by Kevin Dicciani
A decision has finally been made after a decade of negotiations concerning a 42-acre property in Springfield Township known as the Tecce Tract.
On Wednesday, July 9, the Township Board of Commissioners voted 4-3 against the rezoning of 7.11 acres on the front of the property at 9303 Ridge Pike that would change the land from residential to institutional. While the vote means that Fred Tecce, owner of the property, cannot move forward with his plans to have Atria Senior Living build a 125-unit assisted living facility on the front, it does not prevent him from a previously approved plan to build 52 age-restricted homes on the back.
The dispute over the land arose with a group of neighbors known as the Friends of the Springfield Panhandle. The group, lead by Brennan Preine, said the intense development would dramatically reduce open space, disrupt wildlife and sully a unique area that dates back to Colonial times. Preine previously stated that their objections had nothing to do with Atria, but rather the construction on the back of the property, which they said should be preserved at all costs.
Before the vote was cast, commissioner Robert Gilles spoke in favor of the proposed rezoning and Atria, which he said would be a “major contributor” to the township.
“It’s a key project to the township,” Gilles said. “It will bring in upwards of 100 temporary construction jobs, 60 permanent jobs and will contribute a significant amount to the tax structure of both the school district and the township, lowering the burden on the rest of the residents.”
Gilles said voting against it would be a “poor decision.”
Commissioner Peter Wilson said he remained in the middle after listening to presentations from both sides. He eventually decided to side with the neighbors after visiting with the Friends of the Springfield Panhandle and diligently inspecting the property.
“After careful consideration here,” Wilson said, “although I have nothing against the assisted-living facility, I believe that it represents an overly intense development in a very, very special part of the township.”
Commissioner Jeffrey Harbison said that while he supports Atria, he is concerned about the density in the back of the property.
“We’re trading a tripling in population density [on the front] for a net 3.5 percent increase in open space,” Harbinson said. “In the business world, where I come from, that would not be viewed as good negotiating.”
Harbinson also mentioned that, in an era of tight tax dollars, the revenue and relief Atria would bring to the taxpayers are “worthy concerns.” But, he said, the majority of lands zoned institutional in the township are owned by nonprofits who pay no property tax, and therefore there is a risk that Atria may not be subject to paying taxes. He finished by saying that he hoped that Atria would reapply but with a proposal that included less density.
President James Dailey said the issue has been back and forth for quite some time. At one time the board reached a consensus for AAA cluster zoning in the rear, which he said neighbors were upset about. After proposing the age-qualified zoning, the neighbors were unhappy about that as well as they felt it decreased the open space even more than the AAA, thereby sending the process back to the beginning.
“I think Atria is a good use for the front of the property,” Dailey said. “I think it will be an asset to the community. There’s definitely a need for it. Trying to put an elderly person or a parent in a home in this area is really tough.”
Dailey also voiced his fears about a delayed decision over Atria, saying that Atria could back out of the agreement and “go away.”
“That’s a game of chicken I don’t want to play,” he said.
After the motion failed, Gilles expressed discontent and asked the board to ponder their decision.
“We potentially gave away a very good project that was a windfall for the township,” Gilles said, noting that “7,200 homes are going to be paying more in taxes and not get the benefit they should get for this price.”
At this moment, construction is taking place on the property. Atria could come back to the Board of Commissioners and request another rezoning change to allow for the development of their assisted-living facility. Whether they will or won’t remains uncertain. A phone call to Tecce’s lawyer for further clarification was not returned.