3 borough buildings to go up, 1 to come down

Public safety trumped historic preservation for a demolition permit, and a commercial, mixed-use development moved closer to fruition during a nearly 2 ½-hour Kennett Square Borough Council meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 6.

Borough Councilman Jamie Mallon (from left), Borough Manager Joseph Scalise, Borough Council President Danilo Maffei and Borough Mayor Matt Fetick follow along during a preview presentation of the borough's 2015 audit.

Borough Councilman Jamie Mallon (from left), Borough Manager Joseph Scalise, Borough Council President Danilo Maffei and Borough Mayor Matt Fetick follow along during a preview presentation of the borough's 2015 audit.

After listening to a recommendation from Andrew J. Fronig, who chairs the borough’s Historic Architecture Review Board (HARB), Borough Council initially voted unanimously to table a decision on granting a demolition permit for 515 S. Broad Street. Fronig explained that the HARB wanted more time to review the request.

But later in the meeting, Patrick Taylor, the property’s owner, expressed dismay over the delay. “It’s a public safety issue,” he said, explaining that an engineer recommended that he vacate the tenants, which he did.

Describing the building as leaning and twisted, Taylor said that his efforts to keep people out, which included fencing and signs, had failed. He said he feared someone would get injured.

“I have to bring it down to fix it,” Taylor said.

Taylor’s remarks prompted Councilman Ethan Cramer to suggest revisiting the issue, which led to further discussion. Rusty Drumheller, the borough’s codes enforcement officer, said the problem first surfaced during a routine rental inspection that revealed a sagging floor. He said Taylor hired an engineer the borough recommended who concluded that the building posed a danger.

Drumheller said that he warned Taylor in writing that because of the building’s proximity to the railroad tracks, Taylor might not be permitted to reconstruct it in the same spot. Taylor said he understood that risk.

Borough Council President Danilo Maffei said he believed that council should follow procedure, giving the HARB the time it needed to conduct a thorough analysis. Echoing the sentiments of the rest of the group, Councilman Wayne Braffman said a vote to grant the permit should not be seen as undermining the HARB, which plays a vital role.

“It doesn’t make sense to postpone this,” said Councilman Geoff Bosley before a 6-1 tally to approve the permit.

Mike Pia Jr. displays the engineering changes in the plans for Cannery Row, a mixed-use development on South Mill Road.

Mike Pia Jr. displays the engineering changes in the plans for Cannery Row, a mixed-use development on South Mill Road.

Another lengthy agenda item involved Cannery Row, a mixed-use development on the South Mill Road site of the former Kennett Canning Company that required a conditional use hearing. About three quarters of the approximately six-acre tract lies within the township; the remainder is in the borough.

Attorney Mary Ann Rossi, who represents Cannery Row Properties, explained that “modest changes” had been made to the original plan, which was submitted in March 2015. Since then, the engineer had recommended some alterations that actually decreased the square footage, according to Mike Pia Jr., an agent for Cannery Row Properties.

Pia said the plan still has four buildings, three in the borough and one in the township; however, one has been downsized. He said that he did not anticipate any additional changes unless issues surfaced during the construction, which he hoped to begin shortly. The buildings, a mix of retail, office and multi-family dwellings, would be leased and managed by Cannery Row Properties, he said.

Marc D. Jonas, the borough solicitor, explained that the plan still needs to go through the land development process. The council voted unanimously to grant conditional use approval as well as five waivers that were endorsed by the borough’s Planning Commission. Jonas said the council would have an opportunity to attach conditions to the waivers later in the process.

During public comment, resident John Thomas expressed concern that the Cannery Row property is used as overflow parking for Victory at Magnolia, a brewpub across the street that is part of another Pia family development. Thomas suggested that the borough get that provision in writing in case the Cannery Row property is sold at a later date.

In other HARB news, the council voted to add Aaron Campbell, a part-time borough building inspector, to the review board.

The council got a preview of the 2015 audit of the township’s finances during a presentation from Donald J. Pierce, a certified public accountant with Maillie LLP. He said the general fund had a balance of $303,454 at the end of 2015, a sizable improvement from the $36,005 carryover for 2013 that resulted in a lower rating from Moody’s.

After the meeting, Councilman Wayne Braffman said the full audit would be posted on the borough’s website when it has been completed.

The council also approved three special event applications. Two of the annual events – the Homecoming Parade on Sept. 29 and the Halloween Parade on Oct. 30 – passed routinely. The third, a first-time Holiday Village planned for Dec. 3 and Dec. 4 at The Creamery, a pop-up beer garden on Birch Street, generated some questions about the borough’s role as a sponsor.

Mary Hutchins, executive director of Historic Kennett Square, said the outdoor shopping village would feature handcrafted items from area artisans and represented a partnership with Kennett Township, which would bear the net cost, estimated to be about $6,000. She said the concept was designed to attract shoppers to the borough and was modeled after similar initiatives in Philadelphia’s Love Park and Manhattan’s Columbus Circle.

Several council members suggested that the borough doesn’t typically sponsor events, even those in partnership with the township, such as last month’s National Night Out observance. After Jonas acknowledged that the borough would reduce its liability by not listing itself as a sponsor, the council eliminated that language and voted unanimously to approve the permit. In response to a question from resident Tony DiOttavio, council members said no alcohol would be served at the event.

After listening to comments from Drumheller about the borough’s lighting ordinance, the council agreed that more research is needed. Drumheller said the current requirements, which require a certain illumination on a property as well as a specific decrease adjacent to it, are physically impossible to reconcile.

“Lighting is a big issue,” noted Maffei. “There’s either too much or too little.”

Maffei announced that the borough has three vacancies for alternates on its Civil Service Commission and is looking for volunteers to participate in an inventory of the borough’s trees and sidewalks. He said the canvassing would occur from 8:30 a.m. to noon on Saturday, Oct. 8, and Saturday, Oct. 22. In addition, two training sessions would be held on Thursday, Oct. 6, and Thursday, Oct. 20. More details would be posted online shortly, he said.

Finally, another volunteer opportunity exists to participate in the search for a new police chief following the recent retirement of Edward A. Zunino, who served in the department for more than four decades. Maffei said a search committee, including Borough Manager Joseph Scalise, Councilwoman LaToya Myers and Councilman Doug Doerfler, would be chaired by Mayor Matt Fetick.

“We would like a member of the community to serve [on it],” said Maffei. Fetick added that anyone interested should call or email him, adding that he hoped to fill the slot within the next two weeks.

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