I got engaged in late 2021 when a community member contacted me about concerns about an item on the agenda for the sale of a plot of land in the Phoenixville area. What started as a simple request for more information and due diligence has now turned into a legal matter. The question is, why would the board of directors speed up the process of selling a property they’ve held for years awaiting potential future use? What is the rush now?
Phoenixville’s old Kindergarten Center is a large part of Borough that is walkable to downtown, in a neighborhood of small bungalow-style homes and with no direct access to major roads. Suddenly, the five board members, without any private hearing, detailed public deliberation, or transparent due diligence, prompted a vote against overwhelming popular opposition.
Some of the questions put to the council included concerns about rainwater, drainage, pollution and habitat loss, as well as the fact that development could cause irreversible environmental damage. Another question is related to tax increases due to development. According to the Chester County Planning Commission Report, Return on the Environment, development can cost taxpayers $1.11 per tax dollar while open space can cost as little as $0.07 per dollar (https://www.chescoplanning.org/OpenSpace/ROE-CommunityCost .cfm). There are other reasons to maintain open space according to this report, from increasing property values to community health and wellness.
Why then did 5 members of the Phoenixville Area School Board vote to sell this plot of land which is one of the last large open spaces in the Borough of Phoenixville, especially given the fact that more than 1,000 community members signed a petition and the town wanted to buy the land and keep out as an open space?
Dozens of community members spoke out, echoing the petition, asking the board not to approve the sale and many speaking at the only two board meetings where a vote was to take place, overwhelmingly (all but one spoke against the sale), and asked them to. Not allowing the sale of a minimum of 80 proposed homes, which places the high-density housing development in an area not designated for this type of development.
It is up to the board of directors to prove that this sale benefits taxpayers, and so far they have failed. The only reasons the board members have mentioned so far is that the area is not in the “property management business”. Spoiler alert, yes they are, and the second the board keeps repeating, that this sale has been discussed since 2017, again, spoiler, no it didn’t.
The notion that the school district, one of the region’s largest property owners, that leases buildings and fields, employs many maintenance personnel and has built a “maintenance” building, is not involved in property management is puzzling, so what if they don’t manage the properties they own and rent?
On the second point, presumably this has been discussed since 2017, the board had not had any substantive talks about selling the land and, in fact, agreed to hold the land pending the proposed Phoenixville commuter rail project.
The Phoenixville Area School District Board of Directors agreed to hold this plot of land from early 2018 until after I left the board at the end of 2019, and as far as I know, it was in place in 2020 as well. The first discussion of the sale appears to have taken some time in 2021. It is important to note that every member of the current board of directors has been there for two years or less, and some for only a few months. So the idea that the Council had held talks for 4 years is absurd.
From a lack of due diligence to misleading allegations, this sale is under scrutiny. In a highly questionable move, videos of previous meetings have been suddenly “deleted” by the district, videos that will certainly show what was discussed and what was not.
We now have a group working to protect open spaces. The coalition is raising money for legal fees, https://gofund.me/5ce5ef89, and has filed a complaint with Chester County Court of Public Appeals, alleging violations of the Sunshine Act.
The complaint alleges serious violations including failure to properly disclose meetings. Additionally, there are questions about the information the district posted on the website, apparently in an attempt to justify the sale. Frequently asked questions about why the factors and variables were incorrect and many questions and concerns were raised to the Board, with taxpayers asking the Board to conduct additional study to ensure that this sale was really in the best interest of the taxpayer.
During the PASD Board meeting on April 25, I reminded the Board of their oath of office and challenged them to explain how their vote endorses that oath. It should be noted that not a single member who voted has stated a single reason why they voted for this sale, or how their oath is being fulfilled.
Each of you took an oath to respect the constitution of the Palestinian Authority. Now, please explain how your vote meets the requirements for this specific article:
Article 1, Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution states: The people have a right to clean air and pure water, and to preserve the natural, landscape, historical, and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all people, including future generations. As the custodian of these resources, the Commonwealth must preserve and maintain them for the benefit of all people
This property belongs to the taxpayer. Not the neighborhood. You are faithful to us, and yet the five who voted to sell ignored the massive calls for an additional review.
Organizers plan to hold Community Town Hall on Sunday, June 26, from 3 to 5 p.m. on Washington Boulevard, overlooking the Kindergarten Center parking lot. The PASD School Board meets on June 27 at 7 p.m. and members of the public are encouraged to come and speak. Those interested in more information can contact the Friends of the Phoenixville Open Space area by sending an email to [email protected]
Phoenixville, former member of the PASD School Board