West Chester Borough Council met to discuss the issues of parking, building zoning and the potential implications of solar panels in the community with concerned residents.Both Holly Brown [Council President] and Mayor Carolyn Comitta maintained a welcoming and open vocal presence throughout the meeting, exceeding three hours in length. Residents of West Chester were given an opportunity to voice any concerns not formally listed on the agenda at the beginning of the meeting.
Tim Lair, first to speak, brought to discussion some serious flaws in the newly adjusted parking system. Street meters, which were previously not active after 5 p. m. during the week, are now being strictly enforced until 10 p.m. which is causing more people to park in residential areas instead of downtown.
Having lived on Miner St. for his entire life, Lair stated he had always been able to park in the lot across from his house. The recent change in meter enforcement has caused him great difficulty, and left him no choice but to park a ten minute walk away.
Another frustrated resident stated that she can no longer find street parking near her home, also on Miner St., and she is not eligible to purchase pass for the J-Lot, which is adjacent to her home. Her concerns have become financial, and she said she has difficulty paying for the multiple parking tickets she receives weekly. Councilman James Jones suggested she remedy the situation by purchasing a pass for the Bicentennial High Street garage at $75/month, which she was unsatisfied with because it would not solve the financial burden that the new parking policies placed on her and her family.
The most debated topic of the evening came with the discussion of whether or not to appeal the Zoning Hearing Board’s decision for a proposed apartment building development on 220 East Chestnut St., formerly the Agway parking lot.
Richard Sabo, a math teacher at Henderson High School, lead the opposition force. He reasoned that conditions for NC-2 Zoning, which is residential, were not satisfied. The maximum building height of 35 feet was exceeded by the structure being built.
“I am fighting for the architectural integrity of the Borough when I say this should not be built,” Sabo said. “The size of the project is completely out of scale.”
Tina Laskowski, another resident opposed to the building, argued that she wants to defend the town from imperial developers. “We need to be protected from the overly aggressive town center expansion,” she said. Bill Scott followed up her argument by presenting an architectural draft showing the size and placement of the building in question.
The developer, Eli Kahn of E.Kahn Development Corporation, was present to state his case along with several residents living in direct proximity of the affected area. The original plan was to place an office building on the property but has since become a project to build an apartment development.
Eli Kahn defended his company’s reasoning by bringing up that although the residents had valid points, the fact is the area is zoned TC [Town Center], which does not fall under the same building standards. He therefore did not see the issue. He supported his argument with mentioning the unanimous decision that was made by Borough Council in 2006, when the property was originally examined for potential development.
Kahn said, “Just because a few people don’t like it, well sorry.”
He has so far invested around $200,000 in the project and has no plan to stop. Being a seasoned developer with multiple property holdings in Downingtown and Malvern, he said he is used to this kind of controversy.
“We could try to build a park there and someone would think it’s not the right place for it; I’m used to that,” Kahn said.
Another prevalent issue was the discussion of potential benefits of going green. They have opted to implement a “green roof” on a Lacey St. building in need of repair instead of traditional drains. The roof is covered in succulents and various types of greenery to absorb rain water, promote wildlife and help lower cost and temperatures.
There was talk of introducing solar panels to West Chester in order to cut energy spending and reduce the community’s carbon foot print. It is estimated that the project will require $300,000 to get started. It is also predicted to save $51 the first year of use and increase annually after that.
In response to the discussions and concerned residents, Mayor Comitta called the meeting “a wonderful display of democracy” and said she is not sure how the council will vote on the final decision for the zoning dispute. She encouraged all with an opinion to come voice it at the Borough Council meetings.
Mayor Comitta said,”I do not tolerate people criticizing without being willing to step up and make a suggestion on how to change things.”
Leah Skye is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. She can be reached at LS685444@wcupa.edu.