Jenkintown Zoning Hearing Board: The Downses Strike Back

Jenkintown Borough finally runs out of stupid questions about lawn equipment, bringing its war of attrition to an end. Last night at Borough Hall, the ZHB unanimously voted to toss out the Borough’s citation based on lack of evidence showing any kind of business, impactful or otherwise.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the room erupted with a standing ovation with most people relieved, but none more than the Downses. Unfortunately, what this decision does not do is make their troublesome next-door neighbor go away.

When will the heads start to roll? Which resignations are forthcoming? We’d welcome resignation letters from George Locke, Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe, and/or Council VP and social media bully Rick Bunker as well as the ringleader, Sean Kilkenny. These four are the current cancer in this town that will not heal until they are removed from any political involvement in it.

We conservatively estimate that this circus will eventually cost Jenkintown taxpayers close to $20,000 with the Downses legal fees not far behind.

Jenkintown PA George Locke Jenkintown loses its war of attrition against the Downses
Despite appearances, no, George Locke was not napping during the two-plus hour proceedings.

At last month’s Borough Council Meeting, we went on record estimating that the Borough has so far spent about $12,000 prosecuting the Downses. Turns out, we under-estimated.

Borough Expenses related to the citation between November 2017 up to the March, 2018 court appearance: $5500

Since then:

Kilkenny Invoices for April and May this year: $2604
Court Reporter: $2818.00
ZHB Attorney: $1428.00
Times-Courier Ad: $246.30
FedEx delivery: $8.66

The Kilkenny Invoices are heavily redacted.

April invoice

May invoice 

We have filed a Right-to-Know request for Kilkenny’s June invoice and will again file for the July invoice at the beginning of August. We don’t expect to have a final tally until sometime in September.

Jenkintown Council Lauds George Locke

At the Jenkintown Borough Council Meeting for June 2018, council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe lauded Borough Manager George Locke for his service to the Borough. In light of that, we present a selection of ongoing code violations and generally sloppy work that Mr. Locke has either failed to address or is directly responsible for creating.

George Locke’s current salary stands at $118,450 per year. And climbing.

Jenkintown Borough Council Meeting Live stream for June, 2018

Borough Council had its regular meeting on June 27th. Highlights include:

  • Presentations to two of Jenkintown High School’s runners for their exceptional performance
  • Public comment revealing that the Borough has spent at least $12,000 prosecuting the Downs’s citation.
  • Public comment about a possible edit to the Borough’s own archived video
  • A big round of “attaboys” for George Locke’s completion of his manager education
  • And a public hearing that included discussion about establishing code for a future medical marijuana dispensary.

Just a reminder that we do not edit these videos in any way except to remove breaks in the proceedings and to enhance the audio when possible.

You will find the agenda for this meeting here.

Jenkintown Borough Council Special Meeting

Jenkintown Borough Council held a special meeting on June 20 to consider rescinding its support of the Taco Bell project. This video contains that meeting and the regularly scheduled meetings for the Admin and Finance and the Building Zoning and Revitalization meetings.

Highlights of this video include some passionate public comment, Scott Hummel cry poverty if this all goes down even though as a prospective buyer he really has nothing to lose except all the time he wasted pursuing this bad idea, Rick Bunker scolding his ex-wife from his council seat, and Council finally voting to rescind their support.

You also got to see yours truly get credit for the proposed sidewalk loan program. If passed, residents will get to pay interest on something unnecessarily expensive compared to a Borough-managed wholesale program.

A good time was had by all.

Hellweg Funeral Home building Jenkintown PA
The former Hellweg Funeral Home on York Road. Fully occupied and generating revenue.

Jenkintown backs away from Taco Hell

Council comes to its senses

Last night, Jenkintown Borough Council staged a pop-up meeting to decide whether or not it should continue supporting the idea of a Taco Bell with drive-through in a spot where its own zoning prohibits it. Spoiler alert: They rescinded their support by a vote of 8-2, although this motion only removes their previous support of the idea. It does not mean that they now oppose it.

Voting “no” was council vice president and social media bully Rick Bunker and David Ballard. Chuck Whitney and Christian Soltysiak were not in attendance. Kieran Farrell and Melissa Young literally phoned it in.

This evening’s meeting turned out about thirty people, including the president of Summerwood, Scott Hummel, the prospective buyer of the property, and their attorney. They and exactly one other resident spoke in support of this development.

First, a note about transparency. Council President Deborra Sines-Pancoe has repeatedly expressed her commitment to transparency and making every effort in that regard. So, if you find yourself laughing out loud the next time she brings up the topic, no one will blame you. The Borough created that PDF only two days before the meeting and it posted it online sometime between then and yesterday afternoon when we discovered it. It did not send out an email, post a notice on their Facebook page, or put anything on its own website news feed. That is not commitment. That is lip service.

New evidence discounts Summerwood’s tax claims

Much of the argument in favor of a single-story fast-food franchise, surrounded by a parking lot with drive-through open seven days until 2 A.M. centered around tax revenue projections. These claims came accompanied by more falling-sky predictions for the school district if the Borough denies Summerwood the opportunity to send even more critical density necessary for a viable central district to a landfill.

If Mr. Bunker would only look up from his taco plate and actually do the research … he might understand that favoring automobiles over pedestrians has historically destroyed downtowns.

However, new information emerged about the fallacy of a tax-receipt windfall from Taco Bell. In terms of gross business revenue, the two firms currently occupying the Hellweg building already generate roughly the same amount as a typical Taco Bell. On the raw financials alone, the opposition drove a stake into the heart of the variances. This project can claim no advantage to the borough or the school district that should compel the ZHB to override.

Also of note, one resident pointed out that the Hellweg family never advertised its property for sale. We still don’t know the details on how Summerwood and Mr. Hummel got together on this deal, but we may never know what might have happened if Mr. Hummel actually advertised this property. Developers are indeed not shy, as one resident pointed out, but they do tend to run in their own tribes.

Drive-through = blight

Aside from the financials, Rick Bunker dismissed the opposition’s research out of hand and made an egregiously uninformed claim that the opposition cared only about aesthetics. If Mr. Bunker would only look up from his taco plate and actually do the research on the value of pedestrian-friendly development, he might understand that favoring automobiles over pedestrians has historically destroyed downtowns. 

Jenkintown has a few bright spots, but York Road between Cloverly and Washington Lane continues to decline, both in terms of aesthetics and property value. In fact, the JSD has cited the declining tax base in the central business district as the primary reason for taking more money from homeowners.

This vote now leaves it up to the Zoning Hearing Board and PennDOT, which must agree to installing a new traffic light at the location — and not at York and Cherry. We’re told that the odds of PennDOT putting a light at Taco Bell’s entrance run somewhere between slim and none, but it should still bother residents that a bureaucrat in Harrisburg has so much control over the future of our town.

Credit for this vote goes to Tim Dibble and all those that signed his petition and those who contributed to their GoFundMe to pay for attorney Michael Yanoff’s services representing the anti-sprawl, pro-community position. We are grateful that a majority of Council reconsidered their position.

We made a correction to our description of Scott Hummel. He is not one of the current owners of the property as we had described, but seeks to purchase it from the Hellweg family for lease to Summerwood. If the ZHB turns down the variances, Mr. Hummel loses nothing.