are zoning overlays right for quaker hill?

Apparently on Saturday, the Hickman Friends Senior community will have a neighborhood block party, complete with a band. That is nice and very pro-community BUT in the Borough of West Chester there is also an upcoming ordinance hearing involving them on July 15th.  I have to be honest I don’t feel so charitable about that.

Note  this isn’t any old zoning variance, it is one of those infamous zoning overlays (I have an email from the honestly very nice people at Hickman on this). And the thing about these zoning overlays when they get added to the zoning code is that they can be applied to other areas of a community. They aren’t frozen in time and space over a couple blocks ONLY. Once they are there and on the books, they  can be applied elsewhere.

 If you want to see what a train wreck these kinds of overlays are in other communities look no further than all the infighting which has been occurring for years on the Main Line over them. Also in some cases (like Lower Merion Township where former Borough of West Chester Manager Ernie McNeely is now Township Manager) what has happened as far as actual development has been nothing but fighting and constant requests for amendments on these “zoning overlays” of mixed use nightmares AND each subsequent set of building plans seems worse than the last and each plan more horrific.

In my humble opinion these overlays are equivalent to special treatment of developers and well, residents in the path of these? They don’t get anything out of this deal except increased density and more parking issues, generally speaking.


I always thought the Sunshine Laws required a 30 day notice, but the public signs around this area in West Chester reportedly only went up on July 4th weekend and how does that work? Selective sunshine or something? West Chester would be better served by doing proper notifications but this is also one of the oldest tricks up municipal sleeves isn’t it?  Shove through important changes in the dead of summer when no one is around or around the holidays at other times of the year?

At the opening of the post above is a rendering of the new building design which has people feeling uncomfortable which will require razing the Hickman’s original 19th century buildings ( Sharpless  Hall after the Hickman’s two female Quaker founders)


The proposed three story structure will supposedly  NOT have underground parking, but supposedly no off-street parking will be permitted? How will that work? I don’t have a horse in this race and I fortunately don’t live in the Borough of West Chester , but this whole Hickman situation seems a little hinky. And I feel quite badly saying that because the people are very nice and their hearts are in the right place because they want to be able to serve their residents more effectively, but this plan is BIG and well, it just seems like the wrong fit for the area in which they wish to place it. At least with the current design.


This project will as proposed take up a large part of the Hickman property and I guess involves also somehow the Friends School and the Friends Meeting House (which owns the 1920 Colonial Revival building not shown in these photos)? Numerous trees will be razed including a very large heritage oak tree?  I thought big old trees like that were supposed to be protected?


OK look. You can’t save every old house or old structure. I am a realist. But this part of the borough known as Quaker Hill has a very unique history, and a lot of the history is told through the buildings, right? Wouldn’t an adaptive reuse of some sort in part be more appropriate? The design I’m looking at looks like an amusement park rendition of Colonial America as seen through the eyes of a developer who really has no feel for architectural integrity. I’m looking at this drawing, I have to ask where are the setbacks and human scale? This looks like another new building that is going to hulk over streets with a small town and historic feel.


I also can’t pretend that I think the whole idea of another community getting another giant  zoning overlay added to their zoning code is progress. I think it’s more like dangerous.

In the interest of full disclosure, the people at the Hickman have invited me to come take a tour of the facility. And I plan to do that but I haven’t had the time just yet. And I know they won’t like me writing this blog post, but I’m sorry I don’t like the zoning overlays and what they do to communities. I do appreciate how they care for their residents. I also respect the Quaker values on which they were founded. I really do.  BUT they are located in a very historic area of West Chester and I think they should be more preservation minded.