Former board president joins opposition to Phoenixville School District selling land to developer – Daily Local
On March 28, 2022, five members of the Phoenixville Area School District board voted to approve the sale of the old Kindergarten Center located at 100 School Lane in Phoenixville to Toll Brothers Inc. for $4.6 million despite overwhelming public outcry against the sale and little to no public deliberation. This after only having the item listed on public agendas for a few months, and with most of the board there for less than 6 months.
I became involved in late 2021 when a community member contacted me with concerns over an item on an agenda to sell a parcel of land in the borough of Phoenixville. What started as a simple request for more information and due diligence has now turned into a legal matter. The question is, why is the board rushing the process to sell a property they held for years pending possible future use? What is the rush now?
The old Kindergarten Center in Phoenixville is a large parcel in a part of the Borough that is walkable to downtown, in a neighborhood of small bungalow-style houses and without direct access to major roadways. Suddenly, the five board members, without any special hearing or detailed public deliberation or transparent due diligence, pushed through a vote against overwhelming public opposition.
Some of the questions brought to the board included concerns about stormwater, drainage, contamination and loss of habitat, as well as the fact that development could cause irreparable environmental harm. Another question asked was with regard to tax increases due to development. According to the Chester County Planning Commission report, Return on Environment, development can cost taxpayers $1.11 per tax dollar while open space can cost as little as $.07 per dollar (https://www.chescoplanning.org/OpenSpace/ROE-CommunityCost.cfm). There are other reasons to preserve open space according to this report, from increased property values to the health and wellness of the community.
Why then did 5 members of the Phoenixville Area School board vote to sell this parcel of land that is one of the last large open spaces in the Borough of Phoenixville, especially given the fact that over 1,000 community members signed a petition and the borough wanted to buy the land and keep as open space?
Dozens of community members spoke, echoing the petition, asking the board not to approve the sale and many spoke at the only two board meetings where the vote was to take place, overwhelmingly (all but one person spoke against the sale), asking them to not allow the sale for a proposed minimum of 80-plus townhomes, putting high-density housing development in an area that is not even zoned for that type of development.
It is up to the board to prove this sale benefits taxpayers, and so far, they have failed. The only reasons stated by board members so far are that the district isn’t in the “business of property management.” Spoiler alert, yes they are, and the second the board keeps repeating, that this sale has been discussed since 2017, again, spoiler, no it has not.
The idea that the school district, one of the largest property owners in the area, which rents out both buildings and fields and employs numerous maintenance staff and built a “maintenance” building does not engage in property management is confusing, what are they doing if not managing the properties they own and rent?
On the second point, that supposedly this was discussed since 2017, the board had no substantive conversations about selling the land, and in fact, had agreed to hold the land pending the proposed Phoenixville commuter rail project.
The Phoenixville Area School District board agreed to hold this parcel of land from early 2018 until after I left the board at the end of 2019, and as far as I know, that was in place in 2020 as well. The first discussion of the sale seems to have been some time in 2021. And it is important to note that every member of the current board has been there 2 years or less, and some only a few months. So this idea that “the board” had conversations for 4 years is ridiculous.
From a lack of due diligence to allegations of misinformation, this sale is under scrutiny. In a highly questionable move, videos of past meetings were suddenly “deleted” by the district, videos that certainly would show what was, and what was not, discussed.
We now have a group working to protect open space. The coalition is raising money for legal fees, https://gofund.me/5ce5ef89, and filed a complaint with the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, alleging violations of the Sunshine Law.
The complaint alleges serious violations including failure to properly disclose meetings. In addition, there are questions about the information the district posted on the website, seemingly in an effort to justify the sale. Repeated questions on why the factors and variables seem to be incorrect have gone unanswered, as have many questions and concerns brought to the board, where taxpayers implored the board for additional study to ensure this sale was truly in the best interest of taxpayers.
During the April 25 PASD board meeting, I reminded the board of their oath of office and challenged them to explain how their vote upheld that oath. It should be noted that not a single member who voted has articulated a single reason why they voted for this sale, or how it upholds their oath.
Each of you swore an oath to uphold the PA Constitution. Now, please explain how your vote meets the requirement of this specific article:
Article I Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states: The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people
This property belongs to taxpayers. Not the district. You are trustees for us, and yet the 5 who voted to sell ignored the overwhelming calls for additional review.
Organizers are planning a Community Town Hall for Sunday, June 26, from 3 to 5 pm on Washington Ave, overlooking the Kindergarten Center parking lot. The PASD school board meets on June 27 at 7 pm and members of the public are encouraged to attend and speak. Those interested in more information can contact the Phoenixville Area Friends of Open Space by emailing email@example.com
Phoenixville, former PASD school board member