Hotels, villages and sewers

Wednesday night’s Planning Commission meeting in Chadds Ford started with one group of residents saying they don’t want a hotel in their backyard. It then morphed into commission members getting into a philosophical discussion about what constitutes a village.

The first part dealt with a land development application for a Fairfield Inn hotel proposed for Brandywine Summit, 1786-1792 Wilmington Pike, just north of Keystone Plaza. That property backs up against Longview Road. There are already three office buildings on the site and a previous approval allows for an additional 68,000 square foot office building.

There was little discussion of the actual plan, however. According to Planning Commission Chairman Craig Huffman, “There’s a long way to go” before the plan can be fully considered.

Hotels are permitted with conditional use approval in that PBC Zoning District, but the applicant still needs zoning relief for steep and very steep slopes and there’s been no conditional use application for those steep slopes, Huffman said.

Attorney Lou Colagreco, representing property owner Pat Carlino, said he understood the plans need to be amended but wanted to bring the idea to the public.

Specifics of the plan that were mentioned are that the building would be four stories — 40 feet high — and have 85 rooms. There would be no restaurant.

About a half-dozen residents from Longview Road and Summit Drive spoke out against the plan, citing increased traffic and the possibility of looking out to seeing the rear of the hotel through an inadequate buffer. As one resident said, “It’s way too close to my property.” Another said simply, “We don’t want it.”

Commission member Dennis Quinn suggested turning the building 45 degrees to mitigate some of those concerns.

Carolyn Daniels, who lives in the Ridings off of Ridge Road, questioned who would be staying at the hotel considering it’s more affordable than other, higher-end hotels. She said she was concerned that the guests would be “transient” types.

That portion of the meeting ended with no official decision made or even voted on. As Huffman said, “There’s a lot to do before we reach a final plan.”

After a recess, the commission heard from Michael Hochman, representing Peaceful Valley LLC. In October, Hochman presented a sketch plan for a multi-use development for two properties — the Camp family property and Stonebridge Mansion — between the Barn Shops and Webb Road.

That plan — introduced as a sketch plan only — calls for 30 new homes and five 5,000 square foot retail buildings that could have four apartments each on the top floors. There would also be an outdoor theater, a museum and a visitors’ center.

That plan can’t be built without a zoning change, so Hochman presented a typical plan for seven homes on the 16-plus-acre Camp property based on the current R-1 Zoning District that calls for a minimum of two acres per home. However, Hochman said the plan brought up in October is preferred.

At that point, the discussion moved from specifics of either plan to a discussion of what makes a village and where should the new Village District lines should be drawn.

Huffman said he thought the zoning map should show the village area as far east as Webb Road.

“Today’s village really isn’t a village," Huffman said.

He explained that extending the village to Webb could result in improving the safety of the intersection of Webb and Route 1. Huffman also said a true village is where people live and shop. The current designation is too small to build anything.

Township land-planning consultant Tom Comitta said a village can be defined as a place where “buildings are nestled together” but agreed with Huffman saying the current village “suffers from tightness.”

One objection to expanding the village designation, brought up by commission member Valerie Hoxter, was the lack of public sewer capacity to accommodate the multi-use plan. A roundabout conversation on sewers followed.

Eventually, property owner Dean Camp had the chance to talk. He told the commission that he originally wanted to preserve the property and approached George A. “Frolic” Weymouth to see if the Brandywine Conservancy would buy it but Weymouth declined, saying the conservancy already owned too many expensive properties.

Camp then went to the township to see if Chadds Ford would buy the property and, again, he was turned down because the township didn’t have the resources to buy it, he said. He also reminded the commission that there is an agreement to sell.

“The property is sold,” he said. “I tried to do other things, but it will be developed.”

Daniels also commented, saying the two-acre lot plan would be a “beautiful gift and a great legacy” and added that other village-type municipalities, such as a Kennett Square and West Chester, have vibrant economies but they also have some empty storefronts and there are drug arrests.

The meeting ended with the commission voting to recommend to the supervisors that they accept a map showing the village just slightly modified to what it is now without extending the village zoning to Webb Road. It would stop at the border between the Barn Shops and the Camp property.

Huffman suggested the applicant return with a plan that shows how the multi-use plan would handle sewage issues and then request a map change to extend the village to Webb.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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