Tuesday, July 26, 2016

New Hanover Loses Another Township Supervisor

Photo by Evan Brandt

Ralph Fluharty exists the New Hanover Township building after his surprise resignation Monday night. 

Only four months after Township Supervisors Chairman Doug Mueller abruptly stepped down from the board, another supervisor has made a surprise resignation.

This time it was veteran board member Ralph Fluharty, who has served the township for 31 years between his time on the township planning commission and then on the board of supervisors.

The resignation came as Fluharty sparred with the other supervisors over spending on road paving.

As the other supervisors scrambled to understand the finances involved -- with Supervisor Andrew Kelly at one point calling it "a shell game" -- Fluharty argued the cost of paving materials is currently so low more roads should be paved while "we have the men and the equipment."

But the resignation evidently was not entirely spontaneous.

After Fluharty stopped conversation cold by telling Chairman Phil Agliano "well, I've got another problem for you. I'm resigning my post," he pulled out a prepared statement which he proceeded to read.

Here's some of it on video:

Agliano said he would not consider accepting Fluharty's resignation until the end of the meeting "after Ralph has had a chance to calm down."

But after the meeting wore on, the supervisors adjourned to an executive session, Fluharty did not join them and instead listened with a smile on his face while others tried to convince him to change his mind.

Outside the meeting room, Fluharty, 82, said he was done.

He said the township's reserve fund has now grown to $1.6 million, which he considers a good thing, but only if the money gets used for things the township needs when the time is right.

Fluharty after making his announcement.
The low cost of paving materials this year would have allowed for the paving of many extra miles of "poor roads" in the township  -- he was advocating for Swamp Picnic Road Monday night -- but the other supervisors insistence on cleaving to budget estimates made when the price was unknown costs valuable time.

"We should act on it," he said. "I hope things go well for them, but I am apparently in the wrong place at the wrong time."

After the executive session, the board was advised by solicitor Andrew Bellowoar that if they did not act to accept Fluharty's resignation, it would leave his status an open question and prevent the board from naming a replacement.

Ultimately, the board voted unanimously, "with great reluctance," to accept Fluharty's resignation.

They then voted to authorize interim manager Greg Prowant to advertise for those interested in applying with a letter -- and resume -- Supervisor Charles D. Garner Jr. emphasized.

Here are the Tweets from the meeting:

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Working for (With) Friends

Fuzzy Photo by Evan Brandt
Mercury Photo Chief John Strickler says your retirement is not official until you get an original Alan MacBain

I've been known to observe on occasion that there are two kinds of friends in your life; friends of shared interests, and friends of shared experience.

The best friends are, of course, those who fill both categories.

For 19 years, I have been lucky enough to work with an entire stable of professionals who fill both categories.

As in all offices, they come and they go -- people like John Gentzel, Michelle Karas, Brandie Kessler,  Kevin Hoffman, Dan Creighton and Frank Otto have all gone now -- and if they are lucky, the section of the office they sit it is in what Mercury Editor Nancy March calls "the back row."

While such friends are rare enough and a joy to work with when the gears mesh, rarer still is when one or two of those friends is also your boss.

Perhaps it was because I was a newsroom boss in a previous life and I had a pretty good inkling of what the newspaper needed on a given day.

Maybe it was because we shared the same intense sense of mission about local journalism.

Or who knows, maybe it was just karma.

Whatever the reason, for just shy of 20 years Nancy March, and I have shared ideas, beers and the trust to
edit each other's columns (although its not like I had much choice.)

I won't fill this space with recollections of remember-that-time things you would know nothing about.

Trust me, we've done so much of that lately over the good-bye lunches, that Memory Lane is closed down for re-paving and the Good Old Days have asked for their union break.

Let's just say "pursuing your bliss," as my wife calls it, is a good way to make a living.

What I would like to tell you is that with the departure from the newsroom of Nancy and Photo Editor John Strickler, Pottstown is losing friends it may not have known it had.

John was born in Pottstown, raised in the North End, and Nancy just a few miles away in Pine Forge.

I have met  few people who remained so steadfastly devoted to the welfare of this little town along the Schuylkill as the two of them.

Clear-eyed and honest enough to recognize that telling Pottstown's story also means pointing out the negatives, as well as drawing out the positives, both were also more protective of Pottstown than you would know -- doing what they could, when they could, to make things a little better.

The example that springs to my mind occurred several years ago, when Pottstown had organized a fantastic, well-organized, well-attended event that drew thousands. It was called "Open Doors."

Apparently ignorant of this, Pottstown Police had staged a massive warrant sweep that same morning and the front page was destined to carry both stories, souring the infrequent good feeling that would be projected on our front page by the coverage of Open Doors.

Although rubbed against the grain to sit on big news, it was easier to convince Nancy that the warrant sweep did not need to be on the front page that day than it would have been someone who cared less about Pottstown.

"Let's let Pottstown have its day," I remember her saying.

To the readers, that decision was invisible, but also invaluable, even if just for one day.

Their legacy has been thousands of those decisions over thousands of days, none of which came with a byline.

It could be something as simple as a heartwarming photo, or something as difficult as pushing to recognize and tastefully teasing out a touching moment in a tragic story.  

I have seen John put his camera down and turn away from what many might consider an award-wining front page shot because he knows the damage it may do. "I'm not shooting that," he'd mutter.

John likes to say "I'm not a photographer, I'm a newsman," which is not entirely true because he is a truly gifted photographer, one who wears his heart on his sleeve.

But even if we'll allow him to define himself, I would suggest an amendment that he call himself a "Pottstown newsman."

Nevertheless, the only thing that ever stays the same is that everything is forever changing.

No doubt someone will read this and say "everyone can be replaced," which is true enough on paper.

But I would counter with a quote I published in this space last week from Erica Batdorf, who said "I've learned that leadership is not position. It is state of mind."

Both Nancy and John always had (and, in all likelihood always will have) a Pottstown-centric state of mind.

So yes, there are other photographers and we will have another editor at The Mercury, but I would be unwilling to call them replacements.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Changes at Health and Wellness Foundation

Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation President Dave Kraybill with Retired Board Member Debbie Zelle and Chairman of the Board Art Green.

Blogger's Note: The following was provided by the Pottstown Area health and Wellness Foundation

The Pottstown Area Health & Wellness Foundation has had changes in Board leadership.

As of June 30, two of the Foundation’s Board members, Dr. William Taddonio and Debbie Zelle, have concluded their terms and retired from the Board.

Dr. Taddonio joined the Foundation’s Board in February 2007. In his nine years on the Board, he has served

“Bill Taddonio has been an asset to the Board not only with his vast professional experience in the medical field, but through his passion for people and all things health and wellness,” said Dave Kraybill, Foundation President.
Pottstown Area Healthand Wellness Foundation
Retired Board Member Dr. William Taddonio
with Foundation President Dave Kraybill.
on the Strategic Planning Committee and chaired the Nominating Committee.

“His dedication and leadership has helped guide the Foundation in fulfilling its mission of motivating people to adopt healthy lifestyles.”

Debbie Zelle joined the Foundation’s Board in March 2014. In her two years on the Board, Debbie has served on the Grants and Marketing & Communications Committees.

“Debbie has been an integral part of the Foundation’s Board, bringing years of experience as a school nurse to the table as well as a love of the community,” Kraybill said. “Her unique insight into the world of health and wellness has been a guiding force as we strive to help the communities we serve make healthier choices.”

As of July 1, Art Green remains in the role of Board Chairman as does Myra Forrest in the role of Vice Chairman. Matt Cappelletti will continue in the role of Treasurer and Dr. Keith Harrison in the role of Secretary. Todd Alderfer will also continue serving as “member-at- large” of the executive committee.

“We are very fortunate to have had both Bill and Debbie serve on the Foundation’s Board of Directors with their extensive medical knowledge, expertise and passion for the community,” Kraybill said. “We wish them well as they embark on this next chapter.”

Friday, July 22, 2016

Steep Slope Building Eyed for Sanatoga Green

Photos by Evan Brandt
Lower Pottsgrove officials, from left, Township Manager Ed Wagner, Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr., Commissioners Chairman Bruce Foltz and Vice Chairman Stephen Klotz, review plans for Sanatoga Green with project engineer Michael Engle.

An extremely technical hearing on a request by the Sanatoga Green developers to be allowed to build in some steeply sloped areas of their 51 acres captured the board of commissioners attention Thursday, but no decision was forthcoming.

Instead, by the time the attorney and engineer for the project -- which will add more than 500 dwelling units, a 100-room hotel and medical office space to the area off Evergreen Road opposite the Limerick outlets -- had finished, most seemed a little overwhelmed.

And small wonder.

The hour-long hearing include citations of zoning ordinances, ratios, angles and
Evergreen Road resident Donald Woodley
looks over the site plan for Sanatoga Green.
topographic maps.

Instead of providing the expected approval -- the commissioners had few questions (with the exception of vice chairman Stephen Klotz) -- the commissioners took advantage of the law which allows 45 days for a decision to made.

The commissioners accepted the advice of Township Solicitor Charles D. Garner Jr., and postponed a vote until the next meeting on Aug. 18.

The only member of the audience to raise any questions was Evergreen Road resident Donald Woodley who, after the meeting, told the commissioners he is worried about traffic and the ability of fire trucks to get into the development once its built.

Presuming the commissioners approve the conditional use permit on Aug. 18, the entire project must still make its way through the land development process, which involves votes and opportunities for public comment both at planning commission meetings and future meetings of the board of commissioners.

After the hearing, the commissioners continued on to their regular meeting.

The board voted unanimously to appoint Joseph Vecchio to the Zoning Hearing Board, who will replace Rober Molhollen, who was appointed to the board of commissioners last month to replace James Vlahos.

Additionally, the board voted unanimously to award the bid for a new highway department pole barn, next to the current one on Pleasantview Road, for $24,877 to Shirk LLC of East Earl, PA.

The board also approved the settlement of a 2011 assessment challenge for 2129 High St., which also just happens to be the location of the township's engineering firm, Bursich Assoc.

The settlement, already negotiated and approved by the school board, will retroactively reduce the commercial site's assessment from $810,210 to $715,000.

As for the rest, here are the Tweets:

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Measuring the Meters that Measure the Water

Photo by Evan Brandt
Borough Authority Manager Mark Flanders holds a sample of a water meter that can be read remotely.

If you think things like water meters that can be read from a desktop miles aware are interesting, then you should have taken my seat at a three-hour borough authority meeting Tuesday night.

Representatives from two companies, Neptune and Mueller -- which have been establishing testing meters in the borough for months -- made hour-long presentations about why their systems are better.

The overall price of each system was not immediately evident and each system had pros and cons, said Public Works Director Doug Yerger.

I would tell you about it, but why ruin the gripping suspense of my Tweets from the meeting?

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Sanatoga Green Clears Zoning Hurdles

The proposed Sanatoga Green development, imposed on an aerial photograph of the 51-acre site off Evergreen Road, near the Philadelphia Premium Outlets in Limerick.

The massive 500-plus-unit Sanatoga Green project, which includes office space and a 100-room hotel, quietly cleared another hurdle Tuesday night when it received all five zoning variances being sought.

After a brief executive session Tuesday evening, the three members of the Lower Pottsgrove Zoning Hearing board returned to a meeting room devoid of anyone but a Mercury reporter, a court reporter and the developer and his lawyer, to approve all the variances.

Most of the evidence for the case was presented in May, when testimony from both the developer and residents was heard by the board.

The only matters before the zoning hearing board Tuesday night were the acknowledgement of the re-zoning of a 7-acre parcel along Linfield Road to comply with the Gateway zoning of the rest of the project, and letters indicating that a $100,000 donation had allowed for the withdrawal of a variance from open space requirements.

After a brief discussion of the acceptance of a letter raising concerns about the development -- which the zoning board refused to make a part of the record because it did not deal with zoning matters -- the board went into a five-minute executive session to discuss its final decision.

That decision was to grant all five variances.

The first two are to allow the project to have a 15-foot side yard and back yard rather than the 75-feet required in the zoning ordinance, adopted in 2014.

The three other, perhaps more significant variances, have to do with the number and size of the apartments and townhouses to be allowed.

The first variance allows for the construction of 166 townhomes among the 508 dwelling units. The ordinance would only have allowed 152.

The second variance allows all 166 townhomes to have three bedrooms. The ordinance only allows 50 percent to be three bedrooms.

The final variance is from a requirement that of the 342 apartment units, 137 be studio or one-bedroom apartments. The variance allows none of the apartment units to be smaller than three-bedroom.

Testimony in May had indicated that national builders had informed the developers they will not build units that small because they will not sell.

In a related matter, earlier this month, the township commissioners were informed that a $2.1 million state grant would be applied to expansion of capacity at the westbound side of the Sanatoga interchange on Route 422.

PennDOT would not have allowed occupancy permits for Sanatoga Green without the capacity of that interchange being expanded.

At Thursday night's commissioners meeting, another hearing will be held related to Sanatoga Green. At that hearing, scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m., the commissioners will consider a "conditional use" request to allow construction on slopes steeper than the ordinance allows.

Here are the Tweets from last night's hearing:

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Buses, School Zone Speeding and Weed(s)

I won't lie, we are in the middle of the summer doldrums, and frankly, news can be hard to come by.

That said, there were a few items of note during Monday night's meeting of the board of supervisors, not the least of which was Supervisor Fred Ziegler's colorful expressions.

At one point in the meeting he agreed that weeds along East Philadelphia Avenue in Gilbertsville had grown so high, the former township police chief said "that I could probably grow marijuana and no one would notice."

He further suggested that parents upset about drivers speeding on Second Street while Junior High students are walking to school throw rocks at the speeding cars.

He also suggested parking a police car, with "a dummy" inside be parked in the vicinity to slow speeders.

Nevertheless, cooler heads prevailed and the police promised to look into what they could do.

Aside from complaints about weeds and speeding, no doubt the topic of the evening was the ever-so-slowly-unfolding plans for the one-again, off-again Quigley bus terminal.

For four years, Quigley Bus Service Inc. has struggled to meet conditions and deadlines set by the township for the development of a parcel bounded by Swamp Creek, Schlegel and Middle Creek roads.

That location is considered central to servicing the far-flung district that is 100 square miles.

In February, the board of supervisors voted unanimously to reject another of many extensions requests that have been made by the company since if first received zoning approval in 2012.

But, as township Solicitor Robert Brant explained, Quigley filed an appeal in court and the township and bus company are now trying to settle matters and agree on traffic statistics so the project can move forward without more involvement by the courts.

But several residents said the folks who live in that area are unlikely to welcome the construction and bus traffic the project will bring.

You can hear everything they have to say in the videos embedded below.