Twp. officials fire back on high school height dispute

E. Marlborough says Unionville schools trying to ‘flat-out distort’ language in HS auditorium appeal

By Mike McGann, Editor,

The nearly completed auditorum for Unionville High School is the center of a dispute between school and township officials over the height ofthe building.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — The township has issued a formal response to claims by the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District that an enforcement notice citing Unionville High School’s new auditorium as being higher than township ordinance allows is entirely valid — and it pulls no punches, suggesting that the district is attempting “shift the blame” for the issue onto the township when it was aware of height restrictions and that the district is attempting to “put the English language on its head.”

Written by township solicitor Fronefield Crawford, the memorandum attempts to discredit claims earlier this week in an appeal filed by the school district that a township notice of enforcement was defective and should be withdrawn. The district claims, among other issues, that the township ordinance for Educational, Scientific and Institutional District (ESI) would allow a building limited to either three stories or 35 feet in height, while the township contends that the meaning of the ordinance is clear.

“This component of the District’s Memorandum is just a flat-out distortion of the English language,” the hearing memorandum to the townships’ Zoning Hearing Board states.  “Section 1103.H specifies that “no building … shall exceed three (3) stories or thirty-five (35) feet in height.”  The building cannot exceed either one of the two requirements.  In fact, the District’s own land development plan focused on the 35-foot height limitation, stating that it would not be exceeded.  Clearly, the District understood that it would be required to meet both the three-story limitation and the 35-foot limitation.”

The township also took issue with district claims that East Marlborough officials were aware of the height of the building early in the design process.

“It is beyond cavil that the Township was well aware, early on, of what the project would look like and, particularly, the height of the auditorium.” said the school district’s appeal.

Crawford, writing for the township, makes it clear officials in East Marlborough do not agree.

“The Township strongly disputes this statement,” the memo states. “To the contrary, there were two formal processes by which the District submitted plans for Township review.  The first was the land development plan approval process, in which the District’s engineer asserted that the building would not exceed 35 feet in height; the second was the Zoning Hearing Board application and Order, which was silent with regard to the height or vertical component of the District’s plans.”

The township does admit that the district did file plans in June, 2010, noting the height of the building, but that was only in seeking a building permit and whether the structure met building code, not whether it complied with zoning ordinances.

“The District later submitted a set of building plans to the Township Building Inspector, Eddie Caudill (Caudill also serves as a Township Supervisor),” the memo states. “The plans were submitted and reviewed in the context of an application for a building permit, and Mr. Caudill reviewed the plans in that context alone.  In hindsight, the plans revealed that the height of the auditorium component of the building would be approximately 60 feet.  Consequently, it is a fair statement that the District, although never raising the height issue with the Township Engineer, the Township Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors or the Zoning Hearing Board in the context of land development approval or zoning relief, did not attempt to hide the size of the building from the Building Inspector.  A building permit was issued for construction of the building, based upon Mr. Caudill’s review of the Building Code attributes of the plans.  At no time prior to the issuance of the building permit did the Township Planning Commission or the Board of Supervisors (or individual members of the Board other Mr. Caudill as Building Inspector) review the building plans.”

Still, the township makes it clear that it is not seeking to have the district tear down or modify the building, but rather file for a variance with the Zoning Hearing Board.

“The Township does not seek as a remedy the removal of the portion of the building above 35 feet,” the memo states. “That said, the purpose of the Enforcement Notice is not simply to “compel the District to go through” a useless exercise.  To the contrary, now that the Township is aware of the violation of the Zoning Ordinance, it cannot issue an occupancy permit until the zoning violation has been remedied by the grant of relief by the Zoning Hearing Board. The Zoning Hearing Board is the body that has the authority to resolve the issues and, of course, that is the Board’s function.”

The Zoning Hearing Board is scheduled to resume its hearing on the matter, July 7.

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