obligation to do so. The residents were drug along over a year long process, with crucial meetings during the holidays and all kinds of shenanigans.  The developer attended FOUR Planning Commission meetings and apparently planned to keep attending until he got approval, with no push back from the Commissioners whocould, at any time, have stopped it.  
       
What they should have done was had the developer and the residents meet  until full or near full agreement was arrived at on many of the major principles, in informal forums where residents had the same unlimmited time to speak that developers have, and then, when residents were in at least general agreement,  they could tell the developer they were ready to approve the formal process. This is what you do when you have all the leverage in the world and you really ARE working in the interests of the people who elected you .
 
          Instead as you heard in the discourse above, there is possibly going to be a play for the text and map amendment process to begin in October. That would be a disgrace
.   If they are coming to an October meeting, I can promise you, you have very little time to get up to speed on what your rights are and what all the details of this are …..because it will go lickety-split after that.  And once the text and map amendment are approved, there are just a few details in land development that will be able to be tweaked...location of driveways, positioning of lights and so on.  Not that these aren't important- but you will no longer be able to change what they re-zoned. The school will have obtained it's expansion on its own terms - with your voices just a quiet wimper - and the zoning won't be able to be undone

       Please know that I have done my best  to scribble these notes from the meeting - and to share along with them  tidbits of  the experience I have glaened from  13 years of  observation and participation in Township zoning matters. Time is going to be of the essence for the residents  if the School  intends to bring this to the Board in  October.

 

Please also see the link from the front page for the newly intended Economic Development Corporation.  This could, conceiveably also be a factor here ...or anywhere  in Abington.

  I welcome any corrections you can share and I will share them back out widely.

Lora

 
   

 

   


                                    __________

 

     Please feel free to send your  information to us  and please be sure to  tell us about any information you believe to be incorrect - write  lel@abingtoncitizens.com

 
 

 

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