development food for thought

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August 13, 2008.  O’Neill’s apartment buildings Riverwalk at Millennium go up in flames. It burned hard and fast and was awful.  A lot of the articles surrounding this have magically disappeared off of newspaper sites over time but for those of us who worked in Conshohocken during that time frame and watched them going from a dedication where then relatively new President Bush (as in George the younger) was at a brownfield ceremony to sign a piece of legislation known as The Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act to a reality often have strong opinions about rapid development and so on.  This legislation was signed in Conshohocken PA in 2002. I know as I was there right in the first few rows watching it happen. My State Senator at the time gave me a ticket.

As the Inquirer article stated at the time:

The legislation that Bush will sign – the Small Business Liability Relief and Brownfields Revitalization Act – creates a five-year program that can give states up to $200 million a year to clean up more than 500,000 polluted industrial sites, more commonly known as brownfields.

The act authorizes money for the cleanups and exempts small businesses from liability if they did not contribute a significant amount of the pollution. It also will create a public record of brownfields.

O’Neill Properties is one of the most familiar names when it comes to developments on sites like this.  Quite a few of the sites like this are actually in Chester County.  In East Whiteland. (Uptown Worthington or Bishop Tube anyone?)

2761103987_6629fc2f5e_oWhen Millennium went up in flames it was a crazy thing to watch, and SO many fire companies responded.  Here is what 6 ABC WPVI TV said at the time:

A multi-alarm fire was raged for hours Wednesday night in the 200 block of Washington Street in Conshohocken.According to Conshohocken Fire Department Chief Robert Phipps, 11 firefighters have been injured due to the multi-alarm fire at the Riverwalk at Millenium and three or four fire trucks have been damaged. The extent of the injuries is not yet known.

Officials also tell Action News that 80 fire companies from 5 counties helped extinguish the blaze…..”It’s surreal. People are just in shock; they don’t know what to do,” resident Hope Raitt said.

It was an emotional scene in the haze of smoke.

Residents were in tears.

Many made frantic calls on cell phones……The main concern for many was their pets.

The Riverwalk at Millenium allows animals, so many people arrived home from work only to learn their pets may be trapped.

 

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A little over a year after the fire, a settlement on it was reached (Click here to read about that).   In the fall of 2010 the project then completed was for sale (Click here to read about that.)  All of this occurred after a big huge article about the developer in Philadelphia Magazine.

After the fire there were enough articles to fell a forest. Again, most of them are no longer online, and who knows if they even exist in archives. Here’s a LINK to a related article having to do with the banking in 2012.) And today Riverwalk at Millennium has reviews on Yelp. A lot of the reviews aren’t exactly flattering. (However in all fairness reviews of Eastside Flats is not so fabulous either – see this and this and this and this.)

In 2010 a crazy lawsuit started in Federal Court about Uptown Worthington (where the Malvern Wegmans and Target and other things are today.) This thing burbled and spat fire for a few years until it was settled (one article about this available HERE.)

The food for thought here is simple: what can we learn from other developments? That is a valid question because if you think about it, no matter where we live around here in Southeastern PA we share the commonality of the same or similar pool of developers from place to place.  These developers are like old time mining prospectors – they get what they can get and pull up stakes and move on to the next community. That leaves the reality of these developments for the community to deal with.

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Let’s talk about Eastside Flats. How are they renting really? And why is it these Stoltz people and Korman people don’t seem to care about issues? Or basic things like trash? I was there the other day to have lunch with a friend and there was trash on the sidewalk, like it was a true urban area versus downtown Malvern. And the fake “brick” sidewalks? They look fake, are fake, and are more slippery than the real deal. And what about trucks? Why is it delivery trucks can just block the street, block the only driveways into the parking lots? And the landscaping? Or lack there of?

img_1840And at the end of the day one of the biggest problems with Eastside Flats is still human scale and inappropriate design for the area.  They tower over everything and citify a small town in a way that is architecturally inappropriate. And I would still like to know how fire trucks can navigate this site in the event of fire. How will they reach the rear for example? Via the train tracks? That is another thing that is potentially worrisome.

Development also causes other potential issues. Things like storm water management. When I lived in Lower Merion all you ever heard from the township is how on top of the topic they were.  Yeah right, and they own the Brooklyn Bridge too, right?

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3934298722_d09f391eba_oAbove was my old neighborhood and one photo from Pennsylvania Ave in Bryn Mawr.  I documented storm water management issues for years because even with a summer thunder storm the flooding was insane.  A lot of it had to do with the railroad tracks that ran elevated up their hills through the neighborhood, but not all of it.   We would even have power and Verizon outages from Lancaster Avenue from the water underground. On a few occasions, PECO actually brought in people to pump the water OUT from underneath the ground.

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And have you ever seen what happens when the Schuylkill River floods? Check out this photo I took in Conshohocken in 2007:

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Radnor Township often doesn’t fare better. Next are photos of Wayne a friend of mine took here and there over the past few years:

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Ok so yes, this is the Main Line. Not us here in Chester County. But we can LEARN from their mistakes if our municipalities would kindly wake-up.

Development is an ugly fact of life. No way to seemingly avoid it. And the pool of developers, our veritable land sharks isn’t so big. It’s basically the same ones hop scotching around.

We are Chester County. We were known for great open spaces and farmland and horses and our beautiful natural vistas. I use past tense because development project by development project what Chester County is or was known for is eroding. Fast.

Take for example a project in Willistown I did not realize was happening. Passed by it the other day on Devon Road. Chapel Hill at Daylesford Abbey. People have been upset about this for years….and it finally is starting to happen. (read about it in an old Inquirer Article.)

Or the old DuPont Estate Foxcatcher Farm now Listeter or whatever by Toll?  How jarring is THAT development? And how is it selling? Yes it is neighboring Delaware County but again, it is another example of “is that really what the community wanted or needed”?

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Whenever we read about these developments in the newspaper we hear the talk of “demand”. Whose demand and is it real or imagined?

It doesn’t matter where we live in Chester County, I am reminding all of you once again in 2016 that if we aren’t better stewards of where we live, what we love about Chester County will cease to exist and as we get more and more development we will experience more and more issues like from a lack of true storm water management much like our Main Line neighbors and so on.

Whatever happened to the SOS or Save Open Space initiative in Chester County from the what 1980s and 1990s?  In my opinion we need something like this more than ever. Or we will be seeing more ugliness like the last photo I am going to post. Taken from the Schuylkill Expressway headed west as a car passenger recently.  Not sure where the project is, but I think Lower Merion Township near the river?

Bottom line is we need more than lip service when it comes to development from planning, zoning, or elected officials. Doesn’t matter what municipality. We don’t exist in a vacuum and what happens where we live affects our neighbors and vice versa. If your idea of Chester County is well, Chesterbrook or Eastside Flats you will be steaming by now.  But I am betting most of you want more moderation and more land and open space and area character and historic preservation.  Saving land saves us all.

Thanks for stopping by.

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One thought on “development food for thought

  1. You might be interested in the West Vincent Township Planning Commission’s discussions about the Planned Residential Overlay District. More details are available here – http://www.westvincenttwp.org/12172015-planning-commission-meeting-730-pm/. There is an area in the township that is mostly farms or old farmhouses but it’s actually zoned for high density. They’re trying to decide whether to change the zoning. The challenge is finding a balance between people who want to keep things undeveloped and the development rights of people who have valuable land. Time will tell if the farms in that area remain farms, get developed with large parcel estate homes, carriage houses, townhouses or apartments.

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