New Hanover Township is accused of blocking housing development ‘to keep the minority population’ from growing

The developers behind the huge Town Center project in Montgomery County alleged delays from New Hanover officials have cost them more than $150 million.

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An expanse of land with trees

An aerial view of New Hanover Township in Montgomery County. (New Hanover Township)

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A developer and a group of aligned landowners in New Hanover filed a federal lawsuit against the township, accusing officials of a racially motivated plot to prevent people of color from moving into the area.

RP Wynstone and the group of landowners are seeking an unspecified amount of damages from the township for the delay of the Town Center project, which its original developer first introduced in 2005. The project proposed more than 700 housing units and commercial space.

In the legal complaint filed on March 5 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, attorneys from Kang Haggerty LLC accused New Hanover officials of reviewing development applications in bad faith and passing restrictive ordinances designed to make construction unfeasible. The lawsuit also alleges that the township ignored a court directive to hold off on deciding on the application.

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“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 complaint read.

Lawyers argued in their filing that the township has taken “extreme measures” to block construction on the 230-acre property near Swamp Pike. As a result, the developers have sustained damages in excess of $150 million.

New Hanover Township Manager Jamie Gwynn and Rufus Jennings, an attorney representing the township in northern Montgomery County, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Friday.

The developers point to a township “marred by scandals.” In 2019, former New Hanover Police Officers Keith Youse and Dennis Psota went public with allegations that the department was riddled with racism and a culture of intimidation. The accusations prompted an internal probe and an attorney general-led inquiry into the department’s work environment. Youse is now a township supervisor and is the only person on the five-person board not explicitly named as a defendant.

Youse, whose wife is Korean American, alleged he had witnessed numerous instances of racist comments and acts from the department’s top cops, including usage of the n-word and other racial slurs. On his last day prior to retiring in 2016, Youse said he found an egg roll placed atop his belongings.

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In 2020, the township announced its own probe could not substantiate most of Youse’s claims. However, the state Attorney General’s Office later reached a settlement with the department with a series of recommendations.

“The Township never released the results of its internal investigation into the racist comments and Sgt. [William] Moyer retired from the police department without adverse action. 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 complaint read.

The plaintiffs argue the planning commission, which is the primary body responsible for reviewing land development proposals, is tainted. According to the complaint, township officials have been caught using dog whistles “to signal the desire to keep the minority population in the Township from growing.”

“For instance, Sgt. Moyer and others expressed their opinion that apartments or other forms of multi-unit housing, which would likely increase the racial diversity of the Township, was not appropriate for the town,” the complaint read. “In one unguarded moment, Sgt. Moyer even expressed that the more affordable housing options would attract ‘those kinds of people’ to the Township.”

According to the developers, multi-family homes in New Hanover account for 0.05% of total land area.

The township granted preliminary approval for the development in 2007. However, the original developer went bankrupt, clearing the way for RP Wynstone to take control of the Town Center property in 2011.

Since then, the process has been hindered by last-minute ordinance changes, pressure to cut the number of proposed housing units in half and constant revisions to the original plan, the plaintiffs argued.

“The ongoing and concerted actions over the course of years to target Plaintiffs constitute a pattern or practice,” the complaint read.

The developers are also asking the court to impose punitive damages on the township.

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