the case for open space

See this photo above? The one I am opening this post with? Gorgeous view and vista, right? That is what conserved and protected open space looks like.  That is part of the 571 gloriously preserved acres on Stroud Preserve, which we all have to visit thanks to the Natural Lands Trust. This is one reason why I am so in awe of this non-profit.  They are amazing.

Now look at the next photo. Also taken by me from the air a couple of years ago and notice the difference:

 
Next is another shot- both of these were taken over Chester County . 

  
Recently we attended a party out near or in West Vincent. We got turned around on the way and ended up in a development I never knew existed.  I think it may have been off Fellowship Road, I am not sure, because it was one of those times where you just get all turned around. 

Anyway, we ended up in this development that had rather large houses so crammed together you felt as if you were in one of the houses and stuck your arm out the window that you could basically touch the neighbor’s house.  Don’t misunderstand me, it was a pretty, well-kept neighborhood but it looked so incredibly phony, almost like a movie set. Or a life sized model. And it was also very odd because it was a neighborhood no one was outside. Not even to walk a dog. It was eerie.

Every day we hear about more and more developments happening. Just this weekend somebody posted the following photo taken  in West Vincent:

  
If I have the location correct it is on Birchrun Road and has passed through a couple of developers’ hands? Like Hankin and now Pulte maybe?  Anyway soon this will be a crop of plastic houses. And it seems like Chester County keeps sprouting  more and more crops of densely placed plastic houses.

You would think that Chester County would have learned from the mistakes of Montgomery and Delaware Counties.

Just look at what once was Foxcatcher Farm or the DuPont estate in Newtown Square at Goshen and 252? How is any of that attractive? And look at the beautiful natural habitat that was literally bulldozed under. I said before I’m a realist, I didn’t expect when an estate like that was broken up it would remain pristine and intact, especially given the history and events of recent years.  However, it still shocks me that none of the land was truly conserved. In my opinion, the only land that has not been built upon is land they couldn’t build upon easily.

   

The two photos you’re looking at above I took this spring. Giant manor sized  houses so close together .  And they are going up lickety-split in all of  their Tyvec glory.

I think it’s horrible. I think it’s horrible especially since I have seen what nonprofits like the Natural Lands Trust are able to accomplish and achieve in land preservation. But did Newtown Township ever wanted to preserve any of it given the projects that have almost but not quite happened on the former  Arco/Ellis school site in recent years? 

However there are many opinions when to comes to development. Recently my blog posts about Foxcatcher, which are in some cases years old, were brought up again on a  Facebook page about Newtown Square.

   

Ok so this Nathan above  is entitled to his opinion even if he is somewhat ignorant in his approach.  I never called Newtown Supervisors  “commissioners” are we will start with that. And if he wants to go pointing fingers, there are several villains in these plays.  At the top of my list are  local municipal elected officials, state elected officials, and developers.

We’ll start with the local elected officials. These are the people that have temporary elected stewardship over our communities. I think they have an obligation to represent us all equally and not just select factions or special interests. But the reality of politics even on the most local level is that is whom they cater to exactly.  Are we talking about real or theoretical payola  here? Doesn’t matter because at the end of the day they get sold a bill of goods and they know better than the rest of us. When you challenge a local municipality on development most of the time they will throw up their hands and say “Wecan’t do anything. All our codes are based on the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.”

Then there are the state elected officials. These are the guys whose  campaigns are supported by not only local elected officials but people with big check books  like developers. Our politicians on the state level could reform and update the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code but they don’t want to deal with it.
 They also don’t want to deal with the building and development lobbyists. And it’s those lobbying groups that killed a very interesting bill that was proposed in Pennsylvania a few years ago.

This was known as HB904 in the seission of 2007:

AN ACT 1 Amending the act of July 31, 1968 (P.L.805, No.247), entitled, 2 as amended, “An act to empower cities of the second class A, 3 and third class, boroughs, incorporated towns, townships of 4 the first and second classes including those within a county 5 of the second class and counties of the second through eighth 6 classes, individually or jointly, to plan their development 7 and to govern the same by zoning, subdivision and land 8 development ordinances, planned residential development and 9 other ordinances, by official maps, by the reservation of 10 certain land for future public purpose and by the acquisition 11 of such land; to promote the conservation of energy through 12 the use of planning practices and to promote the effective 13 utilization of renewable energy sources; providing for the 14 establishment of planning commissions, planning departments, 15 planning committees and zoning hearing boards, authorizing 16 them to charge fees, make inspections and hold public 17 hearings; providing for mediation; providing for transferable 18 development rights; providing for appropriations, appeals to 19 courts and penalties for violations; and repealing acts and 20 parts of acts,” adding provisions to authorize temporary 21 development moratorium. 22 The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 23 hereby enacts as follows: 24 Section 1. The act of July 31, 1968 (P.L.805, No.247), known 25 as the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, reenacted and  1 amended December 21, 1988 (P.L.1329, No.170), is amended b.

This act stayed around a couple of years until it was just made to disappear. it was last referenced in a 2009 article:

Philadelphia Inquirer: A home-building ban in an economic crisis? By Diane Mastrull

Amid an economic disaster that has brought the home-building industry to its knees, a Pennsylvania lawmaker intends to resume his push for building moratoriums.
A building ban? When federal-stimulus proponents long for a resumption of the construction cacophony of hammers and electric saws?
The moratorium advocate, State Rep. Robert Freeman (D., Northampton), insists he’s not hard-hearted when it comes to builders.
“It’s important for us to stimulate our economy, so I’d be glad to get the home builders back to work,” Freeman said in a recent interview.
He just wants to ensure that when the orders for new houses start pouring in again, communities have a way to temporarily stop the bulldozers if they do not have adequate growth plans and ordinances in place.
“It gives the opportunity for those folks who have been feeling the pressure from development to take a breather,” Freeman said of moratoriums.
Municipalities currently have the right to reject a development proposal if it does not meet local land-use requirements. But they cannot simply declare that no building can occur if in fact there is room to accommodate it. Freeman wants to give them the temporary right to do so – but only if a town determines that it is overwhelmed by development and that its growth plans, ordinances, and zoning are inadequate to address that crush.

That bill was a great idea. It would’ve allowed communities to hit the pause button for a brief amount of time.

As individuals and residents  in these communities facing wanton development our culpability partially lies in the fact that we keep electing these people to public office. And once these people are in elected office, not many are willing to hold their feet to the proverbial fire are they?

I also do not feel it is as simple as saying people should just put up the money to buy all the open space. 

Ordinary people don’t often have the means to match what developers will pay so they can put up hundreds if not thousands of houses.  Even on small building sites, often regular people cannot match what developers will offer to buy a house as a tear down because the lot or neighborhood is desirable for them to build on . I saw that happen a few years ago when someone was trying to buy a house and they ended up bidding against a developer. They just walked away from it. They couldn’t compete.

But as for people like this Nathan, I am not going to just zip my lip as so eloquently stated. We need to speak out about these monster developments in order to preserve our very way of life. It’s not just open space, it’s more complicated than that. It’s what makes us want to live in a specific area in the first place. We are trying to preserve our communities. Our sense of place.

People who are extraordinarily pro-development for whatever reason will immediately label people like myself as being completely “anti-development”. But that isn’t it .

What we are looking for is yes, preservation and land conservation, but also moderation.  And when is the last time in recent years that you have seen moderation in any kind of development?  The ironic thing is that shortsighted on the part of the developers. If they exercised moderation once in a while they would get a lot farther with their plans.

But it is as if development is revving up to warp speed once again.  It makes me wonder if that is why people in Chester County can’t save their oak tree – seriously, it’s in the Daily Local:

Chester Springs family works to save 270-year-old oak tree 

By Virginia Lindak, For 21st-Century Media

Chester Springs resident Jim Helm has spent the last several weeks trying to save a historical estimated 270-year-old oak tree on his property from being destroyed by utility companies. The tree, which stands on the border of his property, extends into power lines which run along the road, making it vulnerable for unwarranted trimming and cutting by Verizon and PECO…Recently the Helms discovered Verizon crews cutting off branches of the oak tree and halted engineers as best they could, as the police were called in to regulate the situation and ordered the Helms back to their house. West Vincent Township officials have told the Helms they want to help save the tree but progress has been slow. 
Helm noted that between the trimming conducted by Verizon and West Vincent Township, 25 percent of the tree’s canopy is now gone….Perhaps a larger question continues to loom; as modern development continues to grow at a rapid rate in Chester County, who will advocate on behalf of the few, rare old trees left and save them from being cut down?

We need open space. We also need just basic land and community preservation. Every plastic McMansion, “Carriage House” and townhouse development that comes along further detracts from what makes where we live special. It lines the pockets of developers and creates a sea of plastic houses that are ridiculously close together.  Also, what do we as communities really get out of these developments except traffic jams and a change in our overall ecological profile?

From one end of Pennsylvania to the other we need land development reforms. We desperately need to re-define what suburbs and exurbs are. Having the ability for our communities to have temporary moratoriums on development is not a bad thing, either. And in order to get these things we have to put better people in elected office from the most local level through to the Governor’s mansion. 

We also need to better support land conservation groups. If we don’t, open-space will merely become an antiquated term with no practical or real applicability.

Thanks for stopping by.

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2 thoughts on “the case for open space

  1. well said. Relying on outdated ordinances and state regulations is an “out” so our elected officials can say “not my fault” when residents object to the end results. I still get comments that we didn’t do enough to “save” the Lockwood Mansion when Home Depot applied to build at Rt 30 and 202. We negotiated the most green space and buffer we could. Had they built “by right” per the township regs the HD could have been 15′ from the side porch of the house. Development will get denser as the remaining vacant land dwindles. Sad.

  2. Ditto. Well said. I lived in West Vincent in the early 1980s after college. My house (a converted barn) was right down from Ludwig’s Corner. I worked for French & Pickering Creeks Conservation and I thought Chester County, especially northern Chester County, would be protected for the long term because an important bond issue for open space was passed by a wide margin (a record number of people voted for it).. Apparently the money ran out. Then farms began to go including the Whetherall Tree farm. It seems once a development is built, others will follow. I recently found an item stating that Upper U. was voted best of the suburbs by some trade magazine. Another nail in the coffin: The town of Eagle agreeing to a mega WaWa and a CVS that has a fake clock tower. I try not to drive up there now – it’s too heart-breaking. I wrote a book about the farms along Rt. 401 in the mid 1980s, and I would say none of them are working farms now.

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