The story of the Parkhouse Sale is complicated.
The story meanders down many tributaries and along many unexpected twists and turns. That's because the story of the sale of Parkhouse is ultimately a political story, one characterized primarily by the ambition of powerful politicians and their sycophants; people who either were trying to lay low to survive the swamp that is Montgomery County politics, or were hoping to advance their own self interest by riding their coat-tails.
Or perhaps a little of both.
Needless to say, the wishes of the residents of Montgomery County took a back seat to the motivated self interest of the decision makers involved, most of whom have since left Montgomery County in the rearview mirror for greener pastures in Harrisburg and elsewhere.
To learn more about the events leading up to the sale of Parkhouse, and the financial disaster of the Norristown Studio Centre at Logan Square, Click below:
Charles Gallub, the Logan Square Studio Centre developer, met with the private lenders and county officials asking for more than $11 million from the county to recruit additional tenants, pay off unsecured creditors and pay fees and interest to Logan Lenders. He claimed the 'project was out of cash and could not recruit additional tenants.’ Both the Private lenders and the County officials refused to put more money into the project.
Scott Rifkin contacts Josh Shapiro via email stating that he “understands the county is interested in selling Parkhouse” and expresses an interest in buying it.
Meanwhile, Montgomery County Chief Financial Officer Uri Monson wrote in a letter the private lenders Anania and Axis Advisors, regarding the future of the Logan Square project:
'It is clear from the review of even the most optimistic projections, that while the project overall could continue to function, benefits would accrue generously to the senior lender and the project developer, but rental revenues to the county would barely cover the current county debt on the project in the short term. More disturbing, under the terms of the original inter creditor agreement, as the county guaranteed debt payments increase substantially in 2018 and beyond, several million dollars in additional monies will be directed annually to the senior lender, while the county shortfall will grow beyond $2 million a year. Additional investment by the county would serve primarily to increase cash flows for the senior lender and increase the marketable value of the asset which is under the control of the senior lender.'
The County had stopped making loan payments sometime in mid-2012.
The county's RFI (“Request for Information”) for Parkhouse was issued. It was "exploratory" in nature and no mention of the surrounding land was included in the original RFI posted on Montgomery County's website:
“The County of Montgomery is soliciting proposals of interest from qualified individuals or entities in the private sector (not-for-profit or for-profit) to purchase, lease, or form a public/private partnership for the County owned and operated nursing care and rehabilitation facilities known as Parkhouse, Providence Pointe, Riverview Adult Day Health Services, and Montgomery Meadows Independent Living Suites.”
Upper Providence officials learned of the possible sale of Parkhouse via various news reports in the local Patch about the County's issuance of a "Request for Information" ("RFI"). Nobody from the County ever contacted anyone at Upper Providence about this. Nor, it should be added, was Upper Providence Township ever given a seat at the table with the County for this decision, or an opportunity to buy the land.
At the time, the Township Planning Commission was working on various "cleanup" of zoning ordinances, including the Institutional Overlay ("IN") and the designated open spaces in the township, both of which apply to the Parkhouse parcels. The Parkhouse parcel, inclusive of the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, was zoned R-1 (residential, 1 home per acre) with an Institutional (IN) overlay. The Township was working on changing all publicly owned space to OSC or open space conservation zoning.
Two Upper Providence Township zoning applications were initiated. One to update Upper Providence's zoning map to include several parcels of Township-, County-, and State-owned land in the Open Space Conservation ("OSC") district and another to clean up several housekeeping issues with the IN institutional district.
Logan Square foreclosure. County recoups $8,000 on its $24.5 million investment of taxpayer money. From the Norristown Times Herald:
Montgomery County Commissioners' Chairman Josh Shapiro said the foreclosure filed by Logan Lenders prevented the county from filing a mortgage foreclosure because the county has 'second position' for repayment of the loans.
Shapiro said the mortgage foreclosure could hurt Montgomery County when it seeks new federal loans in the future. He said county officials would meet with HUD officials and U.S. Sen. Robert Casey Jr. in the next week to prevent further financial damage to the county.
'Under the terms of the HUD loan, if the project is unable to produce sufficient revenues to make the payments, the payments will be deducted from future Community Development Block Grant funds for the county and Norristown.'
Upper Providence Township received the Montgomery County Planning Commission (“MCPC”) review letter dated May 17, 2013 with comment on the Township's intention to re-zone the aforementioned public spaces. The MCPC letter recommended re-zoning all County, State and Township spaces, except the Parkhouse parcels, stating that:
“....the Open Space Conservation District may is not (sic) consistent with current County land use planning objectives. We point out that the R-1 Residential-Agricultural District zoning may be more in keeping IN/R-1 Distirct zoning than OSC zoning which does not allow development. Permitted uses in the OSC District include open space preserves, wildlife sanctuaries, forest or woodland preserves, and reforested land.
Accordingly, the MCPC recommends that these two particular properties, with its on-site geriatric facility be removed from this list. We find that classifying the other, remaining County-owned parcels listed in this ordinance as OSC Open Space Conservation is appropriate and consistent with the County Comprehensive Plan.”
It should be noted that the county review letter goes on to further recommend that rezoning ALL of the properties listed in the ordinance were found to be consistent with the County’s Comprehensive Plan, the County’s Open Space Plan, the Township's 2010 Comprehensive Plan Update and the Township's Open Space Plan. Both of the Township land use plans were reviewed and approved by the County Planning Commission at the time of their adoption.
It is safe to conclude from this letter that the county's objectives for this land changed at some point between July 19, 2010, which is the date of Upper Providence's Comprehensive Plan Update, and sometime in 2013, possibly 2012.
Montgomery County issued the "Request for Proposal" ("RFP") for Parkhouse. The RFP states:
“The County is willing to consider all proposals, which would include, but is not limited to, the purchase of one, two or all of the Parkhouse facilities and related/other assets, including the land on which Parkhouse is located.”
Upper Providence Township's first direct contact with Montgomery County, which was called by the County due to Upper Providence’s pending zoning changes for the Parkhouse parcel. Montgomery County officials expressed concern about the Township's pending OSC and IN ordinances. When asked, representatives from the County indicated that they had received several responses to the RFP but refused to offer details.
As a result of a request made to the County by Upper Providence Township, a copy of the RFP issued on June 6, without the map, was provided to Upper Providence.
Upper Providence Township held hearings on the OSC and IN ordinances as part of the regular work session. The Board of Supervisors passed both of these ordinances by unanimous vote over protests from the County officials present at the meeting.
First Right to Know request filed with the County by Janice Kearney requesting, “Please provide a list of those individuals, corporate entities, non-profits, etc., who responded to RFP 13-27 that was sent out June 2013 and was closed July 12, 2013, as well as the name of the winning bidder. Only want a copy of the winning bid.”
County denies the Right to Know request, stating that the contracts are not finalized and therefore cannot be provided to the public.
It should be noted that the RTK request was also for a list of the applicants and the name of the winning bidder, meaning the County could have granted the request in part, but chose not to.
County Representatives met with Upper Providence Township staff to introduce the proposed subdivision of the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park from the main Parkhouse parcel west of Route 113. The County requested a "natural subdivision" along Route 113.
Representatives from Upper Providence Township attended a meeting at One Montgomery Plaza where the "Working Group" of County employees assigned to evaluate the bids for RFP makes a presentation to the County Commissioners. A presentation from Dr. Scott Rifkin, of Mid-Atlantic Healthcare, LLC is also included. Upper Providence Township Supervisor Lisa Mossie registered an objection to the sale during the public comment following the presentations.
Also on this date, with 30 days having elapsed, another RTK request was filed by Janice Kearney that was identical to the request filed on September 6. That RTK request was denied the same day.
Montgomery County Commissioners Josh Shapiro, Leslie Richards and Bruce Castor vote unanimously to approve the sale of Parkhouse to Scott Rifkin’s Mid-Atlantic Healthcare LLC.
Without a hint of irony, at the very same meeting, the County Commissioners are thanked by the Wissahickon Valley Watershed and the Natural Lands Trust for preserving 34 acres in Upper Dublin and Springfield Townships for $50,000. “It was really a collaborative effort, where the county was able to work alongside two local governments. We all pitched in and we were able to preserve open space for everybody,” said Commissioner Leslie Richards.
Janice Kearney files an appeal to the County’s denial of her RTK request with the PA Office of Open Records.
The County responds to the appeal, asking the PA OOR to uphold their denial of the records, but does provide a list of the respondents to the RFP, indicating that Mid-Atlantic HealthCare was the provisional winner, a fact which had been announced at a public meeting 10 days earlier.
Logan Square Studio Centre sold at auction due to bankruptcy of the project. Montgomery County recoups $8,000 on their $24.5 million taxpayer funded investment due to the County subordinating the loan to the developer on the original deal. The County is also facing a bond rating downgrade and is on the hook for debt service payments in excess of $500,000 for the foreseeable future.
Montgomery County representatives meet with the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors. County representatives are advised by the Board of Supervisors that a subdivision application should be submitted for the requested sub-division demarcated by Route 113. Upper Providence Planning and Zoning is instructed to place the application on the next available Planning Commission Agenda as the County’s imperative is to close the sale of Parkhouse before year-end.
Montgomery County submits subdivision plan. Local media is alerted and invited to attend the Upper Providence Planning Commission regarding the Parkhouse subdivision. Many members of the public indicate that they will attend the meeting, which is not recorded or broadcast.
Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Bob Kerns is arrested in a media sensation. Charges against Kerns are eventually dismissed, but the sensational nature of the story drives all other news out of the headlines for the next several days.
Kerns is also an ally of Supervisor Lisa Mossie in standing against the sale of Parkhouse. In January 2013, Kerns approached Mossie to step in as the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Republican Party. Soon after, Mossie received a call from Bruce Castor asking her to turn down Kerns’ offer as a courtesy to him and citing some issues coming up in the future that he’d rather his allies (meaning Mossie) not be involved in. Mossie turned down the position but remained on good terms with Kerns and with Castor, at least until the Parkhouse sale surfaced.
It is important to note that less than one year later, the worst of those charges against Kerns are dismissed, and in 2019, all charges are dismissed against Kerns.
Upper Providence Planning Commission meets and reviews the County-submitted Parkhouse plans. Attendance is standing room only. Many members of the public take the opportunity to register their objection to the sale. Upper Providence Planning Commission votes to table action to December 11, 2013.
Upper Providence Supervisor Lisa Mossie sends an email to every municipal leader in Montgomery County, asking for their help in standing against the sale of Parkhouse. Mossie points out that much of the County-owned land is vulnerable to sale. Her email is met with silence from every municipality, except neighboring Limerick, who sends a letter of support for Upper Providence and against the sale to the County Commissioners.
Springfield Township Commissioner Jeff Harbison forwards Mossie’s email to Commissioner Leslie Richards, with the admonition, “I think you should know this agitating is going on.”
Upper Providence files a Right to Know request with Montgomery County for, among other Parkhouse related documentation, a copy of the responses received from the RFP and any agreements between Montgomery County and Mid-Atlantic. The County ignores this request.
Simultaneously, Janice Kearney files a third RTK request asking for a copy of the winning bidder’s proposal since it was available since October 17, 2013. The County ignores this request.
Janice Kearney files an appeal of final determination with the PA Office of Open Records for a copy of the winning bidder’s proposal.
Upper Providence Supervisor Lisa Mossie submits commentary against the Parkhouse sale to several local papers, which publish it. The commentary brings up the many unanswered questions surrounding the sale and urges the Commissioners to slow down and honor their commitment to transparency.
Commissioner Castor responds to Mossie’s commentary in the Philadelphia Inquirer by scolding her for questioning his thorough evaluation of the contract and for the audacity of asking questions about the decision to sell Parkhouse. Much is made about the numerous times Parkhouse has come up in the Commissioner’s meetings, which are held at 10am every other Thursday.
Also on December 4, 2013, the Montgomery County Republican Committee held a convention to elect a new Chairman to replace Bob Kerns. State Representative Mike Vereb (R, 150th) was elected. At the time, Vereb’s legislative district of the 150th included Upper Providence Township’s five voting districts, including Parkhouse.
From their time together in the PA Statehouse, Vereb is a friend and ally of Josh Shapiro's.
The impeding legislative redistricting would split Upper Providence between the 150th and the 157th.
In an interview with the Norristown Times Herald, Montgomery County Chief Operating Officer, Lee Soltysiak, claims that the land on which Parkhouse sits is not “open space” just because it is “open” and that Upper Providence cannot just “deem it” open space. He then goes on to say that the County is “trying” to preserve the 70 acres across the street, which comprises the County’s Upper Schuylkill Valley Park and he hopes that Upper Providence Township will take action to preserve it.
The following County documents designate the Parkhouse parcel as Open Space:
· 2005 Montgomery County Comprehensive Plan
· 2005 Montgomery County Rural Resource Map
· 2005 Montgomery County Open Space Plan, Future Land Use
· 2010 Montgomery County Open Space Plan, Future Land Use
· 2010Montgomery County Growth and Preservation Plan
It should be remembered that the only reason the land would be in any danger from development is if the County sold it. Soltysiak was attempting to put the responsibility for preservation of a County owned Park on the Township, effectively washing the County’s hands of any responsibility to the public for the preservation of the land.
Upper Providence residents speak at the public Montgomery County Budget meeting against the sale of Parkhouse. The Commissioners do not respond to their concerns.
Upper Providence Resident Barbara Flynn presents a petition to the Commissioners with 718 signatures against the sale of Parkhouse.
Scott Rifkin attended an advertised staff meeting of the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors. At that meeting, when questioned about the $3 million dollar line item for the land on the County issued Outline of the Terms of Sale, Dr. Rifkin stated that the $3 million was just a “place holder” that was inserted into the deal because he was told by the County Commissioners that needed to “improve his bid” during the RFP process.
Scott Rifkin sends an email to the “Lower Providence Community” regarding the imminent Parkhouse protest scheduled for December 28. Upper Providence Supervisors and staff were not included in this email distribution list. More than once in this letter, Rifkin suggests that the event “seems to be motivated by political career building [rather] than to attempt to solve any substantive issues,” a narrative that came directly from the County Commissioners and is repeated by Commissioner Bruce Castor on his Facebook page in the weeks following the finalization of the sale. Though the sale had not yet been closed, Rifkin refers to himself as the “property owner” and urges that more will be accomplished with “collaboration than confrontation.”
Over the next several years, Township officials will struggle to get Rifkin or Mid-Atlantic staff to “collaborate” with the Township and its residents on the future of this property.
First Parkhouse protest rally opposing the sale of the geriatric center at the Montgomery County Courthouse.
Second Parkhouse protest rally at Parkhouse
At the suggestion of State Representative Kate Harper (R, 61st), Upper Providence Supervisor Lisa Mossie sends emails to Dulcie Flaharty of the Montgomery County Lands Trust and Molly Morrison of the Natural Lands Trust asking for their help in preserving the land surrounding Parkhouse. Both Flaharty and Morrison suggest the best option is working with Rifkin. After the sale is finalized, Flaharty will pen a letter for the Philadelphia Inquirer in support of the sale.
Editorial in Norristown Times Herald urging the County Commissioners to find a way to preserve the acreage surrounding Parkhouse.
Montgomery County Commissioners voted unanimously to redeem 2001 bonds and partially pay off 2006, 2009, and 2010 bonds, reducing the County’s debt and paving the way for the sale of Parkhouse. This retired some $20 million in debt associated with the Parkhouse Assisted Living operation
Fourth Parkhouse protest rally
An administrative subpoena was issued in connection with the sale of Parkhouse. It was later revealed that the subpoena was issued by County Controller Stewart Greenleaf Jr. as his office was responsible for examining any contracts in which the county engages.
A Right to Know request was filed by the Pottstown Mercury to obtain a copy of the sale agreement between Montgomery County and Mid-Atlantic Healthcare.
Parkhouse sale delayed from original closing date, supposedly due to environmental concerns related to underground storage tanks on the property. The County solicitor claimed the sale date being pushed back had nothing to do with the subpoena issued the day before.
Fifth Parkhouse protest rally and Montgomery County Courthouse
It is revealed that the administrative subpoena was issued to Dr. Elliot Menkowitz, an employee of Parkhouse. Menkowitz was president of a holding company linked with a newly formed business that was tied to the Mid-Atlantic Healthcare purchasing group. It was suggested that the newly formed business was perhaps also tied to a top Montgomery County Democratic leader. The business was created shortly after the county put out the RFP. Greenleaf’s office wanted to “make sure no one is benefitting from insider information.”
Bruce Castor asks Stewart Greenleaf if the County was making a “$40 million mistake.”
Sixth Parkhouse protest rally
The Upper Providence Township Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to deny the Parkhouse subdivision plan. The Township solicitor was quoted as having “never seen a zoning application where the validity of the applicant was in question.” Citing technical difficulties with the application and overdue answers to questions including owner clarifications, land titles, and the status of declaring the on-site water tower as a third lot (which doubles as the Montgomery County emergency radio tower and would remain in County possession post-closing of the sale) could all affect the plan’s final design.
County Solicitor Ray McGarry said at the time that they County had other ways of getting their subdivision.
Seventh Parkhouse protest rally
In response to a Right to Know request filed by the Mercury for the response to the RFP, Mid-Atlantic Healthcare’s proposal contained details of their intentions to build on the site, despite many verbal promises to the contrary by both Rifkin (who has, to this very day, insisted he is not a developer) and the County Commissioners.
“MAHC proposes to purchase all land, facilities and operations on the 288 acre campus for a total of $35,000,000. While we have not finalized our plans for the additional land, we have had preliminary discussions with Einstein Health System to participate in this project. Further, we are also speaking with Ganas Development (which was led by Dr. Elliot Menkowitz) and the Sukonik Building Companies to develop a comprehensive development strategy.”
Eighth Parkhouse protest rally
Dr. Elliot Menkowitz, a 30-year employee of Parkhouse, is fired after the auditors from the County Controller’s office determined he was trying to cash in on his position by passing along insider information and give Mid-Atlantic an unfair competitive advantage. Though his involvement was disclosed by Mid-Atlantic on the first page of the bid, and Menkowitz was in attendance as part of the Mid Atlantic team during the non-public working group meetings, all County officials who reviewed the bid, including the Commissioners, claimed they did not know Menkowitz was on the County payroll for 30 years.
Melanie McGarry, the Parkhouse administrator, and key member of the panel that evaluated the bids, reportedly knew of Menkowitz’s involvement. Menkowitz told reporters he contacted McGarry in June 2013, explaining that he wanted to invest with the buyers, and asked her who she would pick. McGarry said MidAtlantic and based on her answer, Menkowitz approached Rifkin about getting in on the deal.
Menkowitz touted his expertise in development of the Royersford area to Rifkin. For his involvement in the deal, Menkowitz stood to receive 5% equity in Parkhouse, worth about $2 million per year, and exclusive development rights for the vacant land for 2 ½ years.
It should be noted that during the preliminary process of the sale, Parkhouse Administrator Melanie McGarry was very resistant to the sale and the lone holdout on the county’s “working group.” Her buy in to the idea of selling the facility was critical in keeping the sale on track for the County Commissioners. When the winning bid was announced on October 9, 2013, at the public meeting, McGarry sung the praises of Rifkin and Mid-Atlantic, and practically teared up when she talked about how the turning point for her in the decision to support the deal was when Rifkin said his philosophy was “care for the caregiver.” This was Melanie McGarry’s long time philosophy as well, and she was stunned and amazed to hear her words coming from the mouth of Rifkin. It was at that moment that she felt that Parkhouse would be in good hands with Rifkin at the helm and changed her attitude from resisting the sale to embracing it.
According to the audit, Menkowitz told Mid-Atlantic representatives in June that McGarry was impressed by Mid-Atlantic as a potential buyer. He also discussed the mood of Parkhouse employees and their concerns about the proposed sale and its impact on them and their health benefits, the Greenleaf report said.
No word on how Rifkin discovered what McGarry’s exact personal philosophy was.
Montgomery County borrows $9.75 million to make up for a cash flow shortfall resulting from the delay of the sale of Parkhouse.
Dr. Elliot Menkowitz’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lindy, sent a letter to the Montgomery County Chief Operating Officer and the County Solicitor requesting a public hearing for Dr. Menkowitz to “clear his name.” Menkowitz called for a public review of the situation by the county commissioners and an opportunity to present documents and call witnesses during that review.
“Dr. Menkowitz did nothing unethical or wrong in connection with the Parkhouse transaction and, in particular, never hid or attempted to hide his involvement with either Parkhouse or Mid-Atlantic….Due process of law and fundamental fairness dictate that the county must give Dr. Menkowitz an opportunity to clear his good name and restore his reputation and integrity by granting him the opportunity to publicly rebut the conclusion of the county’s report,” Lindy said in the letter.
Menkowitz never got the public hearing he requested, thus he never presented any documents or called any witnesses in his defense, and his name never surfaced again in connection with the sale of Parkhouse.
Attorney Marc Jonas, on behalf of Montgomery County, files a Right to Know request with Upper Providence Township asking for all records pertaining to zoning ordinances, text and map amendments, and all emails from supervisors and staff related to Parkhouse from the period of January 1 2013 to the date of the request. The request resulted in 2,411 pages submitted to the County and a total cost to the county of $945.35 for copying, clerical and postage fees.
Parkhouse sale finalized during a two-hour, unexplained recess during a regular public meeting of the Montgomery County Commissioners. The original sale price of $39 million was increased by $2 million to $41 million due to the inclusion of the 70-acre Upper Schuylkill Valley Park, for which the County’s subdivision application had been denied earlier. The County then condemned the Park for $2 million buy back. This is the “other method of getting their subdivision” that County Solicitor Ray McGarry mentioned some weeks earlier.
The Commissioners applauded themselves for their fiscal prowess in retiring the debt associated with the Logan Square boondoggle, and for also permanently preserving the County-owned Schuylkill Valley Park, which was only ever in danger of development if the Commissioners sold it.
State Representative Mike Vereb, in whose district Parkhouse was located, after supposedly working “behind the scenes” against the Parkhouse sale on behalf of his constituency, was silent in the media during the entire sale process. Vereb, who was actually invited to attend the surprise closing of the sale in person, makes his first public statement following the closing of the sale of Parkhouse, when he pledged to “remain actively engaged in Parkhouse’s future even when the property is no longer in his district,” and said, “There is no question some will be unhappy and the waters will be troublesome, but I think we can all work together and the five years gives us time for emotions to calm down.” In exchange for his cooperation, Vereb got a matching $150,000 grant from the County for a handicapped boat ramp at the Upper Schuylkill Valley Park.
Ninth Parkhouse protest rally in Abington
Montgomery County, via attorney Marc Jonas, files suit against the Upper Providence Township Board of Supervisors in PA Supreme Court challenging a “bad faith” decision regarding their denial of the County’s incomplete subdivision application. The lawsuit goes nowhere.
Attorney Marc Jonas appears for Montgomery County before the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors about a plan to build a maintenance shed at the Lower Perkiomen Valley Park. Due to the location of the park right at the Oaks exit of 422, the Supervisors requested that the County consider another location for the maintenance shed that would be less visible. Reasonable alternatives that already had the existing infrastructure were proposed before Jonas stated he would not consider any other location and the County had a “by-rights” right to place the maintenance shed wherever they wanted on the Park.
When Supervisor Barker mentioned the Township’s cooperative history with the County and land donation to the County for their parks, Jonas replied, “With all due respect, Mr. Barker, if we didn’t have the very recent history at the Parkhouse property we might have something to discuss.”
Supervisor Mossie responded, “So this is punishment for Parkhouse?” Jonas denied that.
After the Township approved the County’s by-rights plan, the maintenance shed was never built.
Upper Providence Township receives a letter from attorney Marc Jonas on behalf of Montgomery County disputing 16.3 hours, or $2,282 of the Township’s total $3,857.00 in consultant review fees related to the denial of the County’s subdivision request for Parkhouse.
The Montgomery County Commissioners issued a press release announcing the preservation of 114 acres of farmland in the county after selling 220 acres of County designated open space used as farmland in Upper Providence a month and a half earlier. As part of the press release, Commissioner Chairman Josh Shapiro issued the following statement,
“The preservation of farmland in Montgomery County is a high priority for us, because it helps maintain the farming traditions in the county, and also preserves land from development making the county one of the most diverse in the state and maintaining our excellent quality of life.”
The Remember Parkhouse group raises enough money to buy billboards at Markley and Main Street in Norristown, and in Pottstown on Route 422, reminding the public that Shapiro, Richards and Castor sold our open space. The billboards run for one month.
Despite having sold for $41 million earlier in the year, the new landowner, GA HC REIT II Royersford SNF LLC (of which Rifkin is the principal) files for an appeal of property taxes. The assessment was reduced from $28,078,810 to $25,994,000. As originally assessed, the county property tax would have been $88,504 per year and school tax would have been $722,917 per year. Under the new assessment of $25,994,000, county tax falls by $6,571 to $81,933 and school tax falls by $53,676 to $669,241 per year resulting in a total tax savings of $60,247 per year. At the time of assessment, Upper Providence Township did not have a property tax.
It should be noted that prior to the sale, the property was tax exempt.
After months of trying to coordinate schedules, representatives from Upper Providence Township (Supervisor Lisa Mossie, Park and Rec Director Sue Barker and Township Planner Geoff Grace) set up a meeting with Scott Rifkin and Mike Jacobs to discuss the Township’s vision for the property. The meeting was not a public meeting at the express request of Scott Rifkin. The Township’s sketch plan was presented to Rifkin and Jacobs at their request as a beginning of negotiations regarding the ultimate disposition of the land. Rifkin and Jacobs were non-committal and promised to “get back” to the Township once they had an opportunity to review.
Josh Shapiro and the Democrats sweep the County Courthouse elections, in part due to the lack of unity and in fighting in the Republican party. Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman Mike Vereb was focused on defeating Joe Gale for the minority Commissioner spot and getting his candidate, Steve Tolbert, elected. Shapiro cruised to victory unscathed. Gale wins the minority Commissioner seat.
The Parkhouse sale was never used as an issue in the election.
After the most disastrous election for Republicans in Montgomery County history, Mike Vereb resigns as Montgomery County Republican Committee Chairman.
Josh Shapiro and Val Arkoosh, vote for an 11% increase in Montgomery County taxes. This is the second year in a row that Montgomery County raises taxes; the year prior, taxes were raised by 9%. Shapiro’s no-tax pledge apparently expired on completion of his first term as Commissioner.
Josh Shapiro is sworn in for a second term as County Commissioner
A week after his swearing in for his second term as County Commissioner, to absolutely no one’s surprise, Josh Shapiro announces he will seek election for PA Attorney General.
State Representative Mike Vereb (R 150th) announces he will not seek another term as state rep. His term ends on 12/31/17.
Having heard nothing further from the Parkhouse folks, Upper Providence Township engages the services of the Natural Lands Trust’s Peter Williamson. Williamson was tasked with “bringing the Parkhouse folks to the table” and to that end, contacted them with the Township’s desire to meet, and also the Township’s wishes to make these meetings public.
Responding to Peter Williamson’s email. Mike Jacobs, on behalf of Parkhouse, indicated that they were willing to take a “deeper dive” on the Township’s sketch plan, but that the inclusion of the public would derail the talks and instead, there would be opportunity for public input “down the road.”
A group called Upper Providence First is formed to expand the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors from three to five members. The group is headed up by Mike Vereb’s campaign treasurer, daughter of his longtime legislative aid, and Upper Providence Tax Collector, Julie Mullin, and Mike Vereb’s crony, Jim White. In summer of 2016, the group collects enough signatures to get the issue on the ballot.
Upper Providence Township narrowly approves expansion of the Board of Supervisors from three to five members. By a 178-vote margin out of 8,942 votes cast, voters decided to expand the number of seats on the governing board from three to five. The unofficial final result, according to the Montgomery County elections website, was 4,560 in favor of expanding the board to 4,382 against.
Jim White, the activist who spearheaded the effort with the group Upper Providence First, said he is “very happy with the result, although it was a hell of a lot closer than I thought it would be.”
Josh Shapiro wins PA Attorney General.
Josh Shapiro is sworn in as Attorney General.
Shapiro also announces his senior staff; among them is Mike Vereb, who is appointed as the Director of Government Affairs at a six-figure taxpayer funded salary.
Mid-Atlantic Healthcare sells Parkhouse operations to MIMA. Control of the land remains with Rifkin’s REIT. Mike Jacobs, the government relations officer with Mid-Atlantic Healthcare, remains the government relations officer for the new entity.
A community meeting is set up for select members of the public and representatives of Parkhouse. By Rifkin’s request, attendance at the meeting, which is held off campus of the Township at the Hilton Garden Inn, is by invitation only. The Township’s sketch plan is reviewed, but there is no commitment from the Parkhouse folks to pursue it.
In Upper Providence, thanks to the expansion of the Board the prior year, three seats are available on the newly expanded five-member board. For the first time ever in Upper Providence, Democrats sweep the election and win all three seats, with incumbent Lisa Mossie losing. The Board is now majority Democrat with two Republicans remaining.
Incumbent Republican Upper Providence Supervisor Phil Barker opts not to run for re-election. Democrat Bill Starling beats Republican Nicole Moshang. The makeup of the Upper Providence Board is now 4-1 Democrat majority.
Chairman of the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors, Helene Calci, and Supervisor Laurie Higgins meet privately via Zoom with Scott Rifkin to view and discuss his impending development plans.
Late on January 15, 2021, the agenda for the January 19, 2021, Board of Supervisors meeting was unceremoniously published to the Township’s website. On that agenda was Rifkin’s proposed sketch plan for the Parkhouse property. This was the only notice the public received. The meeting was held entirely via Zoom and no residents were permitted to attend the meeting in person. In spite of the lack of notification and the short period of time, 110 people showed up for the Zoom call. Chairman Bill Starling cut off comments prematurely, denying several residents the opportunity to speak.
In addition to various redundant amenities already available in the immediate area (farmers’ market, horse boarding, animal petting area), the presentation purposely omitted the inclusion of at least 500 to 600 apartments and 150 homes.
Interestingly, the plan Rifkin presented contemplated development of the entire parcel, even though Rifkin knew, because he had stated it in the past, that only about 20 acres of the land was developable. The developable acreage is, of course, where the apartments are proposed.
Rifkin has also repeatedly stated he is not a developer. But here is with a development proposal that does not conform to Upper Providence’s existing zoning. It does not even conform with the buildable area of the site.
There is no question that this proposal would require a zoning change, and yet, after meeting with Rifkin privately and viewing this plan, Upper Providence Supervisors Helene Calci and Laurie Higgins blessed the plan for public presentation. Of particular note by the attendees of the meeting was that Helene Calci seemed to be throwing favorable softball questions to Rifkin, almost promoting his plan.
Upper Providence Supervisor Laurie Higgins composes a form letter response, on behalf of all Board members, to all Parkhouse inquiries from the public that the Board is receiving after the January 17 meeting. In her response, Higgins directs residents’ concerns to the developer and patronizes residents with facts they already know, such as the land belongs to the developer. Higgins does not address the Board’s willingness to change the zoning to accommodate Rifkin’s plan.
Only one supervisor, Al Vagnozzi, publicly states that he is not in favor of any zoning change for the Parkhouse property.
Supervisor Helen Calci is silent, choosing to let Higgins’ letter speak for her.
It should be noted that both Calci’s and Vagnozzi’s terms are up in 2021 and both are running for re-election.
Scott Rifkin sends a letter to Upper Providence Township Manager Tim Tieperman regarding the plan he presented. Nowhere in that letter does Rifkin indicate that he is withdrawing the plan. In fact, throughout the letter, Rifkin is still selling the plan to the supervisors, concluding his letter with,
“I am only going to build one community in my lifetime, and I would like to be able to feel that I created something that I could point to with pride. There is a similar community in Georgia—Serenbe—that has been an internationally recognized success in creating this type of lifestyle.”
At the Upper Providence Board of Supervisors meeting, before allowing public comment, Chairman Bill Starling announces that the Board has received a letter from Rifkin. Without reading the letter into the record, Starling says,
“I just want to quickly acknowledge there was great interest in the presentation by Dr. Rifkin, the owner of the uh, what’s known as the Parkhouse property, at our January meeting, and uh, he has submitted a letter back to the Board, essentially acknowledging the feedback that we received from the community, and uh, at this point, they’re withdrawing that idea and uh, they’re going back to the drawing board to look at what they can develop under the current zoning of that property, which is their right. And uh, there was never an issue to be voted on by the Board, and I want to put his letter in the record so that all interested citizens can have a look at it in the interests of transparency.”
Supervisor Helene Calci takes to the Remember Parkhouse facebook page and states that she "is now, and always has been, opposed to a zoning change on the Parkhouse property." When asked why she allowed a plan that required a zoning change to be presented, essentially wasting Rifkin’s time, Calci had no response.
Upper Providence Township issues a “Press Release” entitled “Parkhouse FAQs.” Most of the bullet points included in this piece are common knowledge, especially for the residents who have been following the Parkhouse issue since 2013. Point five of the FAQ doubles down on the lie Chairman Bill Starling told at the February 16, 2021 Upper Providence Board of Supervisors meeting:
“Dr. Rifkin approached the Township about changing some of the criteria in the IN-zoning district. Based on strong negative public reaction, Dr. Rifkin did not proceed with the submission of an actual development plan. Two supervisors saw an overview and description of a proposal and felt it was necessary to bring in front of the full board, as well as the residents of the Township, for their perspective. However, the Supervisors never voted on anything because Dr. Rifkin halted any further discussion, stating that he might return at some later date after doing additional research. Nothing is pending at the present time.”