east or west, less development would be best

Last night I attended the virtual East Whiteland Historic Commission Meeting. One of the people presenting were representatives of the Great Valley School District.

You see, they are now faced with supersizing the elementary school campus. But nooooo of course it’s not due to wanton development in the area. Since the meeting occurred on St. Patrick’s Day I guess it was leprechauns just not being nice to them or something. Sorry not sorry for the deep sarcasm.

Anyway, the reason they were there as they want to tear things down and build new things and so on. But the district representatives did not like when I commented on the fact that school districts everywhere seem to do this following large swaths of new development in various communities. They will basically tell you it’s not true and everyone knows it’s true.

Of course I also commented that all those school districts are autonomous from municipalities, it’s still somewhat of a codependent relationship and I never for the life of me will understand why school districts won’t be honest and say “hey that’s too much development for us to handle.”

Again, sorry not sorry pointing out the truth.

I had to go out to Exton at the beginning of the week for a medical appointment. As I went up Route 30 from Malvern, I was again struck by the sheer volume of development I saw just there along that road. Every square inch that can be developed is being developed.

People are talking about the Ship Inn being for sale. Now that makes me sad because that is a very historic place. That used to be one of my landmarks years ago when I was going to a friend’s house further west. It was always this cheerful beacon on the road and so pretty and historic. Hopefully it survives.

But right where it’s located is at the vortex of a development tsunami. It’s West Whiteland and they are definitely one of the municipalities that can’t say yes fast enough to new development. Once upon a time I found these historic photos of Exton before all the development started. Night and day.

But it’s not just one municipality it’s more like pick a municipality. Look at East Whiteland. Do we really think the school district would be considering expansion if they weren’t out of room because of all the influx of people due to development? I mean come on let’s get real.

Go a little further east and you look at Tredyffrin and Eastown. Is the school district there not experiencing the same problems and need for expansion? It’s because of all the development, right? It doesn’t matter if it’s single-family McMansions, fake carriage houses, town houses, apartments, condos whatever you want to call them they are bringing people into our districts. The interesting thing is I still don’t necessarily believe that the economy is following the people so I wonder about the long-term sustainability but that’s another conversation for another day.

Go to other areas in Chester County and look at other districts. The West Chester Area School District is a monster it’s so big now. Owen J Roberts is huge, and so is Downingtown. And when you get out to areas like Elverson the kids actually go to school in a dual county district . This school district is Twin Valley, and it services two counties and like seven municipalities.

If you go east out of Chester County down to the Main Line, look at Lower Merion School District. The nasty eminent domain battles and fights because why? Because there are so many people coming into that district they needed to build another middle school. Now that middle school is going to be right on the border of Radnor Township which also has development worries of its own and only has one high school which is pretty crowded from what I’m told these days.

Of course in the case of Lower Merion School District and the location of their new school I have to ask what volunteer fire company is going to be responsible for that big complex? Especially when fire companies are going to be faced with the ongoing super sizing of both Bryn Mawr and Ardmore? So will that necessitate an additional fire company being built? Where would that go? And maybe it’s time for all fire companies to consider more paid staff because I think the volunteers are spread a little thin don’t you?

When are municipalities going to wake the hell up and realize the songs and tales of the Pied Piper-like developers and the Emperor’s new clothes they strew about are ruining our communities?

These developers are marching through our communities leaving overcrowding in school districts and stressed municipal services and infrastructure in their wake. And the Municipalities Planning Code ( aka the MPC), the Bible on which local development and zoning is based, allows all of this. It also allows all of the crazy zoning overlay districts which allow developers to get more and more into our communities.

The MPC was created at the end of the 1960s and I think it was signed in to being in 1970. It contains the extraordinarily outdated definitions of suburbs and exurbs that are still fueling all of this development today. And it’s got to stop. There needs to be a comprehensive update. And that update needs to contain language that actually protects our communities from over development. It needs to contain language that has more meaningful historic preservation and land preservation.

No matter where we live we are drowning in crappy new construction. And people don’t like when I say that because you know they’re reading this post from their McMansion. Well talk to me in 20 years and see how your house endures time and wear. I mean look at all the people alone who have had to remediate stucco in Southeastern Pennsylvania.

These developers roll into communities, they make a lot of money, they offer municipal rabbits the tiny baby carrots of ratables and they just move onto the next project. Or they will say to a municipality that they really care about the community in which they want to over develop because they live there? What do they really care about: the community or how much money they’re making?

Oh wait? What is that I hear? Oh that would be the chorus of I hate all development coming from some of you reading this post. I don’t hate all development but I really dislike the volume and lack of quality of the development we are seeing today. Why on earth do developers think that here in bucolic Chester County we want to see things that look like fake industrial?

And then there are the developers who basically take the same design and apply it to projects in multiple municipalities. Do they really think the public is that stupid? I mean maybe the local politicians are but not necessarily the people that live in these municipalities. Do we really want to live in developer created Stepford Land?

I have seen development in other areas, even urban areas that are clever and they actually have architectural design to them. Or they’re wonderful examples of adaptive reuse. My favorite recent example is something in Philadelphia called The Gotham. It was originally The Gotham Silk Factory, as in stockings. This project is amazing. It pays homage to its past yet it’s modern and new. It’s really cool. It proves you can meld old with new and come up with a good product.

But people, we have to start taking back our communities. We need to hold elected officials accountable. And even if they tell us there is nothing that they can do we still hold them accountable. And we need to find better replacements from within our communities and move these people out.

If you change the face of who governs you you can start to enact change in communities. But if it’s just the same old people sitting there year after year we are just going to keep on getting more of what we don’t like where we call home. That’s not just with local municipalities that’s with state representatives and state senators as well. So far with regard to the newbies in office on the state level I’m not really impressed. And there are some who skated in for additional terms riding on the coattails of others and they never impress me at all.

These are our communities. We deserve more of a say. But in order to have more of a say we all have to become more proactive within our communities. that starts with attending meetings. While they are all virtual, it’s much easier, so please take advantage of it. Pick a meeting and participate.

Be the change you want for where you live.

Thanks for stopping by.

1 thought on “east or west, less development would be best

  1. I do believe we should have term limits for our local representatives and committee people as well………some times same old same old needs a wake up call.!
    Thanks for keepingup the vigilance

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