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Upper Perk School Board Approves Settlement with Upper Hanover
Written by Bradley Schlegel Staff Writer

                A dispute between the Upper Perkiomen School Board and Upper Hanover, related to the proposed construction of a new middle school, seems headed towards a resolution.

                Last week, the school board approved a settlement stipulation related to its land use appeal against the township. District officials declined to release the details of the agreement, which requires the approval of Upper Hanover's Board of Supervisors.

                The dispute appears to revolve around a decision whether to bus students who live near the proposed school or to allow them to walk to the school.

                School board members John Gehman, Raeann Hofkin, Kerry Drake and Kim Baccari voted against the motion to settle the dispute. A settlement would end the litigation before Montgomery County Common Pleas Court Judge Thomas DelRicci.

                The quartet also voted for an unsuccessful motion to table the issue during the March 9 public meeting.

                Both sides are interested in the safety of the students who would attend the proposed new school on Montgomery Avenue, according to board President Dr. John Farris.

                "Hopefully this will resolve that issue so this project can move forward," Farris said after the meeting.

                Prior to the vote, Hofkin revealed that school district officials were willing to install a sidewalk along Montgomery Avenue. 

                Solicitor Kenneth Roos told the audience during the meeting that the agreement would be released to the public following similar ratification by the township's supervisors.

                Mark A. Hosterman – a partner in Roos' Whitpain law firm who specializes in real estate, zoning and land development issues – reached a tentative agreement with township representatives earlier in the week following more than two months of constant negotiations, according to the solicitor.

                In October, township supervisors granted the district conditional use approval to construct the school on a 20-acre parcel within view of the Green Lane Reservoir with 12 conditions.

                District officials objected to a condition that provides multiple requirements for an alternative to installing sidewalks along Montgomery Avenue.

                According to the conditional use order, the district could install sidewalks in lieu of a state safety study.

                Sidewalks would have to be installed on the north side of Montgomery Avenue in Pennsburg Borough from Sixth Street to the new school, or on the south side "for some or all of that distance for the safe crossing of student pedestrians," the order states.

                However, the conditional use order also allows for busing of all students who would otherwise walk to school in lieu of sidewalks.

                That condition includes multiple stipulations: School officials would be required to make sure those students would be the last picked up and the first ones dropped off; a staff member would need to be present for the first 60 days to prevent any students from walking on that portion of Montgomery Avenue; and the district would be required to install signage at Sixth and Eighth streets prohibiting students from walking to the school.

                High school students who live in the same area would also be subject to walking prohibitions, according to the decision from the township. 

                The order also requires that the school board will not oppose an ordinance prohibiting general pedestrian traffic on Montgomery Avenue "in the event that the township chooses to adopt an ordinance" in the future.

                In its Nov. 16 land use appeal, the district's attorney describes that segment of the township's decision as unreasonable, unsupported by the evidence and "an error or law."

                It states that the decision is unusually vague because it fails to identify which students would be required to be bused to the school and that school officials could not assess whether or not additional enhancements would be necessary until after the appropriate conditional use hearing appeal period would have expired. Further, the decision does not identify where or when district officials would have to "staff Montgomery Avenue."

                Also, the district argued that high school students should be exempt from conditions because that school was not included in the conditional use application.

                Prior to the vote, Hofkin expressed concerns about the language of the motion, which allows Hosterman and Superintendent Alexis McGloin to make minor modifications to the "settlement stipulation."

                After the meeting, Roos explained that the phrase covers only minor language, not "truly substantive changes."

                According to the solicitor, any significant changes approved by Upper Hanover officials would have to be addressed by the school board.

                Hofkin – who took responsibility for doubling the time executive session scheduled for 30 minutes prior to public meeting – proposed delaying deliberation on the issue.

                After informing the audience that district officials support a plan to install sidewalks, she explained that she did not receive a cost analysis for busing students versus implementing sidewalks or the estimated costs for installing the sidewalks or the addresses that could be affected by eminent domain.

                However, Gehman – the board vice president – interrupted Hofkin and asked that she not discuss that issue or any others that were covered during the private meeting.






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