by Kevin Dicciani
At a four-hour public meeting that continued past midnight, the Springfield Township Board of Commissioners listened to arguments for and against the rezoning of a 7.11-acres section of a 42-acre piece of land known as the Tecce Tract at 9303 Ridge Pike.
The rezoning would change those 7.11 acres from residential to institutional to allow Atria Senior Living to build an assisted-living facility on the front of the 42-acre property. The facility would be comprised of 125 units with 175 beds in the front portion closest to Ridge Pike. In addition to the Atria facility, property owner Fred Tecce is planning to develop 35 age-restricted homes, a reduction from an original plan to build 52 single-family homes.
Tecce is seeking a total of three zoning-code-change ordinances to allow plans to move forward. His attorney Ross Weiss said that he hoped the board would adopt all three ordinances and recognize that the projects are “a benefit to Springfield Township.”
A group of residents known as the Friends of the Springfield Panhandle – the name for the half a mile wide strip of Springfield Township that divides Philadelphia and Whitemarsh Township – hopes the township will turn down Tecce’s request to preserve what is now largely open space.
Led by township resident Brennan Preine, the Friends have been supportive of the Atria facility, but believe the addition of the age-restricted homes on the parcel would harm open space, interfere with the natural habitat, increase and clog traffic on Ridge Pike and lower the value of the homes surrounding the property. They have asked the township to give it time to raise money to buy four lots of the property from Tecce to preserve it.
But that preservation would come at a cost to the township according to Weiss, who offered figures to the township which claim that the Atria assisted-living facility would generate about $1.33 million in annual tax revenue. The 35 age-restricted homes wouldn’t, for the most part, contain any school children, and therefore would not burden the school district. Additionally, it was said, the facility would employ 70 full-time employees.
If the township fails to grant Tecce the legislation he seeks, Weiss said his client had every right to build the previously proposed 52 single-family homes, the number of which was lowered as a compromise with the neighbors, who he said are trying to take advantage of Tecce by making “absurd” requests demanding that the density on his property be dramatically reduced.
“The opportunity that the township has is to listen to everybody and find the balance,” Weiss said. “And what we have proposed to you is the balance. What the neighbors are proposing to you is out of balance. You have people here that only want to see ‘open space, open space, open space’ and no development.
“If you don’t feel compelled to make a decision tonight, in order to make sure that we all have our best shot at the best decision, if you [the board] feel like waiting another month and bringing us back the second Wednesday in July, we’re okay with that. Will Atria wait beyond that? I doubt it. Atria tried to be diplomatic and I know where they are. They’ve worked on this for a year and a half.”
Presenting for the Friends of the Springfield Panhandle, Preine offered ways that a further compromise could be made between the Friends of the Springfield panhandle, Tecce and Atria. He said that he and the neighbors had no problem with Atria – their issues pertained to the open space at the rear of the property, which, since its the largest piece of open space remaining on the property, should be preserved at all costs.
Preine argued that an increase in the number of residential units in Atria’s assisted-living facility in the front of the property should include concessions for the remainder of the property. He said that he and the rest of the neighbors were willing to raise funds to buy at least four lots in the rear. If they didn’t raise the money in three years, they would concede and allow Tecce, who they have not been able to contact or speak to directly, to do what he wants with the property.
Lastly, further planning and development of the open space could be done through statewide and local conservation agencies, such as the Friends of the Wissahickon and the Wissahickon Valley Watershed, whose two representatives spoke out at the meeting against the project.
When the floor opened up for comments and questions from the crowd of more than 50 people, members of the community who spoke sided unanimously with Preine and the Friends of the Springfield Panhandle.
Cynthia Bauer said the facility would turn Ridge Pike into a “speedway” and begged the board to consider the safety hazards for the neighbors.
Gary Brownberg said that the gridlock and core of the matter is related to Tecce being “greedy.”
Walter Flam said the only way this ordeal can be solved is through a negotiated settlement among the neighbors and Tecce, and said that no matter what the board does, the issue will not be resolved until a dialogue can be achieved.
“This is not going to stop here,” Flam said. “The only thing that you can do [the board] is to deny these rezoning requests. We’re willing to talk. The other side is not. They want something. Don’t give it to them. And don’t get me wrong, I’m in favor of Atria. The fact is, we don’t have the information from the other side. What we need is a bilateral discussion. Deny these requests so Tecce has to come and talk to us.”
As the meeting crept past midnight and both sides finished articulating their stances, the meeting adjourned with the board deciding to reexamine all of the material at hand before casting a vote. The next meeting will be held on July 9.