Deal reached on HS auditorum dispute

Township, school district agree, but Zoning Hearing Board must approve variance

By Mike McGann, Editor,

A tentative deal to end a dispute over the height of the new auditorium at Unionville High School is place, pending approval from the East Marlborough Zoning Hearing Board.

EAST MARLBOROUGH — Those of you hoping a wrecking ball might be lurking to tear down the new auditorium at Unionville High School are going to be disappointed, but those fearing a long, costly, protracted legal battle over the height of the building might be a bit more satisfied.

Thursday night, the township and the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District announced they had a reached an agreement that should lead to the resolution of the issue, assuming it is approved by the township’s Zoning Hearing Board. The parties announced the deal during the continuation of a Zoning Hearing Board hearing on enforcement of township complaints that the new auditorium violates the township’s zoning height restriction.

The district agreed to file for a variance to the local zoning, and the township asked for a couple of conditions, no additional signage or lighting and some landscaping adjustments — but is supporting the variance application. With the stipulation of facts — basically, both sides agreed to make a joint presentation to the Zoning Hearing Board to seek the variance — the Zoning Hearing Board has the right to deny or grant the variance and add any conditions it sees fit to the variance.

One immediate issue that was brought by ZHB members: fire protection. The original 35-foot height limit — common in local towns — was driven by concerns that local fire companies lacked the appropriate equipment to fight fires on taller buildings. ZHB member John Laffey made it clear that he was concerned that the 58-foot auditorium could be a fire protection issue and that he would have trouble voting for the variance if the district could not show that local fire companies could deal with the building.

Although no formal evidence was presented Thursday night, school and township officials were expected to have discussions with both the Longwood Fire Company and the Kennett Fire Company, both of which have 75-foot ladder trucks.

Po-Mar-Lin, the closest fire company to the high school building, but only marginally closer than Longwood, doesn’t have any such equipment, but mutual aid agreements between the various fire companies and townships usually lead to multiple fire companies responding to fires. Also, it was noted the upper portions of the auditorium are strictly for lighting rigging and scenery — no one would likely ever be higher than the balcony level of the building, which is far lower than 35 feet.

Both sides expressed confidence that the fire protection concerns could be fully addressed, with additional information to be sent to the Zoning Hearing Board in the next week or so.

Assuming the ZHB grants the variance, the building will only need to pass final township inspections to be granted a certificate of occupancy — allowing it to be used for the coming school year. If the variance is rejected, it seems unlikely that the school district would be able to use the auditorium at the start of the school year, as the dispute would likely move to the courts.

The Zoning Hearing Board is expected to announce a decision on Aug. 1, prior to the normal Township Supervisors meeting.

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One Comment

  1. K Harman says:

    How does the School District get all the way through construction and not know that the building violates the zoning? It seem like the architect made a major mistake and should be financially responsible to the District for professional errors and omissions. Is there any plan to recover from the architect?

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