Newlin residents seeing red over eye doctor

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Newlin Green residents push zoning hearing board hearing into near chaos

By Mike McGann, Editor, The Times

The 1890s farmhouse on Route 842 that Dr. Lonnie Luscavage is hoping to expand to house her ophthalmology practice in Newlin. Neightbors from the Newlin Green neighborhood are objecting.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — While a local ophthalmologist hopes to open a practice in Newlin, her would-be neighbors are seeing red over concerns about traffic, lighting — and apparently, the alleged possibility of some eye patients being pedophiles — leading to long-term changes for the neighborhood which straddles Route 842, they say.

Dr. Lonnie Luscavage would like to move her practice, currently in Chadds Ford, to the small strip of Newlin along 842, between Pocopson and East Marlborough. Last night, before a hearing of the township’s Zoning Hearing Board, she was seeking special exceptions to expand a 19th Century farmhouse — a building currently used as a Real Estate sales office.

Typically ZBH hearings are largely technical in nature, as applicants seek to prove whether their project qualifies for variances or special exceptions. However, Thursday night’s meeting was jammed packed in the old Po-Mar-Lin fire hall, filled with neighbors from the Newlin Green development, objecting to Luscavage’s plans to add a 625-square foot extension to the 2,300-square-foot building. The addition would sit behind the house, relative to Route 842, with Newlin Green’s sewage pump house between the property and the southern half of the neighborhood.

Under township’s zoning laws, any commercial use is considered a special exception, located as all Newlin property is in a Flexible Rural Development zone. Applicants must prove that their plan meets the requirements to be granted such status. Although variance applications were part of the public notice, it appears that the project will not require them, as even with the addition, the new proposed footprint meets all setback and permeable ground standards.

Leading the objections was Caroline Haas, president of the Newlin Green Homeowners Association, who listed numerous concerns about parking and traffic along Route 842.

She sought and was granted status a party to the proceeding — which allows for questioning and presentation of witnesses, along with

Dr. Lonnie Luscavage

Newlin Green residents Alan Shelley, Ton DeVries, James Nolan, Chris Close, Richard Zimet, Tami Zubillaga, and Dr. Roger Ammon, an optometrist who lives in Newlin Green.

The questioning became stormy and a chaotic at times, after Luscavage’s attorney, Lauren Milks, gave way to the residents with “party” status. ZBH chair James Tupitza and board solicitor Ross Unruh had to repeatedly remind the resident inquisitors to stick to areas under the board’s consideration, specifically the continued non-conforming use of the property.

The questioning that was deemed relevant to the application largely focused on parking and traffic. Luscavage testified that there was currently seven traditional parking spots — one for handicapped people — as well as a garage. She estimated that she sees a maximum of 20 patients per day, estimating 40 as a typical weekly total for three days of operation, and has a staff of four part time employees.

Both Luscavage and her architect, Jeff Lenehan, confirmed that no traffic study had been done on the impact of moving her practice to the location.

Things veered further toward chaos when Zimet, citing the number of children living in the Newlin Green neighborhood, asked Luscavage whether her patients were screened for criminal backgrounds and whether she could offer any assurance that none of her patients were pedophiles — a question again ruled as not being relevant to the proceedings.

The final point of dispute came over the current use of the building, and whether all of it was used for business. The township’s zoning ordinance caps expansion to 50% of the existing use. Currently, the building is used by Cope Homes — the builder of Newlin Green and other area housing developments. Newlin Green residents disputed whether Cope was actually using the entire space for conducting business — but none of the space in the building was rented or sublet and apparently various parts of the building were used at different times for business operations of Cope Homes over the last decade. There was no residential use of the building since at least 1999.

Because of the length of questions, the hearing was suspended after two and a half hours and will resume Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. in the old Po-Mar-Lin firehall. Hass sought to push it back a week, arguing that she and her neighbors had been unable to find an attorney to represent them in the proceedings. But Tupitza, a well-known real estate attorney himself, suggested that it was likely many Chester County attorneys willing to take the case and the furthermore appropriate notice for last night’s hearing — along with enough time to secure legal representation — had already been given.

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