At another juncture, Peter Miller implied that everyone should trust them because “they have a transparent process (sic).” This is their idea of transparency:
Carlino would make millions; we would get the traffic
to Carlino's Regional Shopping District
John Lucas said that in addition to the “23,000 traffic trips, which would make our lives miserable, we have a serious financial issue here as well. I think we’re being overcharged by the Archdiocese for the property...If the overall cost of the property is $30 million, why would we be paying $19? Where is the money coming from?” This is an especially good point in light of how much the unbuildable “back” is actually worth. We’ll delve into this question more below as well as the sewer capacity issues mentioned by Commissioner Longacre.
Marple's Commissioners don't just have their ordinances and state/federal laws to defend the fragile environmental resources at Don Guanella against Carlino; they have the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment, (Article 1, §27, PA Constitution).
Below are three recent court cases for them to cite in their defense of Marple's environment.
Lost in all this obfuscation by Miller, McElwee, and the Archdiocese is the fact that taxpayers paid millions of dollars for a century to cover what the diocese was not paying in taxes on these 213 acres. What an affront to taxpayers it is to ask that they pay so much to preserve land they helped the diocese own. The time has come for legislation to force 501(c)(3)’s to pay back all “roll back” taxes on the commercial and residential sale of land that was held tax free.
The Developers Massage the Audience
Carlino's full court press
Marple's Commissioners care about their town’s character and it really showed this past Wednesday night. They saw through Carlino’s smoke and mirrors routine. They were not influenced by Carlino’s paid traffic consultant. They were not taken in by the full page ads in the Delco Times, or confused by the slick talk and presentations at the high school. They chose instead to believe their own eyes, and common sense has told them that Carlino’s plan doesn’t work for Marple.
Commissioner Joe Rufo started off the board’s discussion by saying that “we need to look at the commercial plan in a vacuum in and of itself. The ‘by right’ plan that’s been submitted is in no way a "by right" plan. So let’s get that out of the way and not act like we have a gun to our heads. Let’s look at this commercial plan and decide if it’s right for Marple Township.” We applaud Mr. Rufo and the other board members for recognizing and calling out Carlino’s threat to cut down the forest, and we appreciate their objective consideration of Carlino’s commercial plan. As you’ll see, they found it sorely lacking.
One of the biggest concerns voiced by the Commissioners was the new traffic volume that would spill onto area arterial, collector, and cut-through streets from what would clearly be a regional shopping and restaurant destination (17 restaurants...). The Commissioners understand that you cannot attract thousands of customers from all over the region, including from the Blue Route corridor, and not have your roads inundated by traffic. Commissioner John Longacre said, “I remember when you could get through Newtown Square in 5 minutes.” As he explained, all of the development along the Route 3 corridor is coming from developments that all had traffic studies done. Despite all those studies, it now takes a half hour to get through the same area. “I’m terrified at what could happen in [the Marple] area if we don’t take control of whatever is built there.” Commissioner John Lucas piggybacked on that saying, “you can’t move on Sproul Road now, and I can’t imagine it getting better by adding 47 acres of dense commercial development.” Commissioner Dan Leefson also mentioned traffic concerns, adding the project was “too big and the cost is too high.”
The Archdiocese owes it to Delaware County taxpayers to make the preservation of the Don Guanella forest more affordable.
The Board Responds
"In a landmark environmental decision, a majority of Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court justices established a broad interpretation of the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution Tuesday, cementing in place the commonwealth’s role as trustee for public natural resources. The move is a victory for environmental advocates, and a defeat for the state and industrial polluters, who had argued that granting a wider interpretation could deter economic development.
Writing the majority opinion, Justice Christine Donohue said the prior interpretation of the amendment, which included a 3-part legal test and was in place for four decades, “strips the constitution of its meaning.” The opinion clearly defines the role of the state as trustee, which the court said is associated with fiduciary responsibilities." Quoted from PA State Impact
The 2013 PA Supreme Court plurality decision in the Robinson Township case held that Article 1, Section 27 (i.e. the Environemental Rights Amendment) also applies to municipal government and cautions them from acting in ways that that diminish public trust resources or unduly infringe on protected individual environmental rights. The interest of Individuals living downstream and individuals enjoying environmental benefits from this forest must be taken into consideration. According to the court, then, to comply with such constitutional restrictions on their authority, then, "municipalities must engage in pre-action environmental impact analyses to gauge the impact of a particular action on protected environmental rights and public natural resources." “Protection of environmental values...is a quintessential local issue that must be tailored to local conditions." Robinson Township, 83 A.d at 979
The Darlington Estate
Click for a chart of Carlino's proposed sewage flows to "CDCA" which has indicated that they don't have the capacity to accept sewage from DG.
What's the Don Guanella Forest Worth?
By Ken Hemphill
There's just nowhere for the cars to go
“Let’s focus on reality,” McElwee said. Ok. Let’s focus on reality. The Archdiocese has named a price of $30 million, according to what we were told. This is wildly unrealistic given that there are more than 100 acres of undevelopable land on the site. Essentially, as we wrote here, they want the community to overpay for the "back." We were surprised to learn that, instead of the $15 million originally asked for the “back,” the price was now $19 million for the two residential parcels totaling 139 acres. This inflated price for the back essentially heavily subsidizes Carlino’s purchase of the front. By their distorted reckoning, the community would have to pay $500,000 per acre for ~39 acres of actual buildable land in the residentially zoned parcels. To buttress their absurd pricing scheme, they insist that the two residential parcels are worth a total of $25 million, an amount which doesn’t pass the giggle test. Even at an inflated price of $200,000 per acre for buildable land, the price would be $8 million. However, the actual topography and hydrology of those zoning parcels surely bring the price down closer to $5 million.
Miller and McElwee’s tenuous grasp on reality is even more evident when you consider the enormous expense of building two long bridges over two steep and very wide stream valleys to connect to the landlocked areas of the property. This would cost many millions and would eat heavily into any profits from the “by right.” And as we've noted in previous articles, given the large swaths of steep slopes, wet soils, flood plains, etc., Carlino would be lucky to get 150 houses, not 232, further reducing the likelihood of making a profit. Then there’s the impossible sewage disposal situation they face. As was mentioned at the meeting and in our previous writings, Don Guanella is served by the “Radnor Haverford Marple” (RHM) sewer district. There is a permanent moratorium on connecting to that line. Miller/McElwee have 33,000 gallons per day of available grandfathered capacity available to them for the RHM system, but both their residential and commercial plans would need to send almost 100,000 gallons per day more than that to another sewer district called the Central Delaware County Authority (CDCA). As Save Marple Greenspace learned at one of their recent meetings, CDCA does not believe it has the capacity for any of this overflow from Don Guanella. What’s their solution to this? Miller and McElwee have said they would build a multi-million dollar “package” sewage treatment plant on the site. In other words, they want you to believe they would build a residential project at a financial loss.
• They misrepresented to us what the “split” would be between the taxing authorities and Carlino. We were originally told that the taxing authorities would pay $15 million for the back and the developers would pay $15 for the front, yet in paperwork they sent to the township, they quietly increased the taxing authorities' share to $19 million!
• They changed the original meeting time and venue of their May meeting at the last minute after SMG hand delivered thousands of flyers door to door and then claimed that the school district wasn't getting back to them.
• They significantly upscaled their development and then arrogantly said to us in a meeting that it could get even bigger.
• They’ve consistently misrepresented what we’ve been saying, especially with regard to traffic and the acreage of their development.
• They continue to misstate the actual size of the Don Guanella Village which is 34 acres not 39.
• They continue to say they just want a “little bit more.” By a little bit more they mean something 8 acres bigger than the Springfield Mall right next to an existing 41 acre shopping center. That “little bit more” than the DG Village footprint is just about the size of the Pep Boys shopping center on Route 3 at Springfield Road.
• They stated that the 139 residentially zoned acres are worth $25 million for what consists mostly of unbuildable land.
• They claimed that the confidentialilty agreement exists with the diocese because that’s what NLT wanted. This would probably come as a surprise to NLT which hasn’t been involved in any part of this since the summer of 2017. Carlino’s contract with the diocese was signed on November 8th, 2017 (a fact gleaned from the developer’s lawyer’s letter to PA DEP) long after NLT’s involvement ended.
YYou may have missed our other updates
According to their appeal of the county's tax assessment, the Archdiocese has argued that their property is only worth $10 million, yet Miller claims that the unbuildable back is worth $19 million. The Archdiocese clearly wants it both ways. They don't want to pay a dime to reimburse the community for the taxes paid by taxpayers for over 100 years. Yet now they want to maximize their profits at the community's expense.
Carlino's proposal compared to other shopping centers
By Ken Hemphill
September 29, 2018
“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.” (Article 1, §27)
Marple's Commissioners voiced multiple objections
Carlino the Illusionist
After the board offered their remarks and public comment was given, Peter Miller and Brian McElwee (the president of Carlino and would-be financier for the project, respectively) rose to massage the audience. We thought it was very telling that they didn’t face or address their remarks directly to the Commissioners, who had just clearly indicated a lack of support for the regional shopping district. They instead faced the audience in what was another attempt to convince the public to support the degradation of their quality of life. Importantly, the Board of Commissioners has had access to the information necessary to make their informed decision about Miller’s and McElwee’s huge plan, but the public has not been privy to that information. That’s why Miller/McElwee continue to focus their public relations campaign on township residents who remain in the dark about the most important financial details which have only been shared with township officials. No doubt the developers believe they can exploit this information void to create enough public pressure to sway the board’s thinking.
After Miller and McElwee were done trying to finesse the audience, township solicitor Adam Matlowski said “we have no confidence that what the governments are being asked to pay for the back is a fair and realistic number. That is perhaps the biggest impediment that we see.” The implication of this is that Miller/McElwee would get the flat front acreage with better zoning for substantially less than what it’s worth. Instead of addressing Mr. Matlowski's concern, McElwee immediately pivoted, throwing out a red herring by addressing instead one resident’s earlier comment about what would happen to tax revenue if stores were chronically vacant. Then he proceeded to call for a committee to sit down with the Commissioners “to roll up our sleeves and go over the numbers...to understand how all the pieces come together.” In other words, they want to form the equivalent of one of their “focus” groups in an attempt to befuddle the Commissioners the way they have confused some members of the community into supporting something that’s not in their best interest. It’s important to point out that not once in any of these focus groups have Miller or McElwee ever said they would downsize their plan and lower the price for the township, county, and school district. It’s always “accept our plan or we’re going to cut the forest down.”
Mr. Matlowski continued: “One of the things that you said was that this additional 9 acres that you added over what was originally talked about was necessary in order to fund the purchase of the open space. But that’s at THIS price. So you need to convince us that that’s fair price.” Miller then claimed that their overpriced valuation for the land was based on an appraisal done “with the NLT.” It’s doubtful that anyone at Natural Lands (Trust) will verify this claim, but we can be sure of one thing: there’s no way on God’s Green Earth that a landlocked 39 acres of buildable land in Marple Township is worth $19 million. Even the Archdiocese, in their appeal of Delaware County’s tax assessment of Don Guanella, has argued that the value of the undeveloped ground is $10 million!
Lost in all this obfuscation by Miller, McElwee, and the Archdiocese is the fact that taxpayers paid millions of dollars for a century to cover what the diocese was not paying in taxes. What an affront to taxpayers it is to ask that they pay so much to preserve land they helped the diocese own. The time has come for legislation to force 501(c)(3)’s like the Archdiocese to refund all “roll back” taxes on land that was owned tax free if that land is sold for anything other than a nonprofit use. Taxpayers (via the county government) should have been offered the "right of first refusal" to buy at a fair price land that they heavily subsidized.
Mr. Longacre pointed out that another citizen’s group did their own independent traffic study of a proposed development in the vicinity of 252 and Route 3 and found that the developer’s traffic engineer blatantly misrepresented the actual traffic impact of a proposed development. After the ruse was exposed, that development was substantially downsized. And what happened in Newtown is in no way unique to that particular case. Traffic engineers are hired to provide a product in the same way that a courtroom expert is hired to deliver testimony for an attorney. If there’s a range of possible truths, they deliver the one best aligned with the argument the attorney wants to make. In other words, they interpret evidence in a way that’s favorable to their client/employer. Likewise, we have no doubt that Carlino’s traffic consultant has interpreted information in a way which projects traffic volume on the lower end of the possible spectrum. The estimate of 23,000 daily vehicle trips is without a doubt a low number. And as we’ve noted before, PennDOT does NOT fact check the traffic consultant’s numbers. They do issue highway occupancy permits, of course, but these are issued based on the numbers that the developer’s traffic consultant provides to PennDOT! In the end, Carlino’s monstrous center could nearly double the existing 33,000 daily vehicle trips on Sproul Road. If Carlino’s traffic consultant’s numbers are wrong, do you think the mistake is in Carlino’s favor or ours?
Article 1, §27 was recently cited by a Delaware County Common Pleas Judge in the case the Beaver Valley Conservancy brought against Concord Township. As Judge Green ordered: "The Board of Supervisors, pursuant to Pa. Const. Art 1, §27, as trustees for the natural, historic, and scenic resources under the stewardship of Appellee Township, shall: 1. ensure the submitted application complies with the applicable laws and regulations affecting those resources; 2. ensure the submitted application avoids or appropriately mitigates adverse impacts upon those resources to the extent reasonably possible; and, 3. to the extent these impacts are not avoided, refrain from approving the Submitted application, where the Board of Supervisors determines the harm clearly outweighs the benefits of the Submitted application."
In his comments to the audience, Miller mentioned the letter they sent out quoting Natural Lands’ (Trust) inexplicable support for the shopping district, something we found especially troubling considering that NLT’s official position is that that they don’t get involved in land preservation fights. Their inappropriate support, therefore, was seriously bewildering given how oversized Carlino’s commercial project is, how much traffic it would generate, how Carlino and the Archdiocese are trying to overcharge the community to save the forest, how unworkable the residential “by right” proposal is, and how they themselves declined to enter into a contract with Carlino in 2017.
Brian McElwee then made a very strange statement that only 22% of Don Guanella would be developed, as if the percentage of the developed acreage matters more than its impact on the community. McElwee also tried to scare the audience with the idea that a larger development would ultimately be built by a different developer if the township didn’t approve their current monstrosity. “Whatever happens will be more than 22% of the site.” This doesn’t stand up to the simplest logic. Bruce Goodman’s first proposal encompassed the entire 213 acre site. Carlino’s smaller but still huge plan calls for 47 total acres (plus 6 for soccer) to be developed which would generate soul-crushing traffic on Sproul everyday. Miller, McElwee, and the Archdiocese may choose not to renegotiate their price, but does any rational person think the next plan will be BIGGER than Carlino’s? The price is coming down whether they like it or not because the 213 acres at Don Guanella are not worth what they think it’s worth. In the final analysis, the only thing that matters is that this regional shopping district would create 23,000+ new vehicle trips. What matters is the impact any development in the front would have on the township and neighboring communities. Again, don’t watch the magician’s hands. Watch the ball, the wrecking ball Miller and McElwee are swinging at your quality of life.
The scale and location of Carlino’s center was also not lost on Mr. Rufo who said, “We shouldn’t have to live with a 400,000 square foot retail center right next to another one” a reality that few Carlino supporters have ever admitted to. Allowing their regional district to be built right next door to the 41 acre Lawrence Park Shopping Center would be like having something 8 acres bigger than the Springfield Mall built right next door to the Springfield Mall.
Three recent cases involving the Environmental Rights Amendment