Toll Brothers Takes Center Stage at Langhorne Borough Zoning Board Hearing

Many Langhorne residents are strongly opposed to its 60-townhome development plan, fearing it will erode the area’s historic character and add to traffic problems.
Photo courtesy of Langhorne Borough Facebook page.

The Langhorne Borough Zoning Board Hearing met on Thursday night to hear from witnesses in regards to the Toll Mid-Atlantic LP Company’s proposed townhomes between Bellevue Avenue and Pine Street. 

During the hearing, Toll Mid-Atlantic associates gave testimonials and board officials, the developer’s lawyer, and some residents were able to question the witnesses. 

Many Langhorne residents are strongly opposed to the development, fearing it will erode the area’s historic character and add to traffic problems. Toll Mid-Atlantic maintains that not granting variances would create more hardship than waving them and the variances are necessary to maintain the neighborhoods character. Variances are exceptions to zoning restrictions. 

The hearing was a continuation of the August 30 meeting. Public comment was not given, though the hearing will be continued on December 18 at 7 p.m. The hearing was held at 115 W. Richardson Ave. and lasted roughly three hours, from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Toll Brothers is the controlling company for Toll Mid-Atlantic

Toll Mid-Atlantic re-submitted their original application after their revised application was blocked by the Borough and presented an unofficial development plan to show how things would look without zoning variances. 

The development plan “is designed to develop the property in the least impactful manner to the surrounding areas,” said Nathaniel Fox, Toll Brothers’ Mid-Atlantic lawyer.

Brian Thierrin, the senior vice-president at Toll Brothers who oversees development projects in Pennsylvania and Delaware, testified first. Thierrin also testified in August. 

Thierrin testified about whether or not the development plan complies with different parts of the zoning ordinance and other possible uses for the land, including a nursing home.  

Many of the exemptions are necessary to have the townhomes packed together on the inside of the property, which would minimize disturbances to the land, Thierrin said. 

“We would love to do a project here, we have always said that and have been very collaborative and tried to come up with something that works for the borough and us and into this point we haven’t been able to,” Thierrin said. 

Jeffery Madden, an engineer at ESE Consultants, was the second witness to testify on Thursday. ESC Consultants serves as the engineer, surveyor, planner, landscape architect for Toll Mid-Atlantic. 

Madden answered questions about the development’s density, neighborhood character, and the specific variances Toll Mid-Atlantic requested. 

Many discussions at board meetings concern whether or not there is hardship to Toll Mid-Atlantic but no one talks about hardship to residents, said John Newman, who lives near the proposed development site.  

“What about the hardship that I’m going to have to listen to construction for who knows how long?” Newman asked. 

Traffic in the area is already bad and this new development will only make it worse, Newman said. 

“If you go look at Evergreen right now, you’d be lucky to get my grandkids bicycles up that access road off of Flowers,” he said. 

Toll Mid-Atlantic’s legal argument is unsound and designed to scare residents into accepting the development, said Peter Nelson, an attorney at Grim, Biehn & Thatcher, which is representing the residents. 

“If they think it’s by-right, fine. File it in building, don’t ship it out here to scare these people into thinking ‘Oh, we got it. We better approve it or else we’re going to get something worse,’” Nelson said.

By-right plans don’t require variances, board solicitor Scott MacNair clarified for attendees. 

By showing the board a by-right plan, the developers have shown they don’t really need variances, Nelson said, though MacNair overruled his objection. 

MacNair reminded attendees that what the public wants doesn’t actually matter. 

“The public’s not deciding this case, the zoning hearing board’s deciding the case. So whether or not the public is concerned about these other plans is not really the issue,” he said.

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Eden MacDougall

Eden MacDougall is a freelance journalist and Temple University alum. He also covers education for Billy Penn.

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