East Marlborough and schools resolve a zoning dispute

Posted: July 09, 2011

A Chester County township and school district are close to resolving a zoning dispute that has threatened a multimillion-dollar high school renovation.

East Marlborough Township issued a violation in March to the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District, saying a new, 58-foot-high auditorium at Unionville High School was too tall.

The township says its zoning code limits buildings to 35 feet in height and wanted the district to seek a variance. The district has argued that it has a right to build the $3.6 million structure - part of an overhaul of the school - and that the township interpreted the code incorrectly.

The auditorium cannot be occupied until the dispute is settled.

At a Zoning Hearing Board meeting Thursday, both sides agreed to disagree about whether there was a violation and submitted a joint stipulation of facts that, lawyers said, should pave the way for a variance.

The stipulation lays out arguments based on the importance of the school to the township and acknowledges the district's contention that it would be impossible to design a smaller building and still fit the auditorium stage inside.

"We feel that the elements of a variance are satisfied," Township Solicitor Fronefield Crawford Jr. told the board, adding that he wanted it to attach conditions to the variance that would prevent the district from altering or adding to the school's existing signs or lighting outside the auditorium. He also wants the district to continue discussions with the township on additional landscaping for the site and fire safety issues.

Board member John Laffey was concerned that the township's fire companies lack equipment that could handle a fire in a tall building. A lawyer for the district said nearby companies with appropriate equipment would help in case of a fire.

The board is expected to decide Aug. 1.

Contact staff writer Anthony Campisi at 215-854-5015 or acampisi@phillynews.com.

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