Don Guanella

This is what is at stake in the Don Guanella development project, more than a hundred acres of pristine open space. 

MARPLE — The numbers to develop the former Don Guanella Village and preserve a chunk of the property’s open space aren’t adding up to the Marple Board of Commissioners.

The commissioners made known their sentiments at a special work session meeting this week that gave the board their first opportunity to publicly comment on the supposed $30 million tentative sale between Carlino Commercial Development and the Archdiocese of Philadelphia to put a commercial shopping center and recreation fields on the property.

As part of the plan proposed by Sproul Road Developers, LLC, 47 acres of property closest to Sproul Road will be mixed-use development with a commercial town center, senior living center, and recreational areas. More than 160 acres of open space beyond that is expected to be preserved and funded through a tax increment financing bond through the taxing authorities (Marple, Marple Newtown School District and Delaware County). That portion of property has been appraised at $25 million, per the developers’ statements.

“I like the concept of a town center and being guaranteed the preservation of 166 acres, but the numbers don’t jive right now because it appears that they’re being overcharged by the archdiocese,” said Commissioner John Longacre, the most vocal of all of his colleagues at the meeting. Due to what he claims is an inflated price, the estimated real estate taxes being collected for the township would be $1.8 million. Longacre wasn’t sure if that figure would stick once they go into reassessment, which could affect the numbers.

“If we can get a commitment … it may be doable, but these numbers are not doable at this point in time,” he said, adding that while the numbers looked good, they would not be appropriate for what the archdiocese wants for the property.

Archdiocese of Philadelphia Communications Director Ken Gavin could not be reached for comment.

Longacre continued saying the developers would, essentially, be paying $5 million for the front of the property where the town center would be while the taxpayers are on the hook to fund the rest (open space) through bonds.

But at another point in discussion it was assumed that the front may be worth approximately $10 million. Brian McElwee, president of the Valley Forge Investment Corp. which is working with the developers on this project, said an official appraisal was not conducted on that portion of property for the town use and other amenities. Carlino Principal Peter Miller on Thursday said that they easily can get an appraisal and will likely request one.

While not confirming the actual sale price while in negotiations with the archdiocese, Miller on Thursday projected the bond principal to support the back portion of the property to be $19 million.

“If the overall cost is $30 million, why would we be paying $19? It doesn’t seem to make any sense to me,” said board President Joe Rufo, adding that at that price, it would add $2 million in debt service to the township annually. “There are no guarantees where this money coming is from.”

According to board Solicitor J. Adam Matlawski, a $19 million bond over 20 years would increase township taxes by 22 percent, and a 30-year bond would increase them 16 percent.

“Here’s what, I think, may be the most major issue of the whole thing: the township has no confidence that what it’s being asked, or what the governments are being asked to pay, for the back is a fair and realistic number,” said Matlawski. “That’s maybe the biggest impediment that we see.

“We were told that the $25 million for the 166 is based on appraisal … which, based on your other numbers, would leave the portion that you’re retaining to be worth only $5 million, even if you’re retaining it with better zoning that would increase the value.”

McElwee responded saying there are other costs that go into the value that “creeps the numbers up.”

“It’s part of the complexity. The numbers themselves have a pair of non-complexities with them and the process would be benefitted if people could really spend some time on it,” he said.

Both McElwee and Miller supported a commissioner subcommittee to iron out the numbers and to promote a very transparent atmosphere on how the dollars would work.

“I personally have a bit of a problem with this municipality having to prove your numbers,” said Commissioner Lucas. “Why would I have to prove your numbers?”

“That would be part of the process, it’s part of the conversation,” Miller replied.

“We want to make sure it’s a fair deal, we get that,” Lucas responded.

Longacre then added saying it was hard for him to “sit down because of what developers have done to me and the township,” and that’s why he is cautious in this latest proposal.

“It’s not you, but the township has been destroyed by a lot of other developers,” he added said to Miller and McElwee.

McElwee said development standards have changed over the decades and that people are living with those sins from the past.

“What this represents is an opportunity to solve some of those sins in the past,” he said. McElwee added that he wants to work with all interested government bodies to make this work and to create a “reality-based decision” on the proposal based on the money, traffic study figures and sewage rates.

No official action was taken by the board of commissioners at the work session and no further meetings on the Don Guanella site proposal have been set.

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