Hank’s sewer decision delayed

More than three dozen people were disappointed Tuesday night when the Chadds Ford Sewer Authority made no decision regarding a sewer capacity feasibility study for Hank's Place.

The restaurant was wiped out in the Sept. 1 flood, and rebuild plans include more seating. Because of that, the restaurant might require more sewer capacity.

It's rare to see a packed house for even a Board of Supervisors' meeting, but the interest in the proposed rebuild of the iconic eatery is high. And some feathers were ruffled by the lack of a decision and the reasons for it.

"I'm going to suggest, though nobody's going to like this, including myself, that we hold off on making the absolute approval of this sewer feasibility study until we have all the facts in," said Ted Mennicke, the authority's vice-chair.

Only three of the five authority members were present for the meeting. One person was ill, and another was injured earlier in the day. But authority Chairman Mark Stookey then recused himself from any deliberation on the matter because he would be taking an advocacy position later in the approval process, he said. Stookey did not specify what his position would be.

Hank's Place owners Anthony and Katie Young still must go to the HARB, Zoning Hearing Board, return to the Planning Commission for a recommendation, then go to the Board of Supervisors for final approval of the plan before the old building is torn down and the new one built.

Stookey's recusal left only Mennicke and authority member Bob Lohr to vote.

Authority solicitor James Flandreau was emphatic about the need for holding off any vote. He said he would not allow his client – the Sewer Authority – to vote without a quorum of voting members.

"You do not have a quorum. You cannot vote on this tonight under any circumstances," Flandreau said.

Mennicke's reference to facts not being in on time referred to the other reason for a delay. It deals with determining just how much extra sewer capacity the restaurant will need, if any, after Hank's is rebuilt.

Sewer capacity is rated in EDUs — or equivalent dwelling units. Chadds Ford Township calculates an EDU at 217 gallons of water per day. How many EDUs Hank's Place owns and how many it actually uses are at issue.

Jim Fritsch, the engineer for the rebuild project, said the restaurant was using 3.5 EDUs — based on a seating capacity of 68 — before the flood. Plans for the rebuild include seating for 98. And Fritsch said that could bring their EDU usage up to 4.9. Yet, Hank's Place owns nine EDUs. But as the old commercial said, "Wait, there's more."

The Sewer Authority engineer, Tom Leisse, said Hank's often uses up to those nine EDUs. So, the two engineers must get together to figure out how much capacity the restaurant had been using before the flood and what it might need after the expansion.

Another wrinkle in the calculations is that the Ridings Sewer Plant is being converted to a pumping station, and the 80,000 gallons per day it has been treating will be going to the Turners Mill Plant, the one that Hank's was and will continue to use.

Leisse said the Turner's Mill Plant currently treats 140,000 gallons per day, but that will increase later in the spring after the Ridings Plant changeover. How well the plant does with that new volume will determine if it can take more.

Because no one caught the EDU discrepancy until shortly before the meeting, no decision could have been made, even if there had been a quorum of Sewer Authority members available to vote.

Without knowing what sewer capacity is needed or available, the Planning Commission can't make a recommendation on the project. Mennicke suggested that the two engineers, Fritsch and Leese, calculate usage, advise the authority. Then the authority would write a letter to the Planning Commission letting that body know the authority's recommendation regarding the sewer capacity feasibility. That letter is necessary for timing since the Sewer Authority won't meet again until May, after the Planning Commission's May meeting.

Getting the necessary information to the Planning Commission sooner rather than later will help expedite the approval process.

Still, there was confusion, frustration, and disappointment among the public attending the meeting. Some, seemingly, did not understand the need to hold off the vote because there was no quorum. They looked at the head table, did a headcount, and thought there were more than enough people to vote. However, they thought the solicitor, engineer, manager, and secretary were voting members of the authority. They are not members at all and have no say in the deliberation.

Others were frustrated with Stookey's recusal, saying he was trying to block approval. But the chairman said it would be a conflict of interest for him to vote because of his intended advocacy position later. The solicitor said it would be unethical for Stookey to vote.

Regardless of ethics and potential conflicts of interest of some, others just want Hank's to be rebuilt and open for business.

One such person who has a vested interest in getting Hank's up and running again is Vickie Sylvester, a long-time waitress at Hank's. She said delaying the project because of a one or two increase in EDUs is "crazy."

"We haven't worked since September. This is ridiculous," Sylvester said.

Because the Sewer Authority's decision would come between meetings, its recommendation regarding Hank's Place will be posted on the township website, so people will know what's going on before the Planning Commission meeting.

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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