Despite the staunch opposition of a group of local homeowners, and concerns about contaimination on the site, plans for a new took another small step forward on Tuesday night when the East Pikeland Board of Supervisors voted to approve each of the 13 waivers Phoenixville Area School District requested.
The district will next appear before the township’s Zoning Hearing Board on June 27 to get, it hopes, final approval on a host of additional waivers it says it will need to build the long planned Hares Hill Road facility.
The waivers granted on Tuesday pertained primarily to stormwater management on the ten acre site. Chairman Ronald Graham emphasized that these waivers don’t exempt the district from the township’s rules for stormwater runoff, but rather allow it to use alternate techniques to comply with East Pikeland’s code.
He said that the biggest hurdle for the school is yet to come.
“This is a very, very minor step for the school,” Graham said after the meeting. “[On June 27] they’re asking for much bigger zoning relief than anything you saw tonight.”
Graham added that the waivers should be considered in context: East Pikeland Township has the strictest regulations in the county with respect to stormwater runoff. He cited a by Clean Water Action of Pennsylvania that ranked the township’s code as the most environmentally friendly in northern Chester County.
All this is cold comfort though to a coalition of residents who live near the site and oppose the district’s plans. They came out in large numbers, but in vain, on Tuesday.
The group’s attorney, Michael Gill, argued that it’s unknown how the dieldrin–an insecticide linked to Parkinson’s and breast cancer–that the site is contaminated with will affect local homeowners.
“We don’t know the scope of this contamination,” he told the supervisors, “[and so] we don’t have enough information to grant these waivers.”
Dennis Ray, one of the homeowners who opposes the plan, expressed concern that construction and novel stormwater handling could dislocate the pesticide and potentially compromise drinking water, but put the group’s opposition in broader terms.
“We are opposed to the project because it doesn’t fit on the site,” he said. “Our zoning requirement is no more than 20 percent impervious cover and the school is proposing 40 percent. Basically it’s way outside the norm.”
Phoenixville Area School District superintendent Alan Fegley–who attended the meeting along with the district’s counsel–said he was sympathetic to the views of what he called the “loyal opposition,” but said that the site is safe to build on, both for students and nearby residents.
“There’s no risk at all...we were asked to go to the Department of Environmental Protection, and the Environmental Advisory Committee–we did all that. [The experts] clearly said to us, ‘It’s time to go forward, there’s no reason to stop,’” said Fegley.
Graham added that the district’s plans for the site have come a long way since it originally came before the township.
“They’ve designed a system that will turn that school site into an infiltration basin similar to a meadow, even though they’re going to have a school on it. Even with all that impervious surface, the runoff will be the same as if it were a meadow.”
“That’s a pretty high standard,” he added.
Despite this, with the June 27 hearing just three weeks off, the chairman speculated that, even if the zoning board grants the district the additional waivers it’s seeking, the conflict is a long way from being settled.
“Once the zoning hearing board makes its decision, I’m quite sure it will be appealed to the Court of Common Pleas,” he said.