community

lavenderLast evening I went to my first ever municipal meeting in Chester County.  It was the East Whiteland Zoning Hearing Board.  CubeSmart was supposed to be on it, but apparently the applicant continued it until September 23rd.

The meeting started a little late and the room was packed, even for August.  I estimate that maybe 100 people can be seated and truthfully it wasn’t far off capacity. The first order of business was they announced the retirement of one of the members – I think it was the guy who fell asleep during the last Zoning Hearing Board Meeting where CubeSmart was discussed.

The most contentious discussion of the evening was the application that requested a single variance.  1535 Morstein Road in Malvern. They needed the variance on the frontage so they can shoehorn in two McMansions on what looks to me to be a flag lot.  They got it.  In a perfect world the variance would have been denied. But just like Lower Merion, Radnor, Tredyffrin, and so on they throw it back to the public that commissioners and supervisors create the zoning. And we all know the zoning and everything else is based on what? The outdated Municipalities Planning Code of Pennsylvania.

Yes it is a cycle, and we elect the people who perpetuate the cycle. So in order to break the cycle we have to change the players enough until we get people willing to enact the changes on a top down basis that better reflects what we want in our communities as residents.

But politics of municipalities is not the conversation I am having today.  The conversation I am having is about community. And I saw it last night and it was terrific. First a little recap and a couple observations.

1535 Morstein

This Morstein application and discussion on the property was interesting.  The applicant’s attorney put up several witnesses, including the daughter of the deceased who I presume was the executor of the estate. The guy has been dead a few years so who knows if there were other executors or not, but for someone who wants to sell and move on in my opinion the property has sat a long time in an area where they don’t sit too long.  Now this lady grew up there and on some level it must be darn difficult to go through this.  Obviously she lives someplace else and needs to settle the estate but I still find it hard to believe some of what she said.

When quizzed about the property by the Zoning Hearing Board and even residents she said that she had tried to interest a realtor in selling the property but couldn’t find one and that no neighbors had ever expressed interest in the property.  I find that hard to believe.  It is quite a desirable area.

The house itself is a wreck. The property is so overgrown and neglected that you almost expect Charles Dickens’ character Miss Havisham from Great Expectations to come wandering out of the woods.   It did not get that way overnight. That takes years.  I am always fascinated when people let a family home sort of crumble year by year.  I have seen it out here, have seen it on the Main Line.  Saw it some more in and around Berwyn yesterday when I was cruising around photographing historic homes for a fall house tour.

The proposed plan seems as if it has a few more hoops to go through (and wow look at the drawing below – light green looks like proposed lawn area and dark green forest. That to me looks like a LOT of trees will go) before it can become reality including things like septic testing, storm water considerations  and so on. It is not a done deal yet.  They have to pay close attention to the septic as apparently back there a lot of septic systems have failed and if the area went to municipal/public sewer well as I understand it the sewage plant or whatever that is closest is at or near capacity and where would they pump to? And the cost of adding public sewer is also quite expensive.

What I saw last evening that I REALLY liked and totally respect was a community which came together to morstein1appeal to the Zoning Hearing Board.  All they want is their way of life and neighborhoods protected.  They were realists.  Many said if you have to build one house we get that, but why do you have to cram two into the space? The other thing I liked is they did this in a respectful manner.  There was some drama but not to the extent you see in similar Main Line meetings I used to attend.

Community that comes together is awesome.  I am glad to see a sense of community is alive and well.  It is so important. What I also liked is I discovered that a lot of these people had lived around there for decades in some cases.  That is a positive sign for any community and what has changed on the Main Line, for example.  A lot of areas (the Main Line included) can get quite transient and that is not good for a community necessarily.  Not everything can always stay the same but when you check out a community that has lots of comings and goings of residents to me that always makes you wonder what is wrong, doesn’t it?

We don’t need to all be in each other’s pockets and we don’t need local governments that micromanage every little thing. But a sense of community along with a sense of place is so important.  It was so very nice to see neighbors who care about each other.  That is something I saw less and less of on the Main Line before I moved.

People define community often as “community events”.  Events are nice, but they don’t make the community, people do.  And when people do embrace a true sense of community it is very cool and I think marvelous. And that is something no developer can replicate. It either just is or isn’t.