The West Chester Borough Council gave a standing-room-only audience plenty to watch Wednesday night by defeating a controversial church expansion plan and keeping alive a proposal for a minor-league baseball stadium.
In addition, the council voted to close a $1.5 million budget shortfall for 2011 by raising taxes 20.1 percent. The hike will allow the borough to keep existing trash collection, but will still require an increase in some parking-meter hours and fees.
By a 6-1 vote, the council denied a contentious expansion plan for the First Presbyterian Church of West Chester. The church, which says it has outgrown its Greek Revival building at Darlington and Miner Streets, wants to raze two historic houses it owns in the block, which is often showcased in historic walking tours.
Bob Adams, a parishioner and attorney for the church, said he did not know what the church's next step would be. "We have to talk to the leadership and see what they want to do," Adams said.
Following the vote, the Rev. Greg Stovell, the pastor, said he wanted to encourage dialogue with the borough and the community. "My door is truly wide open," he said.
The council voted, 4-3, to send a report on a proposed minor-league baseball stadium from the Turks Head Stadium Alliance to the West Chester Redevelopment Authority for further review. On Tuesday, several council members said they did not see the economic benefits of the baseball stadium. "I'm not seeing numbers that make it worth sending to the RDA," said Councilwoman Susan L. Bayne.
Some of her colleagues favored more input.
"What's the harm of getting information?" asked Councilman Thomas P. Paxson.
The alliance wants to turn an abandoned industrial site in the southeastern part of the borough into a $40 million baseball facility on land the borough would own. The facility would try to lure a Phillies minor league team and provide a venue for West Chester University programs, the organizers said.
The site, a brownfield, was once used by drugmaker Wyeth to produce penicillin. It was acquired by Pfizer Inc. when that firm bought Wyeth in 2009.
Bayne said the projected revenues of $475,000 would not cover expenses and falls short of the $750,000 the borough receives annually from Pfizer. That obligation was inherited from Wyeth, which had an agreement in perpetuity to pay the borough $750,000 a year for sewer services.
Council President Holly V. Brown called the payment "a huge help" right now, but acknowledged that it might be challenged by Pfizer in court.
Howie Bedell, a principal in the Turks Head Stadium Alliance, said he was disappointed with Tuesday night's reception. He said he thinks the redevelopment authority will recognize the revenue benefits the stadium would bring, and hopes the group will have a chance to analyze the proposal.
Bedell, a former Phillies player who has set up stadiums across the country, said that Pfizer is willing to donate the land to the borough. He said Pfizer has indicated that it will stop paying the $750,000 and believes it will prevail in court.
In addition to Bedell, the Stadium Alliance includes two former West Chester mayors; Roy Jackson, a former Phillies employee whose notable assets have been the racehorse Barbaro and an Eastern League franchise in York, Pa.; and Jerry Schneider, president of the Chester County Sports Hall of Fame.