Resident asks township, “Where's the development?”

Raphael Trice, Douglassville, listened recently to Daniel Boone School Board members who said the district’s three municipalities are responsible for the lack of local economic development.

School board members told residents at their Feb. 25 and 27 meetings to talk to their municipal officials for answers and information on future solutions.

Amity Township’s March 6 Board of Supervisors meeting was devoid of residents seeking answers.

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Trice was one of two residents that attended the March 13 Amity Township Planning Commission meeting.

His first question of “Do you allow any prosperity?” began an hour-long review of the township and school district’s history.

Commission Chairman Paul R. Weller said the township cannot serve as real estate developer, that the township has never “worked against anyone” (developer or engineer), but that it wasn’t long ago when residents were asking the township to slow down on commercial -- and residential development.

Commission members said they began implementing in 2007 a series of zoning changes to minimize the amount of homes that could be built on the land that was then still zoned low and medium density residential.

The ballot referendum in May 2002 asking voters to approve a dedicated tax for the acquisition of land and conservation easements that would preserve open space was rejected by voters.

Commission members and township Solicitor Brian F. Boland said the township boards have assisted the Keystone Villa Douglassville, 1180 Benjamin Franklin Highway; Precision Technology, 551 Old Swede Road, and American Crane, 531 Old Swede Road, through their various expansion phases with fast land development approvals as well as early construction assistance.

“The township has worked really, really hard to encourage good economic development,” said Boland.

He added that the township boards have also offered extra meetings with developers and engineers to help their clients meet their requirements for a quick approval process.

Boland said 10 to 11 years ago residents were asking the township to stop approving commercial development, and unfortunately the township never acquired large commercial businesses that could have made it a destination site with smaller accompanying businesses.

McDonald’s corporate officials didn’t expect the Douglassville McDonald’s to be successful and pushed for tall, freeway-type signage.

Boland successfully argued instead for the low impact signage at McDonald’s.

“Today, McDonald’s is very successful for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” said Weller.

“Are there any new initiatives to bring new businesses?” asked Trice.

Township Manager Charles E. Lyon said the township spent money to create the Economic Development Advisory Committee in 2006; the EDAC enabled Lyon to attend the Route 422 Corridor Group meetings, which eventually rejected the idea of tolling Route 422 in Amity Township.

He said the EDAC also advised the township in the creation of commercial zoning overlay districts to encourage development, and the township spent money to hire development consultants.

Boland said the township mapped out easements and spent money on the redesign of Nicholson and Toll Gate roads to benefit the Reading Hospital’s development process of an ambulatory center, which it chose not to build despite a 75-day land development approval.

Lyon said the Berks County Economic Partnership has recently “been looking at” the 600 acre site on Limekiln Road known as the Amity Western Industrial Park (AWIP); the EDAC helped the township to create that, which rezoned more than 374 previously residential lots to commercial land tracts for industrial or office-type uses.

“The township didn’t create the mess we have,” said Weller. “Can’t keep creating the mess without money coming in.”

“If I was looking to create or relocate a business, it wouldn’t be in Amity Township with 30 mills compared to 10 mills,” said Supervisor Terry L. Jones.

Weller said residential reassessments are also a reason for declining township and school district revenues.

He said the prices of some new homes in the township -- that had been built before and during the economy’s decline and valued at $400,000 to $500,000 -- were not selling, prices were reduced to $250,000, and purchasers sought reassessments from the county.

“I still have a level of frustration with the lack of partnership,” said Trice, adding, “I would expect that group to come over here and say, ‘Hey, What can we do?’”

Boland said the township started a partnership with the school district in January 2001 when the school board approved to accept 22 acres of land on Weavertown Road to build the Daniel Boone Middle School.

He said the licensing agreement for the $3.5 million park (built by the township) still has both entities meeting together.

Commission members said some school board members had attended township meetings in the mid 2000’s.

“How are the two parties looking at some solutions?” asked Trice.

Weller said it’s not two parties but four -- Union Township and the Borough of Birdsboro.

“Union Township has approved a lot of residential developments the last five years -- density-wise,” said Weller.