Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Phoenixville Library - Second Avenue closing goes before Council

The library board's presentation to Phoenixville Borough Council on Wednesday evening is a prime example of placing the cart before the horse in this attempted expansion project.

A rush to approval on an neighborhood altering expansion such as this does not take into consideration many questions and factors which must be asked, answers received and adjudicated, and problems resolved.

The "jump-the-gun" manner in which the library board sought and received support from local, county, and state entities was completed early and quickly. This action gave neighbors no opportunity to voice their oppostion to the expansion.

Many viable alternatives have been offered to disrupting and changing forever the complexion, safety, quality of life, and property values in the neighborhoods adjacent to the library. The offered alternatives were never publically examined by the library board, leaving the neighbors with the same impression David must have had when facing Goliath.

Using the description provided by the Phoenix from the library's presentation, "...the construction of new facilities to its south would provide in total some 33,000 gross square feet of interior space, to include an expanded children's library, new young adult collections space, enlarged computer services areas and an instructional center, and expanded public information, meeting and activity areas...", one can realize the added attractions, in addition to already established programs at the library, will produce chaos, traffic, and parking problems for the entire area surrounding the library."

Currently, the library AND our little neighborhood receives over 200,000 visits per year.

Why would the library board exacerbate an already obvious problem by building an expansion of this magnitude?

The library will attract more visitors every year.

The library impact on the neighborhood is increasing every year.

The library has outgrown it's building.

It is time for a satellite library or a completely new campus.


Second Ave. closing goes before Council

Tuesday, March 24, 2009 8:32 AM EDT

By G.E. Lawrence

PHOENIXVILLE —Phoenixville Public Library Foundation officials will again come before Borough Council with plans for the library's expansion, beginning with a meeting of Council's Community Development Committee Wednesday evening.

But this time the Foundation's presentation will have a specific aim: Council's approval of relinquishing a portion of the Borough's Second Avenue right-of-way to accommodate the expansion.

The renovation of existing library facilities at Second and Main Streets — preserving the 1902 original Carnegie library in the process — and the construction of new facilities to its south would provide in total some 33,000 gross square feet of interior space, to include an expanded children's library, new young adult collections space, enlarged computer services areas and an instructional center, and expanded public information, meeting and activity areas, all according to Foundation presentation materials.

The project aims "to serve the demand of the community by providing larger collections and more information access" by which to address rapidly increasing "educational, cultural and recreational needs of the community," according to those same materials.

The current library's 6,600 square foot footprint would expand to include an additional 8,800 square feet across Second Avenue to the Reeves Park property line. A plaza has been designed for the Main Street frontage of the building.

The library would utilize that portion of Second Avenue from Main to Park Alley. Traffic on Second Avenue would remain two-way from Starr to B Streets, run one-way west to the library at Park Alley and one-way north on Park. Angled parking spaces are proposed along Main.

The impact of that closing on traffic patterns was studied by Rettew traffic engineers of Lancaster in the autumn of last year. The firm, in a report dated October 27, determined that the expansion, the Second Avenue closing and the reversal of one-way traffic on Park Alley "will not result in any level of service degradation" at nearby intersections.

In addition, Rettew noted that "this street closure will result in a direct connection between the library and Reeves Park, thus eliminating the need for pedestrians to cross traffic along Second Avenue and resulting in safer conditions for pedestrians."

Those studies did not meet the objections of some neighborhood residents. "It's the magnitude" of the expansion and its effects, said Second Avenue's Karen Johns. "Second will become a parking lot, and those traffic problems will be thrust out into adjacent neighborhoods."

Johns was "not convinced that emergency vehicles, especially ladder trucks, will be able to make that turn" at Park Alley. According to her research with realtors, she said, "property values would suffer."

But the facility expansion and street closing has been cleared by Police Chief William Mossman and, with design and utilities concerns satisfied, by Fire Chief Jim Gable, the first in a letter to Rettew's Adam Holzapple November 20, the second by memorandum to the Borough Planning Commission on December 8.

The Borough Planning Commission reviewed the proposal, and passed it on to Borough Council without recommendation. The Chester County Planning Commission, in a review completed November 3, regarded the site as an "urban landscape," and said that "primary community services, such as libraries, should be maintained or reestablished in the established centers of the urban landscape."

The project's conceptual plans received the support of area General Assembly and Congressional delegation members, from County Commissioners and from the Phoenixville Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The library has also received for the expansion project a gift of cash and securities valued in excess of $500,000 for the expansion project from an anonymous donor.

Foundation Secretary Adam Deveney said Monday that affirmative actions on the part of both the Community Development Committee and Council to vacate the required portion of Second Avenue "will allow our project to move forward through the standard review and approval process required by the Borough."



Karen said...

I received the following letter via email from Anthony DiGirolomo.


The Library Expansion: Who’s problem is it anyway?

Not the Borough’s. However it has been made to be one of the major issues facing our borough representatives for well over a year.

Let’s turn the clock back two years, with the Library Expansion Committee pitching their original idea of expanding into Reeves Park. This went over like a lead balloon and resulted in a plan similar to the current one coming before Borough Council. In their quest to push an expansion plan, the Library Committee secured the services of a retired bureaucrat to champion their cause; something that in itself is not necessarily bad; especially if said person has experience with library expansions.

The early meetings between the Borough Council and the Library Expansion Committee were dog-and-pony shows resulting in the Council members looking like a bunch of bobble headed figurines up for a half-price sale; no substantive questions were asked by the board nor was any effort made by the board to inquire into other “plans” or ideas or even for input from the other investors being The Phoenixville Area School District and Chester County Library System. Instead, the board accepted the “sky is falling” synopsis of the Expansion Committee without hesitation or any documented proof of due diligence.

You would think that since the School Board controls the property in question that they would be the entity pursuing this. However, they did not even discuss it until it was brought up at a later board meeting. Their support for the measure was amazing, not because of the merits of the plan, but for the fact that mostly everyone who liked the idea doesn’t even live in the borough. Thanks.

If we consider the owners of the property and “the community” they represent (Phoenixville, East Pikeland and Schuylkill Township), one could wonder why expansion of library services aren’t being considered in those areas. Additionally, if the current plan is the “only option” why not consider eminent domain; which the School District can do. If the library expansion project truly benefits the entire “community”, this hurdle can be overcome. If it doesn’t, is the closing of a public street in the Borough any more justified? If the goal is to increase library services, why not expand the library to satellite locations throughout the district; improving access to members of the “entire community”. What about the old Schuylkill Elementary School, the former steel site, or Franklin Commons? Planning an expansion based on “no new personnel” is somewhat commendable, but really doesn’t address the need of improved services if that expansion is not where the services are needed.

It seems to me that the current plan going before Borough Council is “the only plan” because that is the way it has been orchestrated to appear. I am not aware of any documentation that other sketches, locations or options were ever considered let alone put out for public consumption and review. The entire process was back-doored to those who represent the residents of the borough and are entrusted to govern, on our behalf, with the best interest of the community in mind. However, they alone worked out the dealtails; sorry, I mean details. And now “the only plan” is the one that the Expansion Committee chose to spend their money on. This is not the Borough’s problem.

We will hear that there has been plenty of opportunity for public opinion. This too was a very controlled exercise. How many of you were invited to individual homes of your neighbors for “a tea” to discuss the project? How many of you saw some of the elected members of Borough Council at these events? Where any members of the Planning Commission there?

This is the first occurrence that I am aware of where the people (elected officials) who are ultimately responsible to decide an application actually attended a meeting, not opened to the entire public, to show their support. How can we expect them to make an objective decision during the upcoming hearings on the matter? What’s left for them to hear or deliberate on? Why did the Planning Commission pass on making a recommendation? Maybe they weren’t invited for tea.

I highly doubt that the Library will pull out of a historic building with an attached endowment. If it’s a matter of funding, then the School District needs to weigh in.

Why not put a committee together that represents residents from the “entire community”? Include one School District member and one Council member; preferably if one can be found and hasn’t already promised their vote, people from each of the municipalities and areas, just in case residents from the North Side of the Borough need services closer to them? This was done with the Gay Street Bridge and although it added to the complexity of the project we now can see and appreciate the result.

The only need at this point is for the Library Expansion Committee to have the current sitting council vote on their plan because of the time, money and effort that THEY alone decided to put into it; especially to bring the votes they have so diligently been working toward to fruition.

I am not against expanding library services; I just think that there is a lot of work left undone to determine the most appropriate way to do so. Hopefully, after their heads stop bobbing our elected officials will realize that they have been guided to a desired resolution versus being presented with the facts and ordinances to come to an informed and defendable decision.

If it’s any consolation, at least the Borough Council members are consistent in putting the fun in dys”fun”ctional.

Anthony DiGirolomo
Resident of the Borough of Phoenixville

Karen said...

Thank you, Anthony!

Karen said...

I received the following letter via email from Brad Peck.


24 March 2009

TO: The Mayor and The Borough Council of Phoenixville

Reference: Proposed Library Expansion

Subject: Borough Council: Please Stand Up for the Rights of Reeves Park

I have read and heard about various concerns about the proposed library expansion. They seem to center on:

A pressing need of the library to expand (requesting to triple the floor space)

Concern to preserve the historical nature of the Carnegie building.

Various concerns of the local homeowners, particularly those who own homes on Second Avenue.

Vehicular traffic concerns with the closing of Second Avenue.

I believe all of the above are legitimate concerns; but I believe a concern that has not been addressed much, if at all, is protecting the interests of Reeves Park including the rights of our Borough, who owns this park for the “adornment” of Phoenixville, and the inhabitants of Phoenixville and citizens of Pennsylvania who have been granted the rights to use this park for their “recreation and enjoyment” and the use of the surrounding streets.

Reeves Park was created by three generous gifts of Phoenix Iron Company directed by their principle owners, the Reeves family as follows:

1. The streets that surround Reeves Park including Main Street and Second Avenue on land owned by Phoenix Iron Company who conceived and gave these streets to the Borough as confirmed by the Phoenix Iron Company map containing 258 acres and 148 perches made January 1872.

2. The Original Reeves Park of 3.237 acres bounded by Main and B Streets and Second and Third Avenues deeded to Phoenixville Borough in your name over 135 years ago on 31 December 1874.

3. The addition to Reeves Park of 3.37 acres bounded by the original park, Second and Third Avenues and Starr Street, deeded to the Borough in your name on 15 April 1924

The history of the Park started with the death of the much revered David Reeves, President of the Phoenix Iron Company on March 16, 1871. Soon after the employees of the company made a collection to build a monument to his memory “as an enduring proof of their love and veneration for him.” David’s son, the new President of Phoenix Iron, Samuel J Reeves, was asked to donate a park to place this statue. And the present site of the original Reeves Park was selected bounded by 2nd and 3rd Avenues, and Main and B Streets. The statue of David Reeves was placed there on Tuesday, January 9, 1872 This statue faces north toward the site of the Phoenix Iron Company works, and contains the inscription: “IN MEMORY OF DAVID REEVES, PRESIDENT OF THE PHOENIX IRON COMPANY, DIED MARCH 16TH 1874, AGED SEVENTY-EIGHT YEARS. ERECTED BY THE EMPLOYEES OF THE PHOENIX IRON COMPANY, AS A MARK OF THEIR RESPECT.” and on April 19, 1872 the first tree was planted by Richard Devaney and John O. K. Robarts.

The gift of this park to the Borough was confirmed on 31 December 1874 when the deed for this 3.237 acre park was delivered into the hands of the Levi B Kaler, Burgess of Phoenixville. This property is deeded in your name: “to The Burgess & Town Council of the Borough of Phoenixville”.

This deed placed on you, the mayor and Borough council, the following conditions:

“Upon Condition that the said piece parcel or lot of land hereby granted shall be maintained and used only as a public square or Park to be forever protected from unlawful invasions or trespasses by cattle or otherwise clear of all buildings of any sort or kind and properly laid out and kept in repair for the ornamentation of the Borough of Phoenixville and for the recreation and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the said Borough and all other citizens of this Commonwealth subject only to such regulations for the maintenance of good order as the authorities of the said Borough may provide; and upon the further condition that the statue of the late David Reeves erected and being upon said premises shall receive all needful care and protection and be forever maintained therein.”

Therefore I ask, as you consider and deliberate all the viewpoints and issues of the request to expand the library building across the two side walks and street comprising Second Avenue, that you also adhere to the conditions placed on you by the grantor of this park in their deed dated 31 December 1874 (conditions repeated almost word for word in their second deed for the park addition extending it to Star Street in 1924).

Please consider that the same grantor of the park land also owned nearly all of the lands in the vicinity of the park at the time of the park gift in the area bounded by Washington Street and Nutts Road between Main and Starr streets. Phoenix Iron Company had created the layout of the streets and subdivision of lots in their map of January, 1872. In other words the Phoenix Iron Company also gave the Borough the streets surrounding Reeves Park.

I encourage you to consider each portion of the conditions:

Condition A: “that the said piece parcel or lot of land hereby granted shall be maintained and used only as a public square or Park . . . “

I don’t believe there can be any question that The Phoenix Iron Company envisioned that the park would remain bounded by four streets. Some definitions for “Public Square” are:

1. “an open area at the meeting of two or more streets”

2. “An open space or area (approximately quadralateral and rectangular) in a town or city enclosed by buildings or dweling houses, especially of a superior or residential kind, frequently containing a garden or laid out with trees, etc; more generally, any open space resembling this, especially one formed at the meeting or intersection of two or more streets.”

Park is defined as “a bounded area of land, usually in its natural or semi-natural (landscaped) state and set aside for human recreation and enjoyment.” Note the word “bounded”. In the case of Reeves Park, it is bounded in the two deeds by the four streets mentioned – 30 feet from the centerline. The land of Reeves Park is defined as being on the east side of Main Street between Second and Third Avenues, 30 feet from the center line of the streets.

I believe that the grantor intended that the corners of the park would remain open and bounded by intersecting streets which were also granted by the same grantor. I believe that the proposed loss of one street corner certainly reduces the rectangular nature of the appearance of the park and some loss of definition as a “public square or Park”.

And if the street is no longer there - there is no centerline to measure from – only some point in the basement of the proposed library building.

In fact these streets were all once owned by the Phoenix Iron Company which included the land where the library was built.

Therefore I believe council is obligated to defend against any attempt to remove a portion of a bordering street.

Condition B: ” . . . .to be forever protected from unlawful invasions or trespasses by cattle or otherwise clear of all buildings of any sort or kind and properly laid out and kept in repair for the ornamentation of the Borough of Phoenixville and for the recreation and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the said Borough and all other citizens of this Commonwealth . . .”

B1: “forever” means just that; forever, not just until the year 2009.

B2: “clear of all buildings of any sort or kind and properly laid out”. I think that putting a building less than an inch away from the park does not fit with this statement both from being kept “clear of all buildings” and that the park should be “properly laid out.”

And even if the borough gives your neighbor the street between you, wouldn’t you deserve a reasonable setback between you? What happened to the common decency of setbacks for neighbors? What if you owned the park? Would you agree that your neighbor can build a multi story structure less than an inch from your property line?

B3: “ornamentation” means “to be adorned”. I submit that the elimination of street, the two sidewalks and the grasslands bordering the sidewalks detracts from the appearance, attractiveness, ambiance, visual effect, etc. of the park. Even though the library will not be built on the parkland per se, it certainly looks like an “invasion” of one of the 4 corners of the park.

We have been given concept views of the proposed building from the Main St. and Second Ave sides. What we don’t have are concept views of the back of the building as viewed from the park and looking west from Second Avenue.

B4: “recreation and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the said Borough and all other citizens of this Commonwealth . . .”

Don’t we need to provide complete access as the deeds state “for the recreation and enjoyment of the inhabitants of the said Borough and all other citizens of this Commonwealth”? You should insist on keeping the circling streets open. By closing Second Avenue at one corner of the park, we impinge on the ability for our enjoyment and recreation. If the attractiveness of the park is damaged then our enjoyment is reduced. Also recreation requires access to the park which is limited by the library expansion. Both in the loss of about 14 parking spaces alongside the park on Second Avenue and vehicular access to the north side of the park (there will be a net increase of about 6 spaces on Main Street by changing to slant parking – but 4 of these net additional spaces could be accomplished without closing Second Avenue).

This is not about closing Second Avenue. Closing implies stopping traffic from access. This is really about abolishing Second Avenue AND both sidewalks from Main Street to Park Alley.

From the concept drawings it appears that little or no thought has been given to pedestrian and handicapped access except the seventeen-step outside staircase pictured on the south side of the new library building in the master plan design concept.

Note the stairway around the Jaycees clock that now accesses the park will be eliminated so the only pedestrian access at the northwest corner will be these seventeen steps. Not very helpful for the enjoyment and recreation of all the mothers I see walking around the park with their strollers and baby carriages and for handicapped persons. Also pity all those who have used Second Avenue as their walkway to work, doctor’s office, etc. The only way I see to walk from Second Avenue to Main Street is through the park using its various stairways. And will these pathways through the park be as well maintained as the sidewalks - particularly during winter weather?

Legal Questions – I am not a lawyer, but has council obtained a legal review of this proposed action? Some questions I think need to be asked in addition to what has been discussed above are:

1. Per “The Phoenix”, 12 July 2008, George Martynick said: “If the Borough vacates [Second Avenue], half of it would go to [adjoining property owners] the Library and half to the Park."

How then, can the Phoenixville School District obtain the half of the street which would revert to Reeves Park. Also since this 15 foot strip of land between Main and Park is now part of the park, then I would assume the “clear of all buildings” clause of the Park deed would apply to the south half of Second Avenue.

2. How will the street and sidewalk property be deeded? Will it be deeded to the school district? If so, can the school district later sell this property to a third party? Can the school district be forced to grant the property back to the Borough?

3. What protection does the Borough have if the school district decides later to sell this property? Will the school district agree to pay to tear the building down to give the borough back our street and sidewalks?

4. Unlike the deeds for the park, there are no special conditions for the library property which was granted to Armory Coffin by The Phoenix Iron Company on 28 October 1889 and deeded by Armory Coffin to The Phoenixville School District on 30 April 1901.

And finally:

The present building lot for the library contains 15,000 square feet of land per the deed. Isn’t this sufficient space to build a multistory library containing 34,000 – 39,000 square feet of usable floor space which was stated as the need?

Is the problem as reported by The Phoenix” 13 July 2007 that “the first principle that that building design ’will preserve protect and defend the beauty, history and dignity’ of the original Carnegie building, the only Carnegie library in Chester County.” ?

It was noted by Adam Deveney, a representative of the Library Board's Real Estate Development Committee “that less than half of the original 1700 Carnegie library buildings remain.” Is part of our problem that we are trying to save an outdated building because of historical concerns?

The Borough web site states regarding The Phoenix Iron Company: “For nearly 200 years this company was an economic and geographic pivot on which the town grew and prospered.” I submit that the history of Reeves Park trumps the Carnegie building by over a quarter of a century. And I believe that Phoenixville owes even more respect to The Phoenix Iron Company and the Reeves family than even to Andrew Carnegie.

I ask council to live up to the spirit of the conditions placed on you in receiving this most generous gift of a city block of almost 7 acres of prime real estate for the adornment of Phoenixville and the recreation and enjoyment of all Pennsylvanians. I do not believe giving away a portion of the bordering street, sidewalk and all setbacks lives up to our obligations to the donors, or Phoenixville.


Bradford Peck
Phoenixville, PA

Karen said...

Thank you, Brad!

Anonymous said...

Mr Peck
You did a lot of research and your letter/post is very informative. Thank you very much for the hard work and time spent as you have excellent points and no one should pursue any change after reading the facts you setforth.

Honoring wishes of the Reeves for ALL PARTS of Phoenixville are what should be done!

Karen said...

I received the following letter via email from Michael Kammerdiener.


To: Development Committee of the Borough Council
Members of the Borough Council
All Residents of Phoenixville Borough

I have been a resident of Phoenixville Borough for more than five years now. I have a library card, and I use the library on a regular basis. I am sympathetic to the need for more space in the library for meetings, offices, publications and resources.

That having been said, I must register my objections, in the strongest possible terms, to the proposed library expansion and renovation project:

The proposal seeks to close 2nd Avenue on the Reeves Park side of Main Street. This would block a primary cross-borough thoroughfare, increase traffic on First Avenue, Third Avenue, Washington Avenue, and B Street. It would also eliminate 10-15 parking spaces, further exacerbating the parking problem in the nearby neighborhood.

The proposal seeks to build onto the northwest corner of Reeves Park, destroying the architectural balance and integrity of the park. The streets around the park – Starr Street, 2nd Avenue, Main Street, and 3rd Avenue – are a part of the park and enhance the beauty of the park, just as an elegant frame elevates the presentation of a fine painting.

One would not carve a chunk out of a picture frame, nor would one hang a weight on the corner of the same frame. Why do this to Reeves Park?

The proposal seeks to cover over the south façade of the original Carnegie Library structure, further diminishing the beauty and legacy of this historic gift to the community. And it’s not just the outer façade that we would lose – the wonderful light in the reading room, the elegance of the high windows as seen from the inside, would also be lost.

The expansion, as currently conceived, is not necessary – not because the needs of the library are unimportant, but because there are so many other options that would meet those needs without damaging the fabric of the neighborhood.

It is telling that the flier being distributed by the library notes that it is seeking “approval to vacate a very small portion of Second Avenue.” Eliminating traffic flow between Starr Street and Nutt Road is hardly vacating a “very small portion” of this thoroughfare.

It is telling that the “Master Plan Design Concept” depicts only the proposed new structure itself, rather than the structure in the context of Reeves Park and the neighborhood. This architectural design, presented in its true and complete context, would not receive a passing grade at any reputable architectural college.

Those who are encouraging the approval of this project with their many letters, e-mails, voicemails, fund-raising events, and large monetary donations do not truly understand what the library proposes to do, nor will they suffer the many downside consequences if this project goes forward. They are mindlessly supporting what they believe to be a “good cause.” Not one of them would tolerate the Borough Council landing this building on their street; it is selfish of them to support landing it on someone else’s street, simply for their own convenience, comfort, and good feelings.

The Development Committee and the Borough Council have an obligation and a civic duty to support the interests of the entire Phoenixville community, not just the “special interests” – in this case, the library board, library employees and patrons, and the architects and construction firms that will benefit from this project. If it is not good for a significant portion of the community, it is not good for the community as a whole. If it trades one set of inconveniences for another, it is not “development.”

I am begging the Development Committee and the Borough Council to reject the library’s request to close 2nd Avenue. I am calling upon the members of the Borough Council to show true leadership by gathering together all interested parties to create a solution that works for all and damages none.


Michael B. Kammerdiener
Phoenixville Borough

Karen said...

Thank you, Michael!

Anonymous said...

Michael's letter states that the expansion would eliminate traffic flow from Starr St. to Nutt Rd. He must be failing to realize that 3rd Ave. also connects Starr St. to Nutt Rd. He also states that it would increase the traffic on surrounding streets. I ask, what is the difference between the traffic being on 2nd Ave. or on
3rd Ave? As it stands now, 3rd avenue is rarely traveled. The expansion would just divert traffic one street over.

Karen said...

Precisely, Anonymous 3:29 p.m.

On Third Avenue and Main Streets are two well attended Churches, and in the first block west is Holy Family School, and in the second block is Barkley School.

As you yourself have stated, Third Avenue is traveled less than Second because Second Avenue is the first main artery traveling from Starr Street to Nutt Road.

Third Avenue would become the first main thorofare transecting the borough if this project comes to fruition.

The increased traffic on Third Avenue would place at increased risk, not only the children who dart across the street to the children's playground in Reeves Park, but also those children in both schools which also have playgrounds entrancing on Third Avenue.

An actuary could determine the increased risk to our children caused by the additional traffic on heretofore "rarely traveled" borough streets.

The fact that this project can be proven to place our children at additional risk should immediately send this project back to the drawing board.

A library expansion at the possible risk of injuring or killing one child is an outrageous price to ask a parent and this community to pay.

Anonymous said...

As a 40 year resident of Phoenixville I have donated money to the library on every occasion they asked, that is until the plans for expansion were revealed. Since then they have received no (zero, zilch, nil) dollars from my family. And if the plan goes through they will continue to receive zilch!

Against the plan? Fight them where it hurts - in the pocket book!