public parks and private money: good partnerships?

The Willows Radnor Township

The Willows in Radnor has been the subject of controversy in recent years. The buildings needs massive renovations to bring it up to code. And the past few years residents and Radnor Township have struggled on how to best use the site.  They put out an RFP a few years ago and people thought a caterer would take over the house and make it a wedding venue. That fell through. Then a nursery school wanted to move in, and another proposal involved a private citizen buying the house (people incorrectly refer to it as a mansion, it is in fact just a house that sits on a spectacular property!)

Now the Willows is being studied yet again. It has been in the local papers.  It is an example of how communities struggle with publicly owned properties being run by private concerns. Hypothetically these are great adaptive reuses and can be great to keep the life in old and historic structures, but it’s a balance.  The problem as I see it with the Willows has always been the disconnect between the politicians and the people.  

Kennedy Supplee Mansion

For over 20 years the Kennedy Supplee Mansion at the edge of Valley Forge Park was a successful high end restaurant. But then around 2006 that came to an end when the business that owned the restaurant went under.  Since then, the place has slowly deteriorated. Last year I had seen on the National Park Service website an open RFP to I guess get a new tenant. I do not know whatever happened with that RFP.

This is not a new concept at Valley Forge National Historic Park, but over the past couple of years the topic has been getting more attention.

Daily Local: Valley Forge is renting out historic buildings to businesses
By Gary Puleo, gpuleo@21st-centurymedia.com
POSTED: 01/26/15, 4:58 PM EST | UPDATED: ON 01/27/2015


UPPER MERION >> How would you feel about heading over to Valley Forge National Historical Park for a double shot cappuccino and a blueberry scone — in a quaint café setting where memories faintly resonate off the walls?

It could happen before too long.

The National Park Service has put a few historic buildings up for commercial use, including the venerable Maurice Stephens House, which one entrepreneur is eyeing to transform into a charming cafe.

“We’ve had a couple of groups through the building and one is interested in turning it into a café of sorts so that people at the park will have a place to go to get a cup of coffee and a bite to eat,” explained the park’s business manager Patrick Madden, standing outside the 1816 stone farmhouse nestled off of Route 23.

Valley Forge Park needs help. No doubt. I am not sure how the money was spent over the past few decades, and I think it was a huge mistake when they lost the now new and opened and fabulous American Revolutionary War Museum to Philadelphia.

Now Valley Forge just had some great news I learned courtesy of my pal Caroline at Savvy:

Thanks to its newly invigorated citizen militia, the nonprofit Valley Forge Park Alliance, it’s marching forward with dazzling plans that will affect ALL of us – anyone who “recreates” in the park (90 percent of visitors), brings guests there, or even drives through. Ten Hut!

Here’s what’s afoot:

1. A TV show. Star fixer-upper Jeff Devlin, host of “Stone House Revival” on HGTV/DIY Network wants to film six episodes in the park and forge an ongoing partnership….

…..2. A new café with character – and a scenic deck for walkers and cyclists. A local real estate guy (not allowed to tell you who yet) is in serious talks with the National Park Service to lease the Maurice Stephens House….For the record: Of the 113 buildings scattered around the park, 74 are historic and 12 of those are colonial era. Bare bones budgets have left many in rough shape, or worse. The Stephens House was built in 1816.

Already a hit: Weddings in the park. Spiffed up and leased by Robert Ryan Catering, the old Philander Chase Knox Estate and adjoining tent hosted 30+ shindigs its first year and will host at least 44 more in 2017.

Ok I make absolutely NO secret of it that I am an old house geek. I am a HUGE fan of Jeff Devlin. He is the real deal and his work is gorgeous. So I think his potential investment in Valley Forge is awesome.

I do not think creating a respite for tourists, cyclists, etc in the form of a café  at the Stephens House is a bad idea per se, although a “scenic deck” gives me pause because I think the historic structure should remain intact so how will a “scenic deck” be constructed? What money will stay with this old house to help it in the future? I have that concern given the condition of Kennedy Supplee and the fact that mansion had a long term tenant …..until they didn’t.

Reader submitted photo pre-wedding venue days at Knox House

So another park structure the Philander Chase Knox House is now a wedding venue. And it is NOT cheap to marry there according to weddingspot.com which said:

The average wedding cost at Philander Chase is estimated at between $15,705 and $23,044 for a ceremony & reception for 100 guests.

Knox House has gotten freshened up. It is a rented space, but it sits in the midst of a PARK as in Federally owned, taxpayer funded land. They have put up signs asking people to walk a longer way around during events and that seems to be mighty inconvenient if you want to get to Mt. Misery from the main park side. (I have not seen with my own eyes and given the way my knee is still wonky post-surgery.)

Reader submitted photo

I am guessing preservation here comes at a cost because yesterday a friend of mine who is an avid outdoorsman and who loves Valley Forge Park sent me a note about Knox House as a wedding venue:

….People go to hear bird chirping, and enjoy peace and as much quiet as possible without piped in music from loudspeakers. Yesterday got to listen to Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder while enjoying Mt. Misery and Mt. Joy. Unreal!

Since Knox went wedding venue I know people who were used to cutting through to a public parking lot by using the house driveway have been stopped by I presume catering or valet staff. Now if an event is in progress maye that would be understandable, but I keep coming back to this house sits in a publicly funded park, so how does all of this work? How should all of this work as a public private partnership?

Should the tenant have to put up some sort of aestheticslly appealing fencing that would delineate the space in its entirety?

So when structures are rented out on publicly owned land to private parties is it a good thing or is it a form of prostitution? Some critics actually DO consider these partnerships sacrelige and not respectful of the history.  Advocates see these partnerships as a necessary evil: adaptive reuse helps old and historic structures survive in a modern world. 

But….are the rules defined enough with these public- private partnerships? And what money out of revenues earned are put aside for historic structures these businesses are renting? Should there almost be managed trust accounts for these buildings?

Thoughts? Comments? Concerns?

what suNOco does

All of these photos were taken today from the Giant parking lot at the Giant on Boot Road in West Chester and up where the senior living community Wellington is (and Hershey’s Mill.)

Sunoco cut down a slew of the trees for their pipeline. Nothing left but jagged stumps. 

Oh and apparently Sunoco is getting sued too?

Recently there was a pipeline forum – follow these links  courtesy of Tom Casey (whom everyone should vote for on primary day in West Goshen) :

Link 1

Link 2

Link 3

Link 4

saving history through salvage

Pattye Benson photo

When you love history and historic preservation, there are things that make your heart beat faster.

Preservation is a balancing act. Not everything can be saved in perpetuity. Such was the case of Fritz Lumber in Berwyn. But now I have learned from my dear friend and Preservation  Wonder Woman, Pattye Benson, that Fritz’s beautiful big old red barn as it is deconstructed, will be going to the restoration of the Jones Log Barn!  

Here is what Pattye wrote:

 

The final phase of the rebuilding of the Jones Log Barn is finally underway! With the generous help of Stacey Holmes Ballard and Eadeh Enterprises, the Trust is now able to complete the Jones Log Barn at Duportail House. Scott Walker of Axe Handle Timber is the contractor for the project. 

 The Barn Saver of Lancaster County is deconstructing the large red barn at Fritz Lumber — the materials from the red barn will help complete the Jones Log Barn. How wonderful that a part of the of the Fritz Lumberyard Development project will also include the rebuilding of the 18th century Jones Log Barn.

For all of those who support historic preservation, we are asking you to ‘like’ the Rebuilding the Jones Log Barn Facebook site and follow the progress of the project. The Living History Center at Duportail will be a win-win for the community!

This is what it is all about: all these different people coming together with true generosity of spirit to save history, salvage history, and pay it forward! Bravo!

dear toll brothers and other developers: there is another way

Reader submitted photo April 2017

This is important to take note of, because it PROVES there is ANOTHER way then straight cram plan developments.

Chester County has been overrun by greedy developers.  For perspective remember that size-wise Bryn Coed is like a giant super-sized Chesterbrook.

If not for those who care, like Natural Lands Trust, you would be seeing “coming soon” signs for developers like Toll Brothers.


These screen shots are from the Natural Lands Trust Bryn Coed Farms website.   


Imagine living in an expansive, conserved landscape with a thriving nature preserve and miles of trails just next door. That is the unique opportunity available at Bryn Coed Farms.


In order to preserve as much of Bryn Coed Farms as possible, a number of large conservation properties will be made available to individual buyers. Each property will be placed under a conservation easement to be held and monitored by Natural Lands Trust, ensuring that the land is protected in perpetuity.

Seems like a revolutionary idea, doesn’t it? It’s not. It’s how parts of Ardrossan are staying intact in Radnor Township and it is how large swaths of countryside and history  in places like England remain intact.

It is a viable solution to developing every square inch. It’s a compromise point.

Now critics will say more land should be saved with these plans and maybe they aren’t necessarily wrong , but this IS a viable compromise in my opinion.

Imagine if the Robinson Family did this at Crebilly, for example?

Or imagine if say developers who want to develop the Bishop Tube site chose a plan like this versus doing things like picking on me for wanting the best clean-up possible?

The Natural Lands Trust has once again proven, there is another way. 

And speaking of Bishop Tube it is a big story in the Philadelphia Inquirer today:

News — Pennsylvania: On toxic site abandoned for decades, developer sees townhouses sprouting in Chesco

Updated: APRIL 10, 2017 — 6:23 AM EDT

by Michaelle Bond, Staff Writer @MichaelleBond | mbond@phillynews.com

Asleep after a long day at her social-work job, Peggy Miros was jolted awake by a booming voice through a loudspeaker urging her and her neighbors to evacuate their homes.
A cloud of toxic gas had formed when chemicals accidentally combined at the steel tube manufacturer next to her housing development in East Whiteland Township, Chester County, in the early morning hours of June 9, 1981. In the sultry air, a steady southwest breeze exported the chemical mist toward General Warren Village, 500 yards away, before the cloud dissipated. Some of Miros’ neighbors went to the hospital with nausea and skin irritation…The EPA later found trichloroethylene (TCE), a degreasing agent linked to cancer, in the property’s groundwater. The former Bishop Tube Co. site, which produced stainless steel tubes from the 1950s until 1999, now is host to graffitied and dilapidated buildings, shattered windows, cracked concrete, and overgrown vegetation, one of more than 450,000 contaminated “brownfields” across the nation.

…Given the site’s history, residents are wary of plans for the property. Neighbors say they fear their families and any new residents could be harmed if workers disturb the polluted soil without removing every bit of contamination.
Last month, 40 people gathered for the first time in the home of one of their neighbors to plan a coordinated effort to oppose the project.

“These people know what they’re talking about and they have a right to be concerned,” said Maya K. van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, who became involved after residents asked her for help.



Read the entire article. Read where the chair of the supervisors in East Whiteland says he expects the developer will get the zoning variance. That is East Whiteland’s compromise point? Gambling with people’s health and safety? (Notice you hear little to nothing out of state officials and why are these people in office again?)

Read the entire article.  Contact the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and East Whiteland Township today if you think more needs to be done with Bishop Tube,    Ok?