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It’s Friday, July 14: Power to the people – West Chester’s new ADU ordinance is looking to return some of the development power to the residents by letting you do what you may already have thought you could – add an in-law suite or apartment to your home. We look at what’s proposed. Plus, West Goshen moves closer to ridding itself of the Quality Inn on High Street and City Buns makes it official. There will be buns no more. Who’s ready? Let’s catch up.
Power to the People: A Look at West Chester’s New ADU Ordinance
Roughly four months ago, West Chester Planning Commission Secretary and local alley expert Thomas Doughtery and I met to discuss the point and principles of accessory dwelling units or ADUS, a common housing addendum – think in-law suites or your old basement apartment – that have been credited by some with taking the edge off the U.S. housing crisis. The meeting was set in anticipation of a new ADU ordinance the Planning Commission had been diligently drafting for the past year or so. As it turned out, the meeting was a bit premature. The wording would go through a few more rounds of fine-tuning – and perhaps, a little bending.
“It’s not everything I wanted but It’s a significant step forward,” said Thomas recently.
Among the changes agreed to was to limit the units to two occupants. This will exempt most families but with a max size of 800 sq ft., they weren’t likely to be a popular option for families anyway. Another change added a parking requirement. This means if you would like to add an ADU to your property you have to be able to show three off-street parking spaces (two for the home, one for the ADU.) For many properties, this will be tough. As parking needs often vary throughout the Borough, it has been suggested a parking study be done to determine the need but so far this idea has not been accepted.
That said there is still plenty to get excited about in the new ordinance especially if you have been discouraged by some of the large apartment complexes going up around town. ADUs are another way to add housing density but in a much more manageable way and one in which the homeowner is in control.
“The ordinance is written to codify an age-old idea and practice and actually make it allowable again,” said Planning Commission Chair Jason Birl.
Sounds good, but what exactly is an ADU? According to the draft ordinance, it is a dwelling unit located on the same lot as a single-family home (this could be a stand-alone structure or an attached unit such as a twin or row home) that provides complete independent living facilities.
An ADU can take many different forms from a garage apartment to a stand-alone in-law suite to a basement walkout. Those familiar with the HGTV show “Income Property” may have believed this was already a viable option for justifying a home purchase just outside your budget. However, in much of the U.S., it is not.
“As a residential architect, I have had this conversation too many times over the years with homeowners,” said Jason. “In many cases, [these units] aren’t allowed and homeowners are incredulous they’re not permitted to do what seems like a simple thing- make living spaces for family, or a small apartment to allow them to remain living in their house as they age. The communities that allow ADUs are better off for it and West Chester is finally on the right track in this regard,” he said.
Don’t we already allow these? No, but the Borough does have a Historic Carriage House provision, which essentially is a very narrowly defined ADU ordinance, in which homes with carriage houses were allowed to convert the unused space into apartments rather than destroying the historic buildings. The Borough currently has 112 lots that participate in the program.
Ok, so what are the benefits and downsides of expanding that relatively limited program? According to a case study completed by the Department of Housing and Urban Development on this topic, accessory dwelling units are a cost-effective way to increase a community’s housing supply. Since there are no land costs, the units can be constructed – and subsequently rented – at a lower cost than a new home. They also often do a better job of preserving a neighborhood’s character as they are closely tied to existing structures.
They can also help more new homeowners enter the market by offering a way to offset some mortgage costs.
The downsides to ADUs that I found tend to fall more on the homeowner than the community and included things such as financing the initial construction and navigating local ordinances.
The most common community concerns tend to relate to property values, parking, and traffic. However, there is little real-life evidence to support such fears. Since the introduction of the new density is at a much smaller scale than most development projects – one unit at a time, two people per new unit, in contrast to say, 181 units at once – the effects on traffic levels and parking are generally not felt.
Interesting. So, if this ordinance were to pass, could I add an ADU to my property?
Maybe. As I mentioned before, there is that parking requirement and a few more stipulations you’ll have to consider. First, you have to live on the property full-time. ADUs will not be allowed on rental properties. Then there are rules on size, placement, landscaping, and materials used (you can review the full ordinance here) – but don’t worry, you’ll need to submit your architectural plans along with your building permit application so I am sure they will let you know if you got anything wrong.
Trust, but verify, seems to be the model they are using.
Then, assuming you get your new unit successfully built, you will also need to obtain a rental license if you plan on renting it. I know it may sound like a lot of red tape but it really is a big step forward for the Borough.
“Are 145 little decisions better for the Borough than one big decision?” Thomas asks me. It’s a good question especially as plans for new developments at Mitch’s, Burger King and Rubensteins hang in the ether.
“Trust the homeowner,” he says.
A public hearing on the new ordinance is being held on Wednesday, July 19 at 6:30 p.m. at Borough Hall. You can read the full ordinance here.
Could it Finally be Good Riddance to the Quality Inn?
West Goshen seems to be one step closer to ridding itself of the Quality Inn on S. High Street. This week township supervisors held a Conditional Use Hearing on a proposal to allow for the construction of a 175-unit Assisted Living Facility and a four-story, self-storage facility on the property.
“It’s about making a beautiful place, a comfortable place,” said Jeremy Philo, lead architect on the project.
The proposal requires tearing down the existing 141-room hotel and replacing it with two separate buildings. Despite being separate enterprises the design of the buildings will provide a unified visual for future residents and visitors – think faux windows on the storage facility and a consistent exterior treatment throughout. Interspersed between the buildings will be plenty of rich outdoor spaces for gathering and rehabilitation.
The main questions from West Goshen supervisors and Westtown, that was represented by Township Manager Jonathan Altshul, were around a potential increased demand on local emergency services, planned stormwater management improvement, and traffic impacts, particularly regarding truck traffic on Stanton Avenue and nearby 202.
“It’s one of the most dangerous intersections in Westtown,” said Mr. Altshul of the area.
A single rather than a double entrance to the facility was debated, a new traffic study was proposed and a full-time onsite LPN (or RN) was agreed to, but in the end, those concerns seemed to pale in comparison to the promise a change could bring.
“Some nights I’m scared to go out to my car,” said resident Amanda Hart, mom of a 1-year-old near the end of the hearing. “I don’t want to bring up safety, because this is more technical, but I ask that we keep safety in the back of our minds.”
With the hearing complete Township Supervisors have 45 days to decide whether or not to allow the Conditional Use after which all plans would go through the regular Land Development process.
Review the documents for yourself here.
Burglaries are up for June. Last month, West Chester police responded to six burglaries in the Borough. For comparison, in June 2022 they investigated one such incident. If there is good news in this little tidbit it’s that the police believe the incidents to be related. They have a good lead on who is behind them and they hope to bring arrests in the coming weeks or months.
We run the risk of being over-caffeinated. It was just months ago when Mayday opened its doors, and not a year before we added Turks Head. Now we are facing the opening of two more coffee shops and a tea house all in the downtown business district. This week the Smart Growth Committee signed off on the signage for Twin Valley Coffee, a regional roaster, opening cafe locations in West Chester and Downingtown. “You guys are just as excited as we are and we feel it with every message!” they recently shared on social media. Also, planning to soon make an appearance, Mimi’s Tea House on S. High Street – “A few more inspections and we are all set to open!” – and Lacava Coffee Company, formerly Calabash Coffee, is opening a shop on Gay Street. There was a time I feared for my caffeine habit, not anymore.
Slow down, proceed with caution, and call an Uber if you need it. In June, West Chester police investigated three vehicular accidents resulting in the deaths of three people and the hospitalization of several others.
Don’t let all that rain fool you. We’re still not back yet.
Despite the Borough of West Chester and West Chester University remaining at odds on a few things – housing, parking, stream protections fees come to mind – there is real effort being made to close gaps in other areas such as health, safety, and quality of life. Last summer the two entities reformed the Community Campus Committee, a joint group of WCU admins, students, Borough officials, business leaders, and residents working together to bridge divides. Among the group’s early achievements was the establishment of a move-out donation program that averted 300 items from landfills – and the Public Works to-do list – when students moved out this spring. They are also working on a Welcome Back event to be held in August which will include a volunteer fair designed to get more students involved with local non-profits.
These efforts along with its investment of resources in the community and integration of business functions have landed WCU on the Philadelphia Foundation’s list of the region’s 50 most community-minded employers. West Chester joined Penn and Drexel as the only universities to make the list.
Also, this week congratulations to:
- West Chester native Caroline Goggin. The TV journalist recently announced she will be joining the 6ABC Action News team as a reporter/anchor. “This girl from West Chester is finally coming home,” she wrote in a Facebook post. She most recently worked at an independent news station in Boston.
- Los Angeles Laker and Westtown grad, Mo Bamba. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported this week the NBA center has signed a one-year contract with the 76ers where he will play backup to Joel Embiid.
- Henderson grad Skye Zolomij. Skye was recently awarded the annual Brotherhood of West Chester police scholarship. She will be attending Elizabethtown College in the fall where she’ll be studying criminal justice.
- Stetson Middle School. The Wilmington Pike school saw four students secure first place (and I am presuming 2nd place) in the 2023 Mordechai Anielewicz Holocaust Creative Arts Competition. This is the seventh year in a row the Falcons have taken first in the 7th and 8th grade prose category. If you see them, congratulate Collin, Gracie, Caroline, and Jugad on work well done!
- Ray Halvorsen. The long-serving West Goshen township supervisor, employee, and little league coach was honored posthumously last week with the renaming of the ballfield at Cloud Park in his honor. Raymond Halvorsen passed away last summer at the age of 71.
And finally, high fives to all the local establishments to be declared “Best of the Main Line.” West Chester lead in 30 different categories including best chef, best cafe with California vibes, best barbershop, and best place for a party. You can find all the winners here.
Say hello, to a new West Chester Area School District superintendent – or rather, hello, to the process by which we find one. This week the West Chester Area School Board announced a nationwide search is underway to find a new leader for the state’s 11th-largest school district. The search is being led by the Chester County Intermediate Unit (CCIU). Candidate applications will be accepted through Aug. 1.
While the search itself will be confidential, the District is hoping to get a better understanding of its stakeholders’ wishes for a leader by conducting a series of virtual focus groups.
“We want to know your views, and we welcome dialogue about the future direction of the West Chester Area School District,” stated an email from the school board. To make sure that the feedback is unbiased Board members and central administrators have pledged not to attend the meetings.
The meetings led by CCIU began earlier this week with district administrators. Next week discussions are planned with professional staff, high school students, and support staff. Then the following week with parents/guardians and community members.
“We look forward to working with and having a dialogue with the entire WCASD community to bring in an outstanding educational leader to serve as the district’s new superintendent of schools,” the letter read.
The district is hoping to have the search completed by September and the new administrator in place by the start of 2024.
Search updates will be shared on the WCASD website.
Finally, for all you birders out there, the WCU Office of Sustainability has announced it has gathered rare photographic evidence of the Green Heron (Butorides virescens) in the Gordon Natural Area. “This bird possesses several remarkable traits that make it stand out in the avian world,” the write-up reads. “First, its vibrant greenish-blue plumage, paired with a chestnut neck and a dagger-like bill, distinguishes it from other heron species. Second, the Green Heron exhibits impressive hunting skills by using bait to lure fish closer. It drops insects, feathers, or even small objects onto the water’s surface, creating a “fishing lure” effect that attracts curious fish within striking distance.” Happy hunting.
This week, well last week officially and with little notice, we said goodbye to the Borough’s summer camp at Hoopes Park.
After ending its camp program in 2019, West Chester has been struggling to figure out how to offer residents a summer option for its kids. Unlike West and East Goshen which both offer a (highly demanded and reasonably priced) summer-long option, West Chester is having difficulty filling even a few weeks at a local park. This year they partnered with camp provider Fun 4 All to operate a series of week-long programs in Hoopes Park.
We signed up for Slime Week and Wet and Wild Week. Both camps have now been canceled due to lack of participation. I received the first cancellation call while on vacation and less than a week before the camp was set to begin (it was a fun couple of days finding a back-up option, let me tell you.) What made matters worse, the decision was apparently made earlier this summer.
“They decided to cancel the camp a week and a half ago,” Isabella Ryan, the Borough’s Park & Rec Program Coordinator told me. Unfortunately, the camp directors failed to notify anyone. When she received no calls or complaints from residents, Isabella decided to make some calls herself. The group has subsequently also canceled its Wet and Wild Week – but they were continuing to push a Lego camp.
According to the Fun4All website, they charge $240 a week to put on the five day camp. This includes running the camp, all materials, and the staff. The final camp charge, however, is up to the partner location.
“The fee for each student is comprised of two parts,” the website reads. “The first part is a flat fee that Fun 4 All charges. The second part is whatever additional fee you, as the recreation department, decide to charge.”
West Chester was charging $290/week for the camp for residents and non-residents alike. By comparison, East Goshen charges residents $110/week and non-residents $120/week for their camp. West Goshen offers an eight week camp program for just $200/per child for residents (there is also a multiple-child discount) and $300/per child for non-residents (no multi-child discount, but still amazing).
Adding insult to injury – among the stated responsibilities to be covered by the Borough with those fees – location, sign ups and “advertise to your community.”
Ok, moving onto a more positive goodbye, West Chester parking wants to say goodbye to usage fees for the Chestnut Street Garage bike lockers. Instead, the Parking Director Ramsey Reiner, with Parking Committee approval, is suggesting allowing residents to rent the lockers for up to a year with just a key deposit. The $100 deposit would be refunded with the key at the end of the year. The Borough is hoping the change will encourage more people to bike to town regularly.
In other fee change news, Borough Council will be voting next week to raise fees on business parking permits and the posting of no parking notices. Note this change is directed at construction companies that need to restrict blocks of parking for days at a time, not residents looking to clear a couple of spots to coordinate the delivery of a new refrigerator. You can find the Borough’s complete fee schedule here.
Finally, shed a tear for City Buns, the short-lived home of cinnamon goodness is no more. Vicky Lambert, the owner of City Buns, posted to the shop’s Instagram stories this week that, in perhaps not surprising news, City Buns is closing permanently. On the positive, she is planning on opening a new bakery with a new name. TBD exactly where or what that will be.
Pay it forward.
While I was away, Everhart Park did a cool thing. They celebrated the anniversary of the death of famed West Chester artist Horace Pippin by creating a selfie station at the park’s cherry-red bench named in his honor. The bench (or a similar one) features prominently in the artist’s final work, “Man on a Bench.” Artists Michael Lynch and Bird Milliken designed a replica of the seated man in the painting and placed him on the real-life Pippin bench. Visitors were then invited to put themselves in the picture, so to speak, by huddling close to the contemplative gentleman. You can read more about this event and all the Pippin celebrations here.
Looking for ways to give back? Westtown Township is hosting an amateur photography contest. Photos must be taken within the township, submissions received by July 31 and you must live in Westtown. The winner will be announced on Oct. 8 at Westtown Day. Have a great West Chester photo but not a Westtown resident? You can always send them to me. I would love to share.
Also, Mary C. Howse Elementary is holding a Back to School supply drive. Donations of backpacks, notebooks, crayons, markers, and color pencils are needed. You can find a full list of requested supplies here. Drop-offs can be made in the lobby of the Chester County Library. The collection is running through Aug. 1.
The freakin’ weekend.
What are you up to this weekend? We are finally back to stay after what has seemed like a whirlwind of summer vacations. They didn’t seem so close when we booked them a year ago. Now I am looking forward to lazy days at the pool, trying Mayday’s honey lavender iced coffee and stocking up on in-season peaches. I saw them temptingly stacked at the Grower’s Market last weekend.
If you are around this weekend, Spilt Rail has a new summer cocktail that looks fantastic, Artillery beer comes in cans (a must for poolside drinking) and Highland Orchards is holding a Blueberries, Bluegrass, Beers and BBQ Festival, Saturday 12 – 4 p.m.
Also, wine lovers make a note, Spence Cafe is waiving its cork fee on Thursdays during the summer.
And a very special thank you to Uptown! Knaur Performing Arts Center, this week’s Hello, West Chester Community Sponsor. Chester County’s premier destination for the performing arts, Uptown is conveniently located on N. High Street mere steps from dozens of West Chester’s best restaurants. Follow them on Facebook and start planning your next night out!
Uptown has everything you need for fun and entertainment. They have Monday night movies, great music, new theater performances with Nunsense in August and Tommy and Me in September, and plays performed by young upcoming actors from the Uptown Studio. For a full list of shows, and all the information you need, check out their menu of great performances at Uptownwestchester.org.
View a list of all our amazing Community Sponsors here. Want to get your business out in front of this wonderful community? I don’t blame you. Community Sponsorships are full but there still some limited ad space available. Send me an email if you are interested – but hurry, spaces are filling up fast!
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Thank you to all my readers and the many ways you have supported. We are truly lucky to have such an amazing community.
Mark your calendars:
- July 15 – West Chester Grower’s Market, 201 N. Church St. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Local seasonal produce and craft goodies. Open sun or rain! Just don’t forget to bring your bags!
- July 15 – Swing Dance Lessons, West Chester Public Library courtyard, 2 -4 p.m. Lessons are followed by a free dance period. This is a free event presented by the library and Rittenhop Dance.
- July 15 – Presley & Taylor, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Original artists, singer/songwriters and sister duo Presley & Taylor have become in-demand performers, opening for mega superstars like Old Dominion, Martina McBride, Sammy Kershaw, and Jimmie Allen. Tickets $35 in advance; $40 at the door.
- July 19 – 3rd Wednesday Book Discussion, West Chester Public Library, 1 – 2 p.m. Bring a brown bag lunch; enjoy a lively book discussion. No registration necessary. This month’s book: Demon Copperhead, Barbara Kingsolver.
- July 20 – Concert in the Park, Everhart Park, 6:30 p.m. This is a free Borough event.
- July 20 – WCU’s Criterion Jazz Ensemble, Emilie K. Asplundh Concert Hall, 7 p.m. This concert is free and open to the public.
- July 21 – Six One Five Collective, Uptown Theater, 7:30 p.m. Grammy nominated 615 Collective is steeped in the musical mix of Country, Americana, Folk and Pop. Tickets $35/advance; $40 at the door.
- July 22 – West Chester Grower’s Market, 201 N. Church St. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m. Local seasonal produce and craft goodies. Open sun or rain! Just don’t forget to bring your bags!
- July 23 – Landon Peacock Fundraiser, Align.Space – 2 W. Market Streeet, 1 – 4 p.m. Help support local artist and runner Landon Peacock as he begins his battle against Acute Myeloid Leukemia. There will be live local bands, a silent auction, snacks, drinks, and a chance to be with community. If you would like to make a donation ahead of the event, you can do that here.
- July 23 – West Goshen Summer Concert Series, Hagerty Amphitheater, West Goshen Park, 6:30 p.m. In event of rain, concerts will be moved to Fugett Middle School Auditorium. A donation for the West Chester Food Cupboard is encouraged. Music: West Chester Concert Band
Finally, a correction, in the June 16 issue I mistakenly said Pennsylvania reported 1126 cases of West Nile Virus – this instead should have said, 1126 positive mosquito samples – not the same thing. So far this year, there have been no positive mosquito samples or West Nile cases reported in the entire northeastern U.S. – let’s hope that trend continues!
That’s it. Stay safe, stay healthy and I’ll see you next week!