Dear Members of the Borough of Churchill Planning Commission, Borough of Churchill Mayor and Council:
You may be aware that a letter regarding the Churchill Creek project was delivered to residents of Churchill this week. We received the letter on Monday 3-29-2021. That same day someone posted a comment regarding the letter on the Nextdoor site. In 3 days that comment generated 200 comments. We believe the discussion is very helpful and informative. We’ve participated in some of the Borough of Churchill zoom meetings regarding the project and watched the videos of the visioning that took place last spring. We are re-watching the Planning Commission meetings earlier this year to review the proposal. We find this project to be immense, and extremely important for the Borough. And just to be clear, at this point we oppose this project.
If the project moves forward it will change Churchill. In some respects it will be positive changes (more property tax revenue for the county, school district and Borough). In other respects it will be negative changes (traffic and other quality of life issues). It will take time before we know the impact on other areas like stormwater runoff and property values.
The Borough has done a great job of pivoting during the pandemic to make information available to residents about this project. By conducting meetings via zoom and posting the list of meetings with links to the recordings on the Borough website you have made information available to residents. You’ve presented it in a very user friendly manner, listing the meetings where the project was discussed and making it easy to click on links to meeting recordings. We suspect that there have been many more members of the community participating in the zoom meetings during the pandemic than have attended Borough Council and Planning Commission meetings before the pandemic. But there are many people who are still not aware of the project, the impact it will have on them and how quickly it is moving forward. Because of the pandemic we are not getting together on a regular basis with our neighbors and spreading information the way we did before the pandemic. Our neighborhood on Hampstead Dr. has a history of having regular neighborhood parties: St. Patrick’s Day, a summer pot luck, a fall chili cookoff, Halloween and Christmas get togethers. Since March 2020 none of those events have taken place. If we were not in a pandemic we would have gotten together for all of those parties and had the opportunity to share information about this project. Ken Balkey lives on our street and he would have let neighbors know about the impact on the trees on the site.
Even though the internet and the Borough’s efforts to be transparent and conduct meetings on zoom, posting recordings on Youtube has kept computer literate residents informed, our neighbors that are not comfortable on computers are being left out. When we saw the conversations that resulted from the one letter we received on Monday, we were a bit surprised at the number of comments. It points to the need to use old fashion methods (the U S mail) to focus the attention of Churchill residents on this project. We know that the Borough sent a newsletter recently and this project was discussed in that newsletter. But we suggest that the Borough send a letter devoted to this project to all residents. The letter could provide information that is provided on the Borough’s website and give dates for upcoming meetings where this project will be addressed. It should also state as the website notes, that final approval or denial could occur as early as June 2021.
During the February 6, 2021 meeting of the Planning Commission one of the representatives from Hillwood provided answers to questions and concerns that had been raised at the previous Planning Commission meeting. This was very helpful. We recommend that Hillwood provide a written list of questions and comments that have been raised during all meetings on the project and the answers. We suspect that they have been recording all of the comments, questions and concerns, and their replies. So hopefully this would be a matter of putting it all together in one document, and would not be too labor intensive. If Churchill residents could go to the website and see what issues have been raised about the project and Hillwood’s responses, it would be very helpful. Currently someone could have participated in every meeting except one, and missed some important information that would help them understand the current status. For example Hillwood has decreased the square footage and they are not building a parking structure and they are not going to do a roundabout. Some people are not aware of those changes. If we could go to one document on the Borough website where we see that the issue of the size was raised and Hillwood made these changes it would be helpful. We’ve seen with other projects in our past where a developer or someone in charge of a large project provided an ongoing list of questions and answers that helped the public stay on top of the projects and changes and provided necessary clarity.
Finally, the deadline of final approval or denial by June 2021 a problem, in light of this project being planned entirely during this terrible pandemic. We realize that your timeframes may be dictated by the zoning code or other regulations. But we respectfully request that if there is any way to postpone approval of the project until after public in-person townhall type meetings can occur safely after the pandemic, that the Borough do so. Perhaps the Borough and Hillwood could sign an agreement postponing the final decision until the fall due to the pandemic. The internet is a great way to communicate, but so is person-to-person, face-to-face interaction. And some of our residents simply are not going to be able to take part in the discussions about this project unless they can attend a meeting in person.
Dave and Cathy Bordner