Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Suburban Political Machines

     I love Downingtown and the flavor of old time mixed in with modern.  I love that there are thriving businesses that bring revenue into the town and that there are still "mom and pop shops" that are open sometimes under their own steam.  What I don't like is residents that have a bit of power and abuse that power.

     I'll admit that I am biased about some things that go on in town.  I am really biased when it comes to my husbands employer, but with good reason.  Robert's Automall has been a fixture in this town for 25 years and yet tonight the dance that they had to do to revamp their two remaining showrooms on the parcel of land that they own was incredible and embarrassing to say the least.  Robert's successfully went before the zoning board and made sure that they had dotted all their "I's" and crossed all their "T's" before what should have been a final compliance meeting with the Planning Commission.  Yet that is not what it was.  In fact little was said by any commission member other than Mr. Steve Henning.  A few valid operating comments were made by Sean Lawrence, but by and large it was Mr. Henning's show and I am sure everyone could see that his intent was to not give Robert's the go-ahead with their plans to redo both showrooms and make the lot look that much more pleasing to the eye, but still maintain an operating business in the borough.  In fact it becomes quite plain that if it were an option for Mr. Henning he would tell Robert's to get out of town.  A fact that is brought to bare in the Comprehensive Plan that goes before Borough Council soon. Of which a public meeting was conducted and NO changes were made, not even those recommended by the Historic and Parks Commission, in writing, which is an entity of the borough.  

     It is quite obvious from a listeners point of view that Mr. Henning has no comprehension as to how a car dealership is run and how they conduct business.  It is quite clear that he wants HIS way or the highway.  Well all fine and good, but is Mr. Henning willing to subsidize each Downingtown resident when their taxes go up because a LARGE revenue producing business leaves the borough to your landscaping and aesthetics?  I understand compliance with building standards in the borough, but I also understand communities coming together to make a business viable and running so that a long time staple in town can continue to operate within the limits they have complied with.

     I will say that I could not sit any longer and watch and listen to the machinations of this commission once they decided to table the go ahead to discuss "what they could control" which was the landscaping.  I wonder when the living walls will come to bear again.  What did surprise me is that  Sarah Peck who is a developer who is presently in litigation over Kardon Park thought that it was her place to speak directly to Joe Dwyer general manager of Robert's and tell him that she knew better what Honda would do than he did.  She said that she saw other Honda showrooms that did not conform to Honda's image.  Well bully for you Ms. Peck, but when did you become part of the planning commission and when were you given free reign to discuss another business owner's business?  Yet when Ann Feldman wished to ask a question she was originally shot down.  Regardless of your feelings about Ms. Feldman's stance on Kardon Park, why was Ms. Peck given free reign to bash Joe Dwyer and tell him in not so many words that he didn't know what he was talking about when she is a developer and NOT part of an automotive franchise, planning commission, nor an interested party and Ms. Feldman who is on Borough Council was told NO?  The other sticking point is why is Main Street Association even involved in any aspect of what is determined for Robert's? 

    Be careful Mr. Henning you may get your wish and Robert's tells you where to put your landscaping and moves out of the borough and it would serve you right and those who listen to your arguments.  In fact it would serve Mr. Henning right to be the reason that Downingtown residents find that their taxes have gone up exponentially not just to cover services in the Borough, but because of Henning's Folly.  Let's hope that Borough Council has more insight into what it takes to keep Downingtown thriving, not living walls and pretty bushes, but actual money.


  1. How sad is it when one of the largest businesses in Downingtown, who has been a resident for over 25 years is treated so badly by their OWN TOWN !!!!

    How can the members of this “ planning commission” talk so poorly to a business who wants to make the place look nicer ??!!! This is nuts.

    You want people to invest in our town and in the same breath make it hard for them to make it happen. “Chew but don’t swallow, Look but don’t touch, Smile but don’t laugh” all the while businesses are scrambling to comply to all of these “attachments” and then they finally realize it is not worth it to invest in Downingtown, or Decide to leave, or not even open in the first place.
    I fear the planning commission is going to give our town a horrible reputation among people wanting to open up a business or develop in our own town. (Unless your Sara Peck who does not even live here in Downingtown)

    Residents are tired of the tax hikes each year !!! I have personally walked the streets at the West end of this town, spoken to over 300 residents and all of them are sick of the tax increases. Then one of the largest tax generating businesses in the borough wants to make the place look better and you want to drive them out (as stated in the comprehensive plan) Think of how much our taxes will jump if Roberts decides to move shop ??? Come on Steve Henning your supposed to lure businesses into this town, make it attractive for them. Not see how much you can discourage them, or suck them dry. We wonder why the shops are not full on main street.


    1. You wrote:
      "I fear the planning commission is going to give our town a horrible reputation among people wanting to open up a business or develop in our own town. (Unless your Sara Peck who does not even live here in Downingtown)"

      I don't think it's just the planning commission. I think there are 'leaders' with specific agendas and the rest are 'lemmings' who are just doing what they are told or are 'following their leader."

      Why was Peck there? Was there talk about her stupid development in Kardon park? Maybe she's hoping to get her hands on the Automall's land for mixed use development!
      Pewck doesn't live here. She does want to buy up as much of the land as possible!


  2. Elaine, I agree with you!
    There ARE ‘mom & pop’ shops still open in town. And it riles me too, when I see ordinarily nice people change their character, personal and moral thinking after they become Council member or Council president, or District Court Judge, etc.
    It could be that the person is being carefully manipulated by others or that the newly elected or assigned person just feels the assumed power of the job….and has his own agenda …and feels he can say anything he wants and doesn’t care how it’s being said.

    Well, ,,,kinda sorta. While I haven’t been to many Planning Commission meetings, the ones that I have attended, I’ve seen Mr. Henning ruling over them with subtle manipulation. There have been nasty statements spoken quite smoothly: Robert’s Automall is “not in the future plans for the Borough” (or something similar to that)

    Did he really say that? YES, and much more in damning, sharp barbs directed at Robert’s manager. He did not imply anything. He DID say Roberts Automall is not in the future plans for the Borough.

    But IS HE WORKING ALONE? I mean, the Borough Engineer certainly has done some of his own manipulations with DEP to get certain projects approved…. You don’t think any of the current or previous members of Council have any part of this negative campaign to remove businesses that have been around for many years, do you? (HA!) Perhaps they have been manipulated by a ,,,ummm…

    Actually, no matter how wrong it was for Ms Peck to speak up and to speak for so long, she did have a decent idea regarding landscaping. Of course, she started out by mentioning other Honda franchises’ buildings being something different. When she suggested that Mr. Dwyer should go to Honda and Subaru with a variation of their plans that would fit better within the Borough, Mr Dwyer asked her, “Do you know if Honda had approved those buildings put up by other franchises?” Ms Peck said, ‘No, I didn’t think to ask that question.”

    Ms Feldman did get her chance to speak. She interrupted Henning. She had a question for him. She asked Henning…If you had to make a choice of only two options, one, to keep the buildings that are there now or, two, build a new and up-to-date building? Henning was sly with his response…
    Well, that is the situation we’re in now….
    Ann asked again.
    He finally said he’d prefer to see new buildings.

    Elaine, if you had stayed, you would have stormed out of the room! Henning, it seems, doesn’t want River Station East or West to survive either!

    Now, I do have problems with parts of the project too, but certainly don’t want to stop it from happening. There was some talk about the Boot Road Bridge over the Brandywine. Ms. Rossi and whoever it was sitting next to Tom Yuhas, both said that the Boot Road extension is not a necessary part of River Station. Even after Henning said that the traffic will be terrible in the area if it’s not built, they both disagreed with him.


  3. It got worse tonight in the council meeting when River Station was brought before council. A daycare was an issue along with the apartments that are proposed for the East Side of River Station. While council seemed not to be able to comprehend that it was a motion to advertise with intent to adopt for the ordinance while the daycare was in the picture they could comprehend that it was a motion to advertise with intent to adopt once the daycare had been excluded. I ask why it was ok for the motion once the daycare was taken out of the mix and that they did not "need more information" about the apartments, but they did for the daycare. The duplicity amazes me and I am certainly disappointed in the conduct of some who sit up there. The audience some of whom had no dog in this race understood it yet some of our elected officials appeared to play dumb until it suited their purpose.

  4. 25 years in the borough does not give a business carte blanche. Case in point, Georgio’s continues to have to meet standards and code before he can make any improvements to his property. Georgio’s even paid a very large price to meet the boroughs codes and standards. Georgio's has been in the borough for over 35 years.

    My opinion is, I don't think Roberts is going anywhere. If they threaten to do so (which I doubt, since they just purchased the entire corner)..., then asta la vista baby. They make too much money in this town. It would cost them more to move then to add landscaping to their plans.

    Mainstreet has every right to add their input; they are the ones that keep the borough from turning into an industrial parking lot. Roberts does need a face lift and landscaping is #1. We will not lose tax revenue if Roberts did decide to move out, another developer would come in and redevelop that entire block (maybe Sarah, that would make me very happy, she is the only developer who has built a development in the last 5/10 years that looks great and has great appeal).

    As a H&P member, you should be all for “Curb Appeal”. Roberts Honda is big enough in the borough and if they want to get bigger, maybe they should move out to Boot Rd. I am a taxpayer and that is my opinion.
    On another note, I only hope that if your husband is elected on council, that maybe then, you will understand what really is expected and how the process truly works. Like every other candidate, expect the worst and hope for the best, and just because you think you are, doesn’t mean that you are the smartest and most rational person in the borough. Or………. will your bias always point your pen in the direction that he is the smartest and most reasonable person on council. :)
    Be careful what you wish for!

  5. Caryn you accuse me of not knowing what I am talking about yet you expose your ignorance of taxable revenue and what it takes to run a business that is on the scale of Robert’s Automall, so let me meet you point to point.

    First of all carte blanche would never be given to a business in town now would it? Oh wait what about Molly McGuire’s who was let in under the KOZ, gets to apply for their liquor license under the KOEZ? Georgio’s whom you mentioned has to apply for his liquor license under the regulations that give him no special treatment and he is only 200 ft give or take from Molly’s. What about Firecreek? They were grandfathered into the KOZ with the agreement that they would help build a pedestrian bridge. Since their rating is extremely low on things such as YELP what will happen when their tax break is no longer viable? So no 25 years in the borough does not offer them carte blanche but it does afford them more effort put forth from all the commissions involved if said business wishes to make improvements.

    You don’t think Robert’s is going anywhere? Did you consult your crystal ball? Did you speak to Bruce Toll yourself? There is a very attractive piece of land that may be available in West Whiteland part of which is already owned by Mr. Toll, so I would think if the rest can be purchased it would be more business friendly than D’town borough has been. I am not sure where making too much money in this town constitutes a reason to hate them. Are they to be in business to be broke? So you are telling me that if Molly’s starts making too much money that it would be best for it to go? What about Station Taproom? Kimberton Whole Foods? The list could go on. You seem to be really against businesses doing what they are supposed to do which is make money and bring revenue into the borough.

    What I really would like you to tell me is how a mixed use development in a short amount of time will bring in taxable revenue that is even close to approx. $90,000,000.00 per year. So you really think that a housing development and possible retail on that small lot would bring in that much taxable revenue in the first year or so that it is completed? Not to mention the money that would not be coming in while it’s being built? Developers seeding the borough bank accounts for a year or two does not make up for the long term loss that would be suffered by the residents of D’town unless you plan on kicking in for the deficit.

  6. Continued.....

    Industrial parking lot? How could D’town possibly be an industrial parking lot? The only way that happens is if an INDUSTRY comes in and Robert’s is far from that. I know you do not like the fence that Robert’s had to have erected but let me give you a little background on why it was done in the first place. Robert’s was a sponsor of Good Neighbor Day for quite awhile, however Downingtown and the surrounding municipalities’ residents showed that “good neighbor” does not extend to the surrounding businesses. Robert’s would sustain on average $15,000 in insurance claims due to people driving through the lot and scraping cars after attending the festivities. Kids riding skateboards and bikes would run into cars, people walking by would key them and people would bring blankets and set up their little spots in pick-up truck beds to watch the fireworks. Once those cars are damaged they can no longer be sold as new. So tell me Caryn when your car is parked while you are at work and someone damages your car it would be ok?

    As for being on H&P curb appeal is important, but since Robert’s is not in the historic overlay nor a park H&P has no say and shall keep out of the proceedings as should other entities that have no business sticking their noses in where they don’t belong.

    I hope that Tony can be elected to council. If you were present last night (now that I think about it when was the last time you were at a council meeting or planning commission meeting?) you would have seen the embarrassing moments perpetrated by some on council and some who just sit there. We are NOT a business friendly town. Accusations of rushing projects that have been in front of council for over 7 years, businesses trying to make their footprint that much more appealing and can’t because of the arrogance of some, and elected officials that willing pass the buck when called on the carpet, but feel it’s their duty to air backroom politics that they perpetrated in front of everyone hoping to garner support. If the residents of the west end see fit to have him on the ballot and further elect him maybe some quiet reasoning can occur, because heaven knows he has more patience than I to suffer the fools gladly that have their priorities for the borough skewed.

    1. Great! Elaine, Caryn, I think the exchange of “tit for tat” was excellent! I also think that Elaine should have started a new rant instead of tacking it here as a comment.

      I thought I heard muffled laughs in the back of the council chambers. Mr. Malle, after an hour of ‘ring around the silly comments,’ voiced his impatience. For the first time, I heard Mr. Winkler change his tone of voice when he added his two cents of frustration with Council. Ms. Feldman FINALLY got to say, on record, that she rarely gets to speak her opinion at a regular council meeting. Chip must have bitten his tongue until after the Recorder had finished with the session. Yes, even while she was packing up her gear, he wasted no time interrupting Ms. Feldman, stopping her from saying anything about other topics on the agenda. I was surprised that, when Ms. Feldman was able to talk, everyone listened.

      I think Mr. Rakoff asked a few good questions, and Cara made statements that… .hmmm… probably made her feel important. PLEASE NOTE: THESE STATEMENTS ARE STRICTLY MY OPINION.

      As for duplicity…if it hadn't been for one stupid comment by one and quickly hidden by another**, would we have known about the hallway, back room, phone call conversation and/or ‘handshake’ agreements/deals, and the lack of ethics and Sunshine Act? I think we've known about them for a long time…or at least since 2006.
      ** I wonder if that statement and quick response will be in the official transcript.. Hope so! Enough residents heard it.

      Regarding other matters mentioned:
      Georgio’s. He has had to jump through unnecessary hoops for both Council and Planning Commission for quite a few years. IN MY OPINION, he was given incomplete information he needed to request a change, apply for a permit and whatever else the Borough might do – or not do – just to watch the man get frustrated and angry.

      Roberts’. Doesn't the Roberts name go back a few hundred years in the Borough? Why would they want to move? On the other hand, Penn. Ave. is not on a ‘main street with other major businesses in surrounding municipalities. So, why wouldn't they consider moving if the Borough Monkeys continue to stall their plans for expansion?

      But Roberts’ is not the only major business the current (and previous) Council wants to go elsewhere. Take a look at the Comprehensive Plan which is available on the Borough’s website. Oh….it’s not the updated version. But the maps were changed…in some cases, incorrectly. Chapter 5, page 5.7. Below is a copy/paste of three items:

      Roberts Auto Mall
      Roberts Auto Mall is a long-time job provider and business fixture in downtown Downingtown.that is interested in staying and upgrading its property there. However, from a longer run, land use planning perspective, the Borough hopes eventually to attract a mix of residential, retail and office uses to this high-profile downtown site.

      Wallace Avenue
      Downingtown recognizes that this corridor is under utilized and that it has potential for higher and better uses as an extension of the downtown.

      Milltown Square Area
      Suggestions from the Borough’s 2004 Urban Center Revitalization Plan include rebuilding Armor Alley, constructing a raised crosswalk at Mill Road, and providing on-street parking on the west sides of Green Street and Wallace Avenue. Eventual redesign and/or reuse of the fast food pad site so that it better complements the Borough’s traditional site design and architectural patterns would also be desirable.

      Now, look at Chapter 5 page 5.9
      Consider what is on BOTH SIDES of Wallace Ave from Lancaster Ave north to Norwood Road.
      Consider what’s on the corner of Lancaster and Green. Consider also where Armour Alley is located and what business would be affected by its reconstruction.

      On more thing: It's time to vote out the quasi-leaders and lemmings on Council. Bring in people who, so far, have not been affected by other people's personal agendas.


    2. Pat I agree and I probably should have done another blog, but I got started and kept going lol. It is time to vote out the quasi leaders on council and vote in people who are not part of the good old boys club (which includes women) and get fresh new blood in there. After 12 years I think it's time to give it up. Everything gets moldy and old after awhile and the fact that "it's the way we always do it" has become the mantra tells me that time's up! At times the same people were doing the same jobs over and over again, because there were no other volunteers, but now people are starting to see that if they step up to the plate that great things can happen. I for one would like D'town to become a borough that is business friendly to more than just places to have a beer or 5 after work or wine with dinner. I also would like to see less of a heavy handiness in how certain businesses are given special treatment. I can't say that my husband will do it right every time, because on his best day he is human, but I know that he is willing to stand up for what the residents have made known to him and not back down when another gives into their leader complex and tries to shut him down. Tony was in the army and knows how to follow orders, but he also knows how to fight for the rights of others instead of his own agenda.

  7. Elaine, I really would love to have this conversation with you face to face. I try to state my opinion, but I am certainly not the writer you are. I am wondering if you would be this cutting in person. I am insulted by your accusation of my ignorance. I am not sure that at any point I mentioned hating Roberts. ROBERTS is a very good neighbor to Downingtown. They are very community oriented. They are advertised on all the borough trucks ,. Do I like the fence? No. Do I understand why it is there? YES! Did I need you to tell me why? NO! Do I think that ROBERTS needs to expand to the corner? NO. Just my opinion. They do own the property in West Whitland, and from my understanding they were planning on expanding on that property. What happened to that plan? Does the fact that you might be sitting down having a conversation with Bruce Toll impress me? NO. I am sure that he has a lot of time to sit down with you and hash out all of boroughs plans, codes and ideas. Who needs lawyers, engineers, building contractors and designers when he has you to consult? Why does the planning commission even have a committee when they have you that knows best!
    Do I have a problem with business making money? NO, I do most of my shopping in town. In fact my family and I make it a practice to patronize all the small borough business from Maxwell to Roberts. Do I need to be present at a council meeting to know what is going on? HELL NO, that is why I exerciser my right to vote. I can also read the minutes on line. If I feel the need to express my opinion, I have no problem talking with a council person. Have I seen improvement in the borough since the KOZ? YES. What is your problem with the KOZ? Are we a business friendly town? In my opinion YES, compared to WC, and Coatesville. What are you comparing it to? What is your problem with Molly McGuires and FireCreek? Both of those properties were in the KOZ and part of the revitalization plan. If I am not mistaking the tax break is what enticed these business into opening up in the borough.
    Do I think that you needed to write and stand on the side of Roberts, because your husband and son work their? YES! Would you be writing this same tune if they weren’t working there? Would you even be addressing this if they weren’t employed at Robert? I think not, but you would say yes, because you have to!
    I do think that Tony is a nice guy and if elected to council, he would do what was in the best interest of the borough and every one of the citizens he represents. He might enjoy the citizen watch groups in the back of the council meetings, and I am sure that he would not judge those that are not in attendance as uncaring.
    Do I feel I have wasted my time again, responding to your post? YES! You think I would learn that your blogs are just your opinion, that you have every right to, and that my disagreeing with you on any issue is just a waste of time!
    Do I have a crystal ball? YES! Stop by I would be happy to show it to you!

  8. Let’s face it Caryn if I said the sky was blue you would say it was purple. I don’t disagree with you on many points however, it appears that you disagree with me just on principle. You accuse me of being cutting yet you take the same approach and then back pedal when I return the favor.
    I would come to the aid of any business that was getting the short stick in this town especially if they were the largest revenue producer around. I sat in a long protracted council meeting last night because of the proposition to River Station and the Comprehensive Plan was to be discussed. You may read the minutes from council meetings and that is more than many do, but it doesn’t give you the insight as to what goes on as it is basically a recap in its shortest form.
    So tell me who would have bought out Mr. Kring when he could no longer keep his businesses running? It could very well have been what I fear is going to happen to the old train station if they ever get their ducks in a row, which will be an eyesore. So you would prefer that? How does that help the neighborhood or make it more attractive for residents and transients?
    You complained about the fence on numerous times and that is why I told you the reasons behind it. As for talking to Mr. Toll I don’t have the audacity that some do to think that my opinion means any more than any other resident in town to him or anyone else, nor did I infer that I had spoken to him at all. The things that you accuse me of in this paragraph are the same things that could very well be said about you. You don’t seem to understand that disagreeing with unreasonable requests by committees and commissions are part of the process. If you don’t like what I have to say don’t read what I write.
    Exercising your right to vote is something that more people need to do, but it doesn’t guarantee that those you elected into office will do what you had hoped they would do. That has been proven time and time again from local politics to national, so it is your duty as a citizen of D’town to show up at council meetings if there is an issue that you wish to be heard on instead of waiting till the after effects.

  9. It has been said even by council members that we are NOT a business friendly town. I have no issue with Firecreek or Molly’s running their businesses what I do have a problem with is preferential treatment of some and not of others. It very well might have been the KOZ tax cut that enticed them to town, but what about the businesses that have been here for much much longer who get the short end of the stick? How is that fair? How is that good business? Wink wink and nudge nudge and you get to not pay taxes for X amount of years, but the people across the street do. That’s backroom slimy political maneuvering.
    My husband is the only one who works for Robert’s but regardless of that I know for a fact that businesses that give back to the community need to know that citizens have their backs. As I said any large revenue contributor deserves to have everyone trying to help the situation and point out errors in judgment of commissions and boards. Small businesses need their champions too and I would be willing to go to bat for many in the borough. I believe that D’town has the potential to be absolutely great, but when things like River Station are slowed down and Robert’s are given grief when trying to make things better happen it’s not going to work.
    I think I know my husband better than you, but he does see the lack of commitment among many citizens and he would like to see more people at council meetings, getting involved in commissions, volunteering at the borough level and even events such as National Night Out and work to get improvements in parks. You cannot expect things to get done if you aren’t willing to be boots on the ground. It is always the same people and therefore many things get overlooked, shunned and simply not done because the same few can’t keep up and the newer who have resolved to get involved have a hard time breaking through the “It’s the way it’s always been done.” An Example would be residents requesting that the basketball court be redone in Johnsontown Park. A meeting was scheduled and yet no one save 6 commissioners from Historical and Parks showed up. Whether you were for it or against it that is not what it should be all about.
    As for waste of time disagreeing with me, go ahead, do it any time you like, I will meet you on even ground and maybe a compromise can be met, but when you take it to a personal level then expect the same in return.