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Developers file $150 million lawsuit against New Hanover Township alleging racial bias in Town Center delays

NEW HANOVER — Township officials have conspired to block the progress of the massive Town Center project in a racially motivated effort to prevent minorities from “changing the nature” of the township, the project’s developers have charged in a recently filed federal lawsuit claiming more than $150 million in damages.

Town Center, first proposed in 2005, calls for more than 700 homes and commercial space on 209 acres along Swamp Pike.

As part of the evidence for their claims of racial bias in delaying and blocking the project, lawyers for R.P. Wynestone and seven other Colmar-based investors point to the controversy that surrounded the police department several years ago that resulted in a settlement with the attorney general’s office after a year-long investigation into racial bias alleged against former police chief Kevin McKeon and former police sergeant William Moyer.

Moyer, who retired from the police department but remains the local fire chief, assumed a four-year term on the township planning commission that began on Jan. 1, 2022.

“Through a years-long campaign of hindrance and delay, defendants have disrupted development and violated the landowners’ property rights by reviewing development applications in bad-faith, passing restrictive ordinances designed to make development commercially unfeasible,” the developers’ lawyers at Kang Haggerty wrote in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court on March 5.

“These extreme measures are motivated by unconscionable and unconstitutional income discrimination and racial bias, designed to stop the  construction of new affordable housing that in turn increases housing density and attracts new residents to the township, and to prevent any increase in the population of racial minorities in New Hanover Township, which is currently 95% white,” the lawsuit charges, adding, “the township’s recent history is marred by scandals, in which prominent township officials openly used racial slurs without repercussion.”

(Current U.S. Census figures put the percentage of New Hanover’s white population as being 91.9%.)

2 police officers in uniform standing outdoors looking ahead
Former New Hanover Police Sgt. William Moyer, center, and former chief Kevin McKeon, right. (Medianews Group File Photo)

As part of the “scandals” to which the lawsuit refers, two former officers, Keith Youse and Dennis Psota, recounted numerous alleged instances of racist comments and harassment from the department’s two senior officers.

Additionally, Youse whose wife is Asian, said on his last day on the job, an eggroll was placed amid the box of his possessions that was being carried to his car.

The township hired an attorney to investigate the charges after articles were published in Philly Voice magazine and The Mercury and the Pottstown NAACP became involved.

In June of 2020, the township announced that the probe, led by attorney John Gonzales, had found no evidence to confirm any of the claims.

In the wake of the report and the agreement with the attorney general’s office, McKeon’s unusual 10-year contract with the township expired and was not renewed and Moyer retired. Youse was elected to the board of supervisors in 2021 but he is the only township supervisor not named individually as a defendant.

“The township never released the results of its internal investigation into the racist comments and Sgt. Moyer retired from the police department without adverse action,” the lawsuit notes. “Instead of cleaning up its act, the township rewarded one of the individuals involved, Sgt. Moyer, by appointing him to the township’s planning commission.”

The lawyers further wrote, “in appointing Sgt. Moyer to the planning commission, the township effectively endorsed his racist comments.”

Contacted Wednesday, Township Manager Jamie Gwynn said it is the township’s policy not to comment on legal matters.

Town Center, proposed on 209 acres where the old New Hanover Airport was located, is bounded by Swamp Pike in the north, Route 663 in the east and Township Line Road to the west. It was first proposed in 2005, under zoning created just for the project and received a preliminary approval in 2007.

By law, because it received preliminary approval in 2007, the Town Center project is not subject to new land development ordinances the township has adopted in the interim but is instead governed by the ordinances in place at the time of its preliminary approval.

A near-capacity crowd listens to plans about the New Hanover Town Center project at a past township supervisors' meeting. (MediaNews Group File Photo)
A near-capacity crowd listens to plans about the New Hanover Town Center project at a past township supervisors’ meeting. (MediaNews Group File Photo)

The original developer went bankrupt and R.P. Wynestone acquired the project, approvals intact, in 2011. The plans have since been revised at least eight times with one revision arriving as recently as this month.

Over the years, the township has rejected various versions of the plan and adopted new ordinances that developers say are meant specifically to block and impede the project’s progress, specifically new stormwater standards.

“This is a case about a township taking extreme measures and displaying egregious conduct to prevent development in the community by any means necessary, including bad-faith consideration of development,” the lawsuit says.

It notes that the comprehensive plan for the Pottstown Metropolitan Regional Planning Committee, of which New Hanover is a part, indicates the township will provide a minimum of 750 acres for a fair share of various dwelling types encompassing all basic forms of housing. “Much of the area in the township designated for primary growth is comprised of the landowners’ properties,” the lawsuit notes.

Donna Fabry, a planner with the Montgomery County Planning Commission, reviews the particulars of the Town Center proposal in New Hanover Township during a 2016 meeting of the regional planning committee. (MediaNews Group File Photo).

“As a significant development that would increase affordable housing inventory and accordingly promote racial diversity, Defendants undertook a concerted plan to stop the RP Wynstone Development, by imposing burdensome requirements, rescinding prior approvals, taking steps to make it economically unfeasible, and otherwise halt its progress,” the lawyers wrote.

“Defendants’ conduct creates an ever-shifting framework of changing laws and arbitrary requirements, making it effectively impossible for plaintiffs to develop the properties,” R.P. Wynestone’s lawyers wrote. “Any effort to comply with these requirements are ineffective, because defendants simply change the rules again, imposing large expenses on plaintiffs and effectively halting any forward progress.”

All the delays and constant changes to the plan have resulted in the developers enduring $150 million in unnecessary costs, the lawyers insist. In addition to asking for $150 million in compensation, the lawsuit has also asked the court to impose unspecified “punitive damages” on the township for its conduct in this matter, according to the lawsuit.

Source: Berkshire mont

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