I was in Ardmore again for the first time in a very long time. There are lots of dining options and other things to look at, but the streets are broken and filthy.
The roadways themselves are broken and rutted and it’s hard to imagine a township with so much money and bravado can’t seem to see the ruts and potholes.
So here I was back in Ardmore, where the actual township building is located, in the Historic Ardmore Business District with a business improvement improvement district called the Ardmore Initiative and let’s talk about the god damn sidewalks in what they like to call “the Main Street” of the Main Line. They are deplorable and dangerous. But hey, they can keep deluding themselves, right?
The sidewalks are badly broken in too many places, so I wonder if this is an odd metaphor for the state of Lower Merion Township itself? And it’s February so why are the holiday snowflakes still up?
Many years ago many of us fought to save the Historic Ardmore Business District. I am not sure what we saved Ardmore for. It’s so wrong.
So this is Chester county. Do we want to preserve her or not? Because we’re running out of time if we do wish to preserve her. If we do wish to preserve her history, her great open spaces (what’s left of them), her farms (what’s left of them) , her architecture (what hasn’t been replaced by endless fields of McBoxes.)
This isn’t a Republican or Democrat thing, this is the people coming together and working to save Chester County kind of thing.
People drive me crazy when they say “Oh but if you only elect this Republican or this Democrat that change will happen.” No it won’t. When did all of you get so dumb about community activism?
All of these politicians bring YOU to them. That’s not the way you do it. The way you do it is every time you have an election, the politicians take on your issues as their issues. Because if you just continue out there to take their issues on as your issues, you will always end up the loser.
No, often it is not nice. It’s hard. It’s a slog. You have all sorts of people screaming and yelling at you and calling you names. You know, kind of like my average day being a blogger. But you have to work if you really want to save something. You can’t just say oh let’s put up a Facebook page and save something. You actually have to do the work behind it. Look at Crebilly. Those folks did not give up. And they did it.
There have been countless groups who have put up private groups and Facebook pages proclaiming their issue. But the thing is they never really get off the social media pages, do they? They don’t go to meetings. They don’t take meetings with elected officials of all levels. It’s like they expect the world to come to them. I have to bite my tongue and not say how’s that working out for all of you?
If they do have loosely held “groups“, often these days you find different members of sad aforementioned “groups” are going in different directions with slightly different objectives that are often counterproductive. It doesn’t work because you all need to come together.
It doesn’t matter what political party you belong to when you’re working for a common goal and a greater good, you leave that bickering at the door. You need to forget the whole thing about oh if we just do this one little thing for this politician then they’ll help us. No they won’t. The goal of them and their campaigns is to make all of you come around to see their perspective. As we learned years ago fighting eminent domain mean in Ardmore, you have to flip that perspective.
And if the politicians make hollow promises, then you vote them out and you start all over again. And you keep repeating the process till you have government that you can work with, that works for the people.
And I have to say after doing the whole thing in Ardmore, also gave me some of the most amazing friends as an adult. I remember the first event I attended that the Save Ardmore Coalition did years ago. I entered a room a stranger and left with new friends, Friends I still have almost 20 years later. I did not start at the very, very beginning. I heard what they had to say, and I knew I wanted to be part of it. Oh and one election cycle we flipped half of the Board of Commissioners in Lower Merion Township to politicians of BOTH political parties who made our issue theirs. And they kept their word and ended eminent domain for good a few months later. As opposed to that eminent domain circus in East Goshen recently , it didn’t take a year to unwind. That my friends was BS, just like the self-aggrandizing Libertarian “award” , “honor” or whatever was bestowed upon supervisors or one supervisor in general, like the day before their spouse became the head of the Chester County Libertarian Party. That was no better than a publicity stunt. And it made me very sad.
So now that the elections are over, it’s time for communities across Chester County to come together to save what’s left of their character. Yesterday because we were going to visit friends further out in the county from us, we had this gorgeous drive back and forth. It made me think. It made me appreciate all over again the beauty of where we call home.
This also means that we have to start getting busy with our state elected officials, the lame ducks and the ones poised to take office in January. They need to start helping us preserve where we call home. And that means changing certain laws so that is possible.
One big thing requiring change is the Municipalities Planning Code. It hasn’t been comprehensively updated seriously since like 1969. And the last time it was comprehensively updated, do you know what one of the developments was that happened as a result of changes? Chesterbrook. We need fewer developments and that means we have to lobby for these people to get off the rear ends and enact an act of the state constitution. We need to redefine suburb and exurb. We need more meaningful historic preservation and land preservation with built-in components to make it more attractive so that more people are interested in doing it.
This isn’t my job to do this. I am a curtain raiser, and I am once again drawing attention to this very important issue. We live in a beautiful place that is not that far off of being completely ruined forever. And those of us who come from the Main Line can tell you all about that because once upon a time the Main Line was truly beautiful and somewhat magical with amazing homes and properties. Now it’s just a suburb with too many people with misplaced senses of entitlement.
And that suburban sprawl continues to move west, or should I say march west because it’s not flowing, it’s attacking. Every time you turn around there’s another development planned. Or land getting gobbled up now by things like data centers and worse which we don’t know enough about here in this area, but in other areas of the country they’re fighting tooth and nail to get these things out of their communities.
We also don’t have to scream to be heard. When we scream we’re no better than those people that annoy the crap out of us at every school board meeting because they are undoubtedly uncomfortable with their own sexuality, so everything they perceive as different, is bad.
Anyway, it’s not just t-shirts and post cards and endless lawn signs that are going to bring us change. It’s involvement in our communities. And it’s consistent involvement, not involvement when the horses are out of the proverbial barn and nothing can be done.
Since the onset of Covid we have the ability in a lot of places for hybrid meetings. They are both virtual and in person. And most meetings are recorded now, and if you are in a municipality that does not record their meetings, start there. You have a right to have your meetings recorded, and/or you have the right to record the meetings in their entirety and broadcast them on YouTube or Facebook live or whatever.
I think the beauty and character and history of this county are worth preserving. That’s all I have to say. But people have to be willing to get involved and stay involved.
I am a realist. Not every old house can be saved, not every old farm can be saved. But I think as an extended group of communities, we can ask better of our elected officials all the way to Washington DC when it comes to this. But we all have to put the political BS aside and try.
Lower Merion School District is front page news over Oakwell, next door to Stoneleigh in Villanova.
Why? Eminent domain….again
We shouldn’t be surprised because Lower Merion School District probably wields eminent domain or the threat of eminent domain more than any institution I’ve ever heard of. I could be wrong, I am sure there are some that do it more but in my worldview they are one of the worst offenders.
Lower Merion School District in my humble opinion has always abused eminent domain powers. It’s like they think they are LMSD and everybody should just bow down. ￼
In their vision quest with blinders they’ve gone after Stoneleigh, Ashbridge Park, etc. I think if they had bought this property with the intention of using the house as the administration building for the school district or something like that I wouldn’t care. But to so wantonly wish to destroy so much green space, so many trees, so much beauty for turf fields for middle schoolers is really kind of tone deaf in today’s world and it’s just wrong, pick a reason.
The house itself is super cool and historic. Things on the grounds are historic. There’s a teahouse with a beautiful giant old terra-cotta warrior who is just spectacular. It’s an amazing property, and once again it’s something that will be destroyed because of this school district if they aren’t stopped.
It doesn’t matter who the superintendent of the school district is, they just think if it’s something they want they can take it. Again, this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have it. I spent 30+ years living in Lower Merion Township.
Something else I find interesting is literally across the road is Delaware County and Radnor Township. How do they feel about this? How do their residents feel?
The whole Oakwell issue has been a slow burn that seems to have ignited. I don’t have a crystal ball on how it will play out, but I don’t think middle schoolers need turf fields and artificial turf as much as they need nature. Kids need to be able to be kids. A lot of kids today don’t want to be on organized sports teams. There are also field alternatives where they can share fields. But the problem with the school district is they don’t do anything nicely, sharing among them.
So once again we’re staring in the face of Lower Merion School District’s misplaced sense of entitlement.
The Philadelphia Inquirer did an amazing job on this article and I think everyone should read it.
John Bennett kindled the hearth on a recent day in what was once his 20,000-square-foot brick Tudor Revival manor replete with heavy wooden doors, wainscoted library, and Mercer floor tile.
The 72-year-old physician-turned-medical-device-entrepreneur recalled how he lost the home and its 10 acres off County Line Road in Villanova through eminent domain in 2018 to make way for middle-school athletic fields. The property, known as Oakwell, contains nearly 700 trees, some of which are thought to date back centuries.
“Everything happened so quickly that there was no way to save it,” Bennett said as he recounted stories about the house, including having a ghost exorcised.
The Lower Merion School District— one of the wealthiest in Pennsylvania —paid Bennett $9.9 million for the house and grounds in the condemnation with plans to clear-cut hundreds of the trees for athletic fields for newly opened Black Rock Middle School. Updated plans show it would keep the Oakwell mansion and a pool house, but a teahouse watched over by a terra cotta warrior, stone fencing, and a brick-walled garden complex all dating back at least 120 years would be razed. The $90 millionmiddle school opened this year. The district plans to start breaking ground for the fields in June…..
What is eminent domain?
The taking of Oakwell marks one of several district attempts to build athletic fields for the new school. The board faced an outcry in 2018 when it tried to condemn part of the Stoneleigh estate next door, which is preserved under a conservation easement. Efforts to use the nearbyAshbridge Memorial Park were halted by a long-standing deed restriction. An attempt to use another nearby property also fizzled, while other lots were deemed unsuitable…..
Eminent domain — or the ability of the government to pay landowners to seize their private property for public use — is a power “inherent to the government,” said Matthew Hovey, a municipal attorney with the High Swartz law firm that represents clients in the area.
Typically, Hovey said, the power is used as a last resort as it can prove “politically unpopular” and may lead to costly and lengthy legal challenges.
Oakwell. 1735 County Line Road, Villanova, PA. Originally part of Stoneleigh…..
I wrote briefly about Oakwell at the beginning of this year. I wasn’t going to care. I don’t live in Lower Merion any longer, so why should I care? Then a friend sent me photos. She had gone on an impromptu tour of the grounds, and met Dr. Bennett who is the man who first was selling to Villanova, then Lower Merion School District had it’s greedy paws out.
But then down the rabbit hole I went because a friend was there this weekend and sent me photos.
It started with the tea house. Such a folly. I had seen photos of them in Victorian estates. And then I saw the life size terra cotta warrior. A Chinese warrior. I find the Chinese terra cotta warriors fascinating. I have a small replica of one. (Check out the Smithsonian article HERE on them.) I have only seen life size ones in this area one other time: a few years ago for sale at Resellers Consignment Gallery in Frazer.
Then I read some fun history the Save Oakwell folks have dug up:
In 1919, William Bodine was making preparations to build his new house on a portion of his father’s Stoneleigh estate, a property that came to be known as Oakwell in 1922. The famed Olmsted Brothers firm had been Stoneleigh’s landscape architects since 1908, and there are hundreds of pages of their records for both properties accessible in the Library of Congress and the National Park System’s Olmsted Archives showing the level of expertise and thought that went into the stewardship of this place through the 1950s.
What was Olmsted Brothers’ main concern when it came to placement of the new house and driveway along County Line Road? Almost 103 years ago to this day, this telegram to their client William Bodine, along with other correspondence, shows that their main concern was situating these structures in order to “save trees.”
~ Erin Vintinner Betley “Save Oakwell” Facebook Group
Friday May 23, 1919 was a busy day for Stoneleigh’s Eleanor Gray Warden Bodine.
Bryn Mawr College was hosting the 5th Annual Conference of the Woman’s National Farm and Garden Association. As an association member, Mrs. Bodine listened to talks on topics ranging from War Gardens to Community Gardens to the Woman’s Land Army.
Two years later, an article in House & Garden titled “Consider the Gardener” again shone a public spotlight on this program for training of young women, “offered by Mrs. Samuel T. Bodine of Villa Nova, Pa whose extensive estate and eminent superintendent-gardener, Mr. Alexander MacLeod, have formed an exceptional combination.”
After the program, the conference attendees toured 4 nearby farms & gardens, with Stoneleigh the last stop of the day. Eleanor Bodine would have welcomed attendees to view Stoneleigh’s magnificent gardens at the front of the property but given the interests of the membership, the back of the property likely would have been center stage. For this is where Mrs. Bodine and her superintendent Alexander MacLeod hosted an innovative gardening and horticultural training program for women, centered on a greenhouse complex and Superintendent’s Cottage designed by noted architect Frank Miles Day sometime before 1903 (both structures became part of her son William Bodine’s Oakwell after 1922). The women in the program lived in a dormitory they named “Squirrel Inn,” built specifically for them by the Bodine family, near the sprawling fruit and vegetable gardens where they spent their days (these were Victory gardens during WWI).
The article focused on the need to foster the interest of more young people in gardening and horticulture, with these lines that resonate 101 years later: “nature study classes and school gardens are awakening special powers of observation and emphasizing the practical value of patience and diligent perseverance…. public and private enterprise must combine to throw searchlights on the path to be chosen, revealing the mysteries of science related to horticulture [because] even soil… teems with history, science, poetry and religion.”
~ Erin Vintinner Betley “Save Oakwell” Facebook Group
So Oakwell. Was (again) literally once part of Stoneleigh. Stoneleigh as in the house was built in 1877 by Edmund Smith, a Pennsylvania Railroad executive. Pennsylvania Railroad money built a lot of the Main Line of a certain period, didn’t it? When the Bodines acquired the estate, in the early part of the 20th century, what is now Oakwell and Oakwell land was gifted to William Bodine. William Bodine’s house “Oakwell” was built in 1922. In 1932, it was subdivided off of Stoneleigh.
So Stoneleigh survived, was donated by the Haas family to Natural Lands, yet Oakwell, which is a place that should be part of a similar preservation and conservation conversation is at risk. It is fascinating that there has not been more noise about this. Maybe people are just tired of Lower Merion School District taking properties or causing reassessments and increases in taxes. The Lower Merion School District is a greedy behemoth and I don’t think those in the administration have ever cared about other that what can be gotten in the name of the school district.
Next up: trying to make preservation conversations fun. Another rabbit hole I went down were old newspaper clippings. Enjoy:
Now here are a couple of society clippings discussing Oakwell and more recent era parties which I remember hearing of:
Ok yes, a lot of this is memories of days gone by, but properties like Oakwell? Legendary. Why shouldn’t a place like Oakwell live on with an adaptive reuse? The gardens although a wreck, are all still there! The tree are amazing. There is literally a small oak forest. And all of this is supposed to be flattened for TURF fields? For MIDDLE SCHOOLERS, no less? Is this an actual need, or a want?
Hidden City Philadelphia wrote an amazing article a couple of days ago. The talk about Oakwell being a historical resource. I will remind people this is Lower Merion Township and I watched Addison Mizner’s La Ronda get demolished. Being a historic asset may buy some time, but we live in a private property rights state, so it can sadly only delay the inevitable. And Lower Merion needs to pay more mind to demolition by neglect, in my humble opinion.
Here is an excerpt:
….The Oakwell estate’s current resident, Dr. John Bennett, founder and CEO of Devon Medical Products, has lived there for 25 years. He intended to sell the sprawling estate to Villanova University to be used as a retreat. However, in December 2018 the school district elbowed out Villanova and voted in favor of condemning Bennett’s property.
This is not how the school district sees it. “After a long search, the school district paid more than $12.9 million for the contiguous properties, which had both been offered for sale by their owners, for use as playing fields for Black Rock Middle School,” said Amy Buckman, director of school and community relations for Lower Merion School District.
Bennett disagrees. “I had the property under agreement with Villanova and, just prior to closing, the school district took it by eminent domain,” he said. “I didn’t want to see it go to baseball fields, destroying the ecological setting we have here. I went to court to fight them and lost. It’s a travesty.” The school district paid Bennett $9.95 million for the property.
“I offered to remain on the property to care for the house, but they want me gone so they can claim that it is abandoned, allow it to deteriorate, and tear it down.” Bennett has kept the entirety of the estate well maintained and still lives there with his daughter and grandchild.
The day that LMSD condemned 1835 County Line Road allowing it to be taken by Eminent Domain, the property was effectively titled to the LMSD. The only option available to the owners to get their property back is to fight a legal battle in court.
Lower Merion Township, PA — Fraud, collusion, and bad faith are alleged in court documents filed on February 7, 2018, by attorney Michael F. Faherty on behalf of his clients, township residents John A. Bennett, M.D. and Nance Di Rocco who are in a legal battle over the taking of their property by the Lower Merion School District.
In the documents, Bennett and Di Rocco are referred to as the “condemnees.”
Who allegedly did these wrongdoings? According to the documents it was the Lower Merion School District.
Using a tool afforded only to governments, the LMSD unleashed the force of “eminent domain” on Bennett and Di Rocco. That Force is the power to condemn and take a private citizen’s home, land or property by a government for the betterment of society.
Eminent domain are two words that can strike fear into anyone owning property that a school district or government wants to own or acquire.
Township residents John A. Bennett, M.D. and Nance Di Rocco of 1835 County Line Road, Villanova, PA have had their property condemned and taken by the Lower Merion School District. That is a fact, but the rest is very murky.
The court documents filed against LMSD allege a pattern of collusion and interference in a private business transaction where Bennett and Di Rocco say that LMSD officials and surrogates worked to scuttle an agreement with Villanova University to buy their property for almost $12 million.
The documents further charge the Lower Merion School District took the property illegally, and that school district officials or their delegates used fraud, collusion and bad faith tactics leading to an arbitrary action by the LMSD…..Villanova University’s President, Father Peter Donohue verbally offered to buy the property for $12 Million and agreed to have the paperwork drawn up.
The documents allege that Superintendent Robert L. Copeland, reached out to Father Donohue, after hearing about Villanova’s interest in the property. The document states that Copeland Donahue that $12 Million was too much for the property. Copeland allegedly told Donohue that the LMSD was interested in buying the property and that LMSD valued the property at $8 Million.
Donahue relayed to Bennett and Di Rocco that the University would delay their offer letter and that they didn’t want to appear hostile or look like they were attempting to block LMSD, “especially with all of the flair up over Stoneleigh.”
At the same meeting, a discussion occurred about both the condemned property on County Line Road and the Spring Mill Road property. The key question being: were both properties needed?
According to Faherty’s filing Dessner stated that “LMSD could sell it to Villanova University.”
Bennett also informed Dessner and Copeland that the University would pull out of their agreement of sale if the condemnees’ were able to reach an agreement with the LMSD.
Bennett provided a copy of the agreement of sale with the understanding that it would remain confidential.
Three days later on December 21, 2018. The school board convened a special meeting and passed a resolution to condemn the property at 1835 County Line Rd, and a press release was issued.
How was Stoneleigh able to block the school district, while the historic landscaping, Acorn Cottage, and horticultural structures of the Oakwell estate, originally part of Stoneleigh, at risk? “When the historic resource inventory survey was conducted in the late 1990s, the greenhouse buildings were overlooked. However, this parcel is historically associated with the Stoneleigh estate and warrants similar protections,” said Kathleen Abplanalp. director of historic preservation at the Lower Merion Conservancy.
“From the very beginning, the entire 13-acre property has fit into our mission goals for historic preservation, open space preservation, the health of the local watershed, and sustainability,” Abplanalp said. “We are vehemently opposed to the current plan and hope the school district will compromise some of their programmatic needs.”
Erin Betley, a conservation biologist who lives in Lower Merion, views the pending destruction of the estate’s landscaping and historically significant structures like the greenhouse complex as lost opportunity. “Oakwell’s intact landscape provides a hands-on educational opportunity for our children, and our community, to learn about ecology, conservation, environmental science, gardening, sustainability, history, natural history, historical preservation, and more,” she said. “Historical records reveal that Stoneleigh’s greenhouse complex and fruit and vegetable gardens were educational spaces for young women during and after WWI, where they gained practical training in gardening while also feeding the community. I hope this can be viewed as a chance for this valuable place to come full circle and used in a way that takes inspiration from our collective past to inform our collective future”…A single mature oak tree can consume more than 40,000 gallons of water a year. Where will all that water go when the Oakwell estate’s trees are gone?
Doug Tallamy, a conservationist, author, and professor of agriculture and entomology at the University of Delaware, agrees. “If you replace a forest with a lawn, you are generating run off,” he said. Tallamy was involved with preserving Stoneleigh. His message to the school district? “Find another place without cutting down hundreds of trees.”
I am a huge fan of Doug Tallamy, own his books, have heard him lecture a few times now. I also live with a woods full of oak trees. I love them. I am attached to my woods and the creatures and plants in them, much like the folks who live around Oakwell.
This property would be better suited as a retreat, which is I think what I heard Villanova wanted to do with the property.
And not to skip around but is all of this crap being done by Lower Merion School District going to cost Lower Merion Township big time when it comes to public works, police, fire, EMTs? So when will they have to put in another firehouse and where exactly?
Here are some links which I saw on Save Oakwell which some of you might find of interest:
What do I think? I am not sure as on one hand, this is such a complex tale that I do not know if we will ever know the whole story. BUT on the other hand I am so tired of major properties being demolished and I am definitely of the school of thought that Lower Merion School District need to be stopped. After all, #thisplacematters and has anyone gone to the National Trust for Historic Preservation yet?
And let’s talk about the trees. 500 as in FIVE HUNDRED. Yes, that is the destruction number. That makes me want to throw up.
Isn’t it time to curb the rabid dog of destruction that is Lower Merion School District? From the historic preservation aspects to land and environmental preservation aspects, sadly Oakwell has it all going on. Yet people are being too damn quiet about this. Natural Lands needs to speak up. Hell, they know what it is to have to fight Lower Merion School District over eminent domain and also, the eco system that is their Stoneleigh will be threatened and altered and affected irrevocably if the mass destruction of Oakwell succeeds. Natural Lands speaking up now is very important, and I don’t quite get their silence, do you?
Oakwell need a reprieve. But more people need to care. Not enough people seem to care or are willing to stick their necks out. I really wish that someone would sit down at Oakwell with people who had lived there, or whose family has lived there and film an oral history. Well that should have happened before I think. And where are elected officials on this? Not just statements of Lower Merion Commissioner, but State Reps, State Senators, Congressional representatives, etc? County Commissioners? State environmentalists?
Where. Is. The. Really. LOUD. Public. Outcry?? And more media or do they only cover bad politicians and crime in Philadelphia?
People. We need to save the region’s history. That includes gardens too. Trees. Houses. Tea Houses. I don’t have the answers. God I wish I did. But if we allow this to happen, in the end we will all be sorry. And I have to ask, is Radnor Township asleep here? Their township is quite literally across County Line Road. Radnor residents will be affected too. One would think the Radnor CONservancy might feign an interest, but that would mean getting out of their bubble, right?
Oakwell needs some big hitter angels, do any exist for this property? Why is it in other areas of the country, properties like this are revered and preserved?
RANT ALERT. If you don’t want to hear it, turn away now.
Traveling back from whence I came, or visiting issues in Lower Merion Township is always amusing albeit somewhat disturbing to always be amazed at the blind devotion to Lower Merion School District especially when once again they are doing something destructive.
The comments from the blind faithful THIS time are over Lower Merion School Board plans to bulldoze a beautiful swath of woodland unnecessarily is truly something which will take your breath away. I am not giving those comments air time because they are always the same thing: when it is distilled and boiled down, Lower Merion School District is perfect.
If you disagree with Lower Merion School District cheerleaders no matter what they are trying to do you are at a minimum a bad person. Or you are NIMBY, which doesn’t apply unless it’s in your neighborhood and even then it is just a knee jerk pejorative term most of the time. These folks want to drive their status symbol green friendly Teslas, but when it comes to actually doing better the environment in other ways, or even just preserving an area to keep a bit of charm, that is far too inconvenient.
And OMG you would think Lower Merion School District was in dire peril if they don’t get their way every single time.
MISPLACED SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT. Lots of school districts excel and thrive on far, far less.
No Lower Merion School District is not perfect and it has decades of issues to prove that. And no I don’t think highly of them.
And Lower Merion Township has contributed to issues surrounding Lower Merion School District vis a vis development. Sure they are separate entities autonomous from one and other, yet they have a weird codependency since what they do as individual entities affects the other. And when you overdevelop and they come, it overcrowds the school district, correct?
A few years ago now, Lower Merion School District had a failed attempt to seize land from Stoneleigh, the 100% preserved property donated by the Haas family to Natural Lands to remain preserved in perpetuity for people (and nature) to enjoy.
Then when Lower Merion Township School District couldn’t get their greedy paws on Stoneleigh, they acquired the old Clothier Estate and it was happy bulldozing. Oh and I forgot, before they attempted to get Stoneleigh, there was that whole situation where they made a play to take Ashbridge Park. Yes a park.
So then there was the whole thing of they still need more land and that old disco song “More, More, More” comes to mind because with Lower Merion School District more, more, more is always their mantra. Nothing is ever enough.
As a school district they could have sent representatives to Lower Merion Township for years to express concern over infill development, but they didn’t. And once upon a time, they had other schools, that they closed. They closed Ardmore Junior High School around 1978, they let the Ardmore Avenue School (elementary) rot and eventually closed it (that caused redistricting back then didn’t it although it was also integration?) they closed Bryn Mawr Elementary School, and the Wynnewood Road Elementary School.
So in my humble opinion, Lower Merion School District has always had issues and always been a crappy neighbor. In the vein of that opinion, their still current and fractured relationship with neighbors over field lights at Arnold Field. And remember redistricting again in the not too recent past and the case Students Doe v. Lower Merion School District which made it to the U.S. Supreme Court although it was not heard?
So back to Villanova where the new middle school with the stupid name that means nothing but could have meant something if they had bent their absurd rigidity and allow it to be named after beloved educator, Sean Hughes. Anyway, Lower Merion swoops in and elbows out Villanova University using eminent domain once again to get 13.4 acres on adjacent sites to Stoneleigh at 1800 West Montgomery Ave. and 1835 County Line Rd.
Oakwell. 13 acres of old growth woods and heritage trees, mostly majestic oak trees. HUNDREDS of them. This property was in play for a while and I believe the former owners just dangled a juicy carrot until they had enough people salivating. First it was Villanova University (which would have been just as bad owning this property in my opinion.) But you know Lower Merion School District and their favorite billy club of eminent domain, right?
So now it is to be turf field city, the hell with trees and species like the great horned owl which remarkably DOES live there? This is also still a threat to Stoneleigh in my humble opinion. This is also an enormous environmental threat to the entire area and will affect not only Lower Merion Township residents, but Radnor Township residents who literally are on the other side of terribly narrow County Line Road. And of course one can’t help but wonder, does a new school mean the need for another outpost for first responders? Where would THAT go if so?
This is post is truthfully an addendum to a last-minute call to arms the other day for anyone who grew up in Lower Merion Township or lives there still today.
Please continue to send emails telling the Lower Merion School District to NOT bulldoze down many acres of a pristine old growth oak forest. They want to destroy a valuable natural resource that will affect Stoneleigh immediately adjacent, and neighbors in Lower Merion Township and Radnor Township just so middle schoolers can have a few turf fields.
FLOOD THEIR EMAIL!
I hate to sound as old as dirt but we had plain old grass fields and survived quite nicely. It’s middle school. Of course ironically it’s also the place in school where they teach or used to teach earth science and this property is like a giant living earth science lab complete with great horned owls.
The school board keep trying to do an end run around neighbors who want to have a zoning hearing board meeting on this issue. I think it behooves all of us to support the neighbors and environmentalists on the front lines of this issue.
This property they acquired adjacent to Stoneleigh is irreplaceably special. It has mature woodlands with all sorts of flora and fauna species as well as the oaks. Those old growth oaks in particular are extraordinarily valuable, and not just monetarily. They are also heritage trees.
This property has been evaluated by experts and it is a treasure trove of species. It is home to many, many migratory birds, etc.
Here is whom you address your email to (and YES include LOWER MERION TOWNSHIP):
Now including those email addresses because if you have been sending emails their comment email address keeps getting overwhelmed.
The zoning meeting got cancelled on this topic this week. It is rescheduled. Do not know exact date. Including Lower Merion Township in your email will probably be the only response you get. And it will be from the current Township Secretary and it will be terse and may even feel somewhat rude, but you have put your sentiments on the record which is important in any issue. Don’t expect great things from the Township Manager, Ernie McNeely, and if you don’t believe me just ask folks in West Chester Borough where he came from before he became socially upwardly mobile and moved to Lower Merion, right?
By all accounts, Lower Merion School District finally has a decent superintendent. But he inherited a legacy of bad decisions and bad apples in my humble opinion. This was set into motion by the previous superintendent who was even worse than the one he succeeded.
Middle school kids can play just fine on grass fields and the new middle school has field space too. They could have fields on this latest seized property and save the woodlands. Saving those woodlands gives them opportunities from other than turf fields. Kids could learn from actual nature, not what is projected on a screen as they sit growing like mushrooms while they are looking at their phones anyway. Nature gives kids room to be kids.
Middle school kids aren’t competing for the Heisman Trophy or Soccer World Cup, maybe less playing fields and letting kids still be kids at that age would be more productive? But then the soccer moms and dads in their expensive athleisure wouldn’t be able to drive their giant gas guzzling or environmentally appropriate SUVs through the Starbucks drive thru with casual disregard for other drivers and pedestrians only to scream and yell at the side of a field and because it’s Lower Merion expect others to clean up their Starbucks cups, right?
Hell yea I am on a rant. This is ridiculous. I don’t always agree with Lower Merion resident Phil Browndeis, but his thoughts posted with his video shared above, struck a chord:
This is the last winter for a stand of old growth trees in Lower Merion. The Lower Merion School District plans to clear cut the trees to build new athletic fields for the new middle school. So much for carbon sequestration, wildlife habitat and all the other good that trees provide us.
Lower Merion Township is facing a great challenge which must be addressed with urgency: the Township is under tremendous development pressure which is being allowed to continue under old building and development and land use codes that do not protect and preserve the Township’s shrinking remaining environmental assets. This is a matter of grave concern: our tree canopy is under attack. Our waterways, already polluted, are being further compromised. Our cost to correct the adverse impacts of this type of development may greatly exceed whatever short term benefits may be derived.
An environmental tragedy is unfolding. Over 482 trees over 6” in diameter (which probably understates the number of mature trees) including 26 giant oaks, a magnificent oak savannah, and a densely treed mature woodland are slated for removal according to a proposal before the Township for their approval. It would be hard for this proposal to be enacted under the current zoning code, but this proposal is sadly grandfathered under old rules.
Due to an unfortunate set of events that occurred a few years ago, a wooded parcel was acquired by the School District for playing field development. This parcel is located at 1800 Montgomery Avenue and 1835 County Line Rd in Villanova. The plan involves an almost complete deforestation of the parcel including a clearcutting of vast swaths of trees. Neighbors say it is a stopover for migrating birds including snowy owls.
At the same time that this project is moving forward, the Township is in a planning process to write and implement a Sustainability/Greenhouse Gas Reduction plan and is considering adopting a Net Zero Carbon Emission resolution. The destruction of the woodland would be a self-inflicted wound making it far more difficult and costly to achieve the sustainability and carbon reduction we so desperately need. In addition, the children cannot walk to the proposed playing fields. They will have to be bussed. So we hope another site could be equally viable.
We are simply asking the Township authorities and the School district to work together to exhaustively and completely explore all other options. We must be stewards for our children and our children’s children. We can do the right thing, its not too late.
I don’t hold out great hope here, I am a realist and this school district is always selfish and so are the majority of their narcissistic blind faith devotees. However, you just don’t know and if we can save these woods, it is so crucially important to the are and to nature herself.
Thanks for allowing the rant, you know I love my oak trees and owls and woodpeckers and other critters. Visit Save Oakwell Sister to Stoneleigh on Facebook to keep up with what is happening. I guess I am a tree hugger after a fashion. And I definitely don’t agree with yet another bad plan by Lower Merion School District.
Maybe this in the end is just another Don Quixote tilting at windmills issue, but I still think it is something to talk about, and why not object to the plan? After all WHY couldn’t they preserve these woods and use other open space on property for fields? Why CAN’T they be part progress part preservationist? These trees are actually important and I am completely unapologetic to those who cannot see that.
Interesting reading on Lower Merion School District:
I will note ONCE AGAIN it does NOT take THAT much legwork to unwind or undo an eminent domain threat of taking. JUST FREAKING DO IT! Write your letters and resolutions, sign off on it .
Yo East Goshen Supervisors who don’t want eminent domain? Present a RESOLUTION to REVOKE the use of eminent domain here and sign it. That is what the have done in Lower Merion and elsewhere….the elected officials need to sign their names to this!Sign, seal and deliver it already.
Eminent domain is wrong. This use of eminent domain as a bully tool is wrong. The Hicks family deserves better, every resident in East Goshen deserves better than eminent domain.
Above I have shared the document from 2006 from where I used to live in Lower Merion Township. The fact is simple: a municipality can indeed undo eminent domain. They do not need to “investigate ending” eminent domain. Municipalities can do it.
East Goshen is a second class township. They operate under the second class township code. A resolution announces the taking, or intent to take. Another resolution and vote to undo it, can cancel it.
Do second class townships have third class brains??
East Goshen enacted eminent domain of the Hicks Farm, they need to resolve to end it and pass by majority vote. Is there problem for just compensation as a result of this debacle? Is there a money issue or other issue somewhere, somehow in this township? Are things going on behind the scenes that the public and plurality are not aware of? Did they apply for grants, etc. based upon eminent domain?
What is East Goshen Township hiding? Because doesn’t it feel that way? Like something is hiding in plain sight? And this is no dig at the newly elected chair of the supervisors as I hold her in high esteem. But methinks she inherited issues and am I alone with those thoughts?
And other things I find curious are these little things like REALLY is the codes guy in East Goshen who is Chair of the Planning Commission in West Whiteland? Isn’t that a wee bit incestuous? Just one example of course, but local municipal governments should have a new rule: if you are employed by a local municipality, you shouldn’t be an elected or appointed official.
Just do it, East Goshen. Just kick eminent domain to the curb and be done with it. Don’t spend your lives and waste more taxpayer dollars so solicitors past and present can contemplate their collective navels, I mean why? Just keep your word and get rid of eminent domain. Because until you do, it is STILL on the table.
Before I get to a recap of sorts of 2021, let’s talk Christmas decorations. Mine stay up to Epiphany (maybe a little later.) When do you take your decorations down? I have to be honest, I also just like them so much I wish the Christmas season were just a little bit longer. However, I know once January rolls around the nutcrackers and elves kind of look like they are staring at me from the bookshelves, so down they come until next year.
2021 has been a crazy year and let’s start with more current events. Recently a person purported to live in the Malvern area was arrested in West Chester after a bar fight. Not just any old bar fight, she (yes she) also was charged with biting and spitting on employees. Hey I am not making this up, just ask the West Chester Borough Police who posted it. THAT is why the media picked up the story and wrote about it.
Biting and spitting during what is still a GLOBAL pandemic known as COVID-19. Why am I talking about this? Well it made the news so I posted a link to a published article. No real rhyme or reason, I just posted it. I do post crime stuff every now and again. I will note that I posted with NO opinion. Just posted the article.
Up pops the Stepford -With -Matching -Capes- Crusaders. I was a bad person for sharing it. Why was I posting it. Oh and the best? I was a threat to the community for posting it. Say what? Oh and middle school behavior for posting it. Did I mention it was in the news?
All I did was post the link. If something is in the news and it’s posted, it doesn’t make anyone a bad person for posting a link unless of course it’s fake news. It wasn’t. Now if you don’t like something someone posts, we are supposed to be grown-ups, right? So why not just scroll by for something more to your comfort level? (I will note another news story, similar topic also has surfaced out of Bear, DE at a WaWa of all places. Same age range women. Bizarre, dangerous, and hideous behavior in the age of COVID19.)
Social media behavior in general (as in everywhere) has greatly deteriorated since the last presidential election and COVID19. Maybe all of you armchair critics merely like the sounds of your own voices but not everybody has to listen to it. And so we are clear, I am not speaking about that old-fashioned concept of disagreeing, yet having a thing called a conversation. I am referring to the beyond the nipping at the virtual ankles, being flat out obnoxious if not more. And yet these are the same people who don’t understand where kids learn about bullying.
Sometimes I turn the other cheek with these village idiots in local social media groups. This was not one of those times. I grow increasingly intolerant of this brand of bullsheit. And that doesn’t make me a bad person, it means I have had enough of those who wish to have local social media domination in a puffy cloud world where cute bunnies and unicorns fart rainbows.
Then the other day I had the best giggle all day from a writer, Brian Hickey:
“Let’s Go Brandon: the rallying cry of people who peaked in high school.”
~ Brian Hickey 12/28/21
That makes a nice segue to the comments of 2021 on this blog having to do with politics, maskers vs. anti maskers, anti-vaxxers and more:
I only posted a snippet of the hate mail comments I receive. But these show the range from I am a horrible person to why don’t I just kill myself. Ah yes the milk of human kindness at it’s finest. And mind you, I will get these comments when writing about a garden tour. It’s me I suppose. I am too different in opinion from them, I don’t know “my place”, whatever. Someone I know had this to say about one person being a keyboard tiger jackass:
I hope he accidentally uses his poison ivy as toilet tissue And deserves the kind of life that is small minded, mean, douche-y comment deserves. You on the other hand deserve to have a wonderful day that you had and being able to celebrate it free from pestilence.
Your “I’m-not-afraid-to-go-low” friend from New York.
I have to admit that made me laugh. My New Yorkers are fierce.
And as far as social media groups like on Facebook go, if you as an admin have the audacity to remove an ankle biter, that is rarely the end of it. Some of them keep trying to get back into a group. Others keep sending their friends and relatives to either keep beating their drum in their absence, or to spy and see if people are still talking about them. Hence the reason most groups these days do not let you join automatically. Everyone is tired especially of the Facebook ankle biters.
Even inane NextDoor isn’t immune from insane social media behavior. 2021 saw the oddly obsessed CVS man and the people who recently piled onto the poor woman who was just concerned about a homeless couple living in their car in a grocery store parking lot in Phoenixville. And let’s not forget the freak flag flying political posts of NextDoor and the crowd sourcing for should people call the police about things, or posting personal information publicly like it isn’t social media, although it most assuredly is.. That site in general is a big headscratcher.
Also in 2021 we had the woman who thinks Tredyffrin Easttown School District school board meetings are for her to throw extra blonde temper tantrums. She didn’t like me mocking her public comments at a public meeting. And at that time she was blathering to anyone who would listen to her (including local media) about her views on life, vaccines, masks, politics, the universe.
This was the same woman who during breast cancer awareness month (the dreaded and disliked Pinktober to many of us) posted a photo of me on Facebook in a hospital gown taken either before my breast cancer surgery or after my surgery but before I started treatment. It was like a wanted poster with piss poor timing. Among other things it was supposed to intimidate me. Purely female BS.
The school board follies on the whole were quite insane in 2021. The ugliest of the ugliest. And it’s not over. Even if so many of the anti-vaxxer anti-maskers, and Qanon cuties lost their school board races, they are still around. At least one was a nurse. A pediatric nurse, no less. I hope whomever she works for is proud of her efforts, right? Others of their ilk did not lose and made it onto school boards. Essentially the politics of crazy will continue to threaten public school education just like it threatens the very tenets of our society and democracy.
The most frightening example of threatening our democracy occurred this year on January 6, 2021. That is another highlight of the sheer volume crazy of 2021. Who would have ever thought we would be watching news reports of mob of Americans storming our beloved Capitol? On January 6, 2021, a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump attacked the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. hoping to overturn his defeat in the 2020 presidential election by disrupting the joint session of Congress assembled to count electoral votes that would formalize then President-elect Joe Biden’s victory. This effort failed, and it has been in court and all over social media ever since. Mob members who have been identified are being prosecuted. One of the oldest mob members is from the West Chester area and I think I read he is in his 80s.
Living La Vida COVID in 2021 meant a lot of us spent a lot of time keeping to ourselves. And given the climate of the world around us, it was a perfectly acceptable alternative. As the world re-opened we still couldn’t be sure who was vaccinated, who was not, who had COVID, and who may or may not act crazy if they saw you wearing a mask or saw someone not wearing a mask.
This extended to a lot of our recent Christmas celebrations, which for most were considerably smaller to be safe, because what has arrived? The lovely Omicron variant. I know quite a few people who have picked it up, including at a Christmas concert I love but decided to skip this year because of COVID. Some people who were vaccinated I know who got snagged by the latest variant but they hadn’t had their booster yet. But most of the people I know who now have COVID19 have never gotten shots yet. I wonder if they will now?
Now that COVID cases are on the insane rise again, there are other issues. Remember we have one hospital in Chester County – Jennersville – closing at the end of this week, and another, Brandywine closing at the end January. It seems no one can stop Tower Health from doing this. But then again no one could stop Hahnemann in Philadelphia from closing, either.
Tower Health by these actions is essentially going to cause unbelievable problems for ALL residents of Chester County, not just the communities affected most directly by the hospitals they are closing. It’s a shame Chester County can’t sue Tower Health or federal entities like The United States Department of Veterans Affairs, isn’t it? Or can they?
Back to politics. The politics of extremism still rules the day. I have watched friendships erode over politics, even my own. I have a friend who is super conservative. I sent her a Christmas card like always. No card received here. Crickets.
I feel it is because I could never join the cult of Trump. I never judged this friend’s conservatism because it’s their belief system, and even if I don’t agree with a lot of it now, the world is big enough for more than one point of view. But I am wondering if I instead were judged? Makes me sad, but I can only control me. I won’t shut the door, but it makes me sad because there are a bunch of those in my life. I was fine when I was a Republican, but now I am not, I am somehow not worthy. Or I am not worthy to some because I am not liberal enough.
How did this world happen? I remember a time when you could be many political persuasions in a room, yet you would all leave the conversations friends. Now it’s “off with their heads” and you can’t have an actual conversation, let alone sit on different sides of the political fence. What good is that doing anyone?
Other things that marred 2021 was crime. Usually surrounding the City of Philadelphia, which has deteriorated into a filthy dirty, crime ridden city with a joke of a mayor and a doofus of a district attorney. But when Congresswoman Mary Gay Scanlon got carjacked at gunpoint at FDR Park in Philadelphia recently they got the bad guys in like a day….which NEVER happens to regular folk. I am very glad she is OK but I sure hope this keeps a GIANT spotlight on the hot mess that is the City of Philadelphia.
Crime has made it’s way more and more into what was bucolic Chester County. It sucks, frankly. And the police forces are smaller than in a big city.A lot of areas are covered by the Pennsylvania State Police. Like Charlestown where Anna Bronislawa Maciejewska-Gould went missing on April 10, 2017. In April, 2022 it is FIVE years. FIVE years.
In 2021 we saw the ugliness of development march on in Chester County. Even in a global pandemic it’s more, more, more. From butt ass ugly billboards to apartment buildings to fake carriage homes to townhouses for lemmings and more, over-development is now Chester County’s middle name, isn’t it?
We saw things like Tarad Hill Farm in West Bradford go up for sale. It remains to be seen what will happen, but it was being marketed for it’s development possibilities by the nouveau gentry who acquired it and now appears to be selling it. Support the efforts of groups like the Marshallton Conservation Trust in that area (please).
We also saw Rock Hill Farm in Willistown go into a sales agreement I guess since in that case there have already been plans submitted for development. (See here on Willistown website) That is 200 plus acres of what is not only amazing open space, but what about the history of the property? And it has Crum Creek going through it and is old-growth forest, wetlands, rolling hills and streams, and productive farmland. The big puzzle for me in this case is the son of the deceased owner or co-owner is on the Board of Willistown Conservation Trust and has been for a while, right? So why was nothing on that parcel ever put into conservation? In 2022 Willistown residents will see what will happen I suppose. So many object to it, but in the end I think the horse is sadly out of that barn. Someone recently put up a website.
Also in Willistown this year there has been the strange tale of the neighbors of Castlebar Lane and Wildflower Farm. They live in Willistown but apparently farms to them are verboten? Is this just a case of NOFIMBY (No Farm In My Back Yard) ? This is one of the most bizarre things in Chester County in 2021 and it’s so Scary Spice meets Stepford Wives meets Knotts Landing meets Desperate Housewives. Except in this case it’s a whole Scare Spice RACK. The township came to an agreement with Wildflower Farm recently, but we’ll see if the narsty neighbors (yes narsty) are finished yet. But hey look, they can always build bigger berms, right?
This year has also been a crazy year in the seemingly unending saga of the pipelines. Sunoco/Mariner East/ Energy Transfer. Josh Shapiro announced criminal charges and then it seemed like a short time later announce a run for governor, so is this for him or for the residents of Chester County? And then they just announce that pipeline work would resume? Which came first, the chicken or the pipeline? File under to be continued….
However, in 2021 here at the end of the year have been a few surprises. Let’s start with Township Managers.
Casey LaLonde is done at West Goshen. Yup at the meeting on the 21st of December, he is leaving West Goshen for greener pastures somewhere in the private sector but where? Kiss kiss Casey and will folks find you at the Joan Crawford Museum as a docent?
Then today the news eeeked out that Mimi Gleason is out at West Whiteland? Fie under Yes Virginia there is a Santa Claus in West Whiteland. Will it be AprèsMimi, le deluge? Only time will tell and I think people should fasten their seatbelts.
Speaking of seatbelt fastening, today I learned that in East Goshen they will be “investigating” undoing eminent domain at the Hicks Farm. That was the word used in the meeting packet for next week. East Goshen Supervisors can you not begin next week with a simple resolution to end eminent domain? Okay semi rhetorical, because they can. It was done in West Vincent, it was done in Ardmore years ago. And so on in so forth. (Good lord they can even look on the Institute for Justice’s website for how tos probably, right? They practically have a legal zoom for eminent domain. Even a good Google can help you.)
And one of my favorite bright spots was the news on Crebilly Farm in Westtown. Recently the Westtown Township Board of Supervisors granted funding to Natural Lands to begin the process of grant proposal writing for the conservation of Crebilly Farm. I had to pinch myself on that one. But prayers up, there is something to work towards, even if there does seem to be an active real estatelisting on the property?
Personally this has been a year for me. I reached a ten year milestone being breast cancer free, yet I lost two long time friends to cancer. Also this year two of the great ladies of my childhood passed away, and one of my late father’s favorite cousins. And the thing is none of these losses were due to COVID-19 but COVID kept people from saying goodbye to loved ones and friends all over the globe. And if we don’t all get it together, 2022 will be another long COVID riddled year. You aren’t having your first amendment rights threatened if you are asked to get a shot or wear a mask.
BUT I still had a wonderful year with my friends and family including being able to tour David Culp’s Brandywine Cottage gardens and have a couple of small and safe gatherings with vaccinated friends and family.
Life is what we make of it and it is the simple things that bring me joy. Like a phone call from a very dear friend who just wanted to thank me for being able to see my Christmas decorations. Of course I laughed and told her but now I had to start thinking about disassembling the tree and more and putting all of the ornaments away. When that happens it is like saying good bye to old friends for a year. But then we all start planning our gardens, don’t we, so it is a cycle of happiness, right?
As we literally count down the hours until 2022, I hope some of you can just hit the pause button. I wish for you health and happiness in 2022 and pray for a more peaceful world and a little less political craziness. I won’t be unrealistic and wish for it all to disappear, but maybe hope for just a little less mania.
Thanks for stopping by in 2021. 2022 marks this site turning 10. Happy New Year kids!
Meanwhile, in East Goshen they are preparing for their new year and Re-Org meeting. A new face joins the board, Cody Bright, Marty retired, and hopefully this breaks up what is formerly known as the Eminent Domain Trio with only David Showy Shuey left and his lil’ grodie toadie Michael Lynch right?
So hold your breath, say prayers, rub the nose of a horse you know for good luck.
I will noteit does NOT take THAT much legwork to unwind or undo an eminent domain threat of taking. JUST FREAKING DO IT! Write your letters, sign off on it and Yo East Goshen Supervisors who don’t want eminent domain? Present a RESOLUTION to REVOKE the use of eminent domain here and sign it. That is what the have done in Lower Merion and elsewhere….the elected officials need to sign their names to this!
Eminent domain is wrong. This use of eminent domain as a bully tool is wrong. The Hicks family deserves better, every resident in East Goshen deserves better than eminent domain. East Goshen streams live on You Tube and they haven’t said anything else, so wear a mask and go if you would like. The meeting is Monday, January 3rd, 2022 at 6 PM.
Hopefully, this is the last time to display this image:
This is going to be a good old fashioned vent your spleen, so if you aren’t down with that, turn away now.
Scarier than 🎃 Halloween, it’s election 🗳 season. These are considered off year elections, and this year I think it’s because of all of the “off” people running.
These brand spanking new politicians and candidates are throwing their words around: “Blah, blah, blah….US. Blah, blah, blah…WE. Blah,blah, blah…OUR.”
Wait there is a very important object pronoun missing, the word ME. Because that is what the over-promisers, the over-worders REALLY care about: themselves. This is not about you the fellow local residents , this is about them.
Here in Chester County you are seeing this with wild abandon. In Supervisors races, Borough Council races, and God help us all, the school board races.
And I sit and I watch them get residents all lathered up all over social media every day. They are like the sham tent revival preachers of the Great Depression. It’s smoke and mirrors, people. And if you are dumb enough to elect them you will be screwed.
A lot of these candidates have zero clue and give zero f😳cks about how things work. And because so many residents don’t understand even basic municipal process, they get sucked in. Kind of like Alice down the twisted LSD rabbit hole.
Oh yes I am in rare form today. I own it. But I just don’t understand how so many people don’t understand. Especially the candidates.
First example is development. You know how I feel. I feel there is too much of it, it looks cheap, there is zero design ethic, it’s too dense and most of all it has nothing to do about the communities in which they are being shoved. It’s about how much money a developer can make.
The thing is this, is there MORE municipalities could do? Sure, but everyone forgets one big glaring thing: the Municipalities Planning Code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania is guiding this entire sh🤬t show. And it hasn’t been comprehensively updated since the late 1960s and early 1970s. Things have been added here and there, but not a comprehensive overhaul that redefines suburbs and exurbs, gives meaningful protections to communities, land preservation teeth, ways to have meaningful, lasting historic preservation and MORE.
After Ida there is a lot of uproar about stormwater management. Yes, more could and should be done but look at what’s causing the issues: climate change for one. Over-development for another (water has nowhere to go kind of like all of the deer.) Oh and everyone acting like their municipality is an island? Hello what neighboring municipalities do also affects you. And don’t let someone tell you that it’s better if it’s “cluster housing“ or a big tall penile building – it’s all about cramming them in like lemmings and it has very little to do about protecting the community from stormwater issues. It’s about developer profit margins.
One of my favorite examples is the Gulph Creek in Radnor Township. North Wayne in particular. Things which occurred in a neighboring township, Tredyffrin, essentially move the water into North Wayne. If I recall correctly, residents have said a lot of the problem comes from whatever Church of the Savior in Wayne did, but it’s been a few years since I spoke to anyone about that.
So look at the high development municipalities. Yes, I realize that’s a long list. The pleas of their own residents falls on deaf ears, so do you actually think they care what neighboring residents think?
Also look at the Chester County Planning Commission. The Executive Director is NOT a resident of Chester County. He hails from the land of high density infill development, Lower Merion Township. He sat on their planning commission and after seeing him in action for a number of years, the guy is pro-development, always. Just look at their Landscapes website. They have some municipalities looking like King of Prussia meets Bensalem meets a major city like Philadelphia. And those municipalities aren’t islands, so their overdevelopment affects other municipalities, infrastructure, and school districts.
Cue the State Representatives and State Senators. They go all Pontius Pilate at this point. You can always count on a resounding chorus of “we can’t possibly become involved in local issues” from not all, but a lot of them. The truth is they have the ability to enact change that would be beneficial at a local level. My favorite example is they need to do an act of the state constitution and update the municipalities planning code.
On a local level, they required updates to comprehensive plans from municipality to municipality. These comprehensive plans need to actually reflect what residents in the municipality really want. For the most part it seems to reflect what lobbyists, special interests, and politicians currying favor from wherever want.
I do wish however there was like a night school class residents could sign up and take that explains how municipalities and processes work. They literally used to have such classes in certain townships from time to time years ago, and it’s helpful. that way people know about things like why the meeting minutes are in fact summary, and how it’s not a crisis if there’s a mistake in the minutes that’s why they are reviewed at the next subsequent meeting and voted on and voted in with corrections.
Do I think that municipalities who aren’t regularly recording their meetings and broadcasting them to the public need to step up to the 21st-century? Yes but I also know some municipalities that have a lot of equipment on back order because like everything else post Covid it’s on a slow boat from somewhere else.
However, residents have the legal right to record meetings so maybe there are some residents who could help record the meetings? I have friends that used to do that quite regularly in West Vincent and Caln.
That being said, residents need to participate in their own fate where they live regularly, not just when a crisis point is reached or someone running for office decides to whip up the plurality into a feeding frenzy in order to achieve what THEY want, which might not be what YOU want.
Every day I get messages from all over Chester County about things going on. I can’t shed light on everything and I don’t think I should. The topics I write about are the topics that interest me or means something to me.
If you want good government don’t just complain, become part of the change that needs to happen. Learn about how things work so you can then constructively figure out how you as a community wish to make things better. Do not depend on politicians running for office to be your mouthpiece.
Go to and/or watch your meetings.
Never forget these new candidates/politicians especially should be telling you definitively how they feel and what their position is on specific issues from community to community. Not double talk, what they would do specifically and their opinion and position specifically. This is very important when it comes to the new kids on the block. They want to replace who’s there, but why should you vote for them? And don’t tell me it’s just because they might be your political party, that’s the worst reason ever.
Venting over. Do your homework. Learn how things work. Ask candidates hard questions. And don’t let them to deflect to whatever it is their opponent is saying. You need to know what they are going to do. And if they can actually do it. And rest assured with the overpromisers? They generally don’t deliver.
I used to love Avalon as a kid. I stopped going in my mid to late 20s because the more it got developed, the less I liked it.
When I was a kid there was the penny candy story on 7th street. A tiny cedar shake shingled general store down around 7th street that had penny candy. Once when we were really little a friend of our parents and their friends named Weezy gave us each $1 and told us to go “blow our minds.” Root beer barrels, Charleston Chews, Mary Janes, those little colored sugar dots on white paper, caramels, and more. My mother would maybe give us a quarter if we were really good.
When it rained at the beach it was like the sea and air met as one. I remember going as a little girl to the then tiny and old Avalon, NJ library. Not the new library that stands today, but the little old dark one which still stood in the early 1970s. When you went up the stairs and opened the doors they gave that old creaky and heaving sound. Inside the library was dark and had that beach smell of sand mingled with mildew. I remembered picking out well worn copies of Nancy Drew books to take home and read. Or maybe we would go to the Paper Peddler and buy a book or a copy of Mad Magazine (which my mother hated).
In those days, Avalon had really tall dunes and the island began at 7th street. The first few blocks of Avalon washed away before I was born. That was the famous Ash Wednesday Storm of 1962, which was truthfully a Hurricane Sandy-like storm. But the only a block of houses were swallowed by the sea at that time – 6th street. Below that had never been really developed because of tides. This 1962 storm was what caused the Avalon Hotel to be moved to 8th street. As a little girl I remember looking out over those beaches down by 7th street and wondering what the swallowed block of houses looked like? Was it a perfect bunch of houses just underwater like the fictional Atlantis, or a jumble of destruction? After watching the videos I discovered on You Tube which prompted this post, I learned more.
When I was little, the dunes were magnificent. I remember going through the twisty beach paths with mountains of sand and dune grass and scrubby pines on either side and even some old beach (probably rugosa) roses. This is where I first fell in love with black eyed Susan’s and beach daisies which grew in and on the edges of the dunes along with other wild flowers and cacti. In the summers when I was little too you could often see the sea turtles come ashore and lay their eggs and then wait for them to hatch and see all the little turtles head for the sea. It’s where I first fell in love with waxy bayberry bushes, and those memories are why I am trying to get a pair to grow in my own garden.
These videos done by the Avalon History Center are wonderful. It takes you back to the 1700s…and all the way through to today. And with the 19th century photos what I never knew before was how heavily forested the island was. Cedars and oak trees…and even cattle at one point. In the late 19th century there was a sawmill on the island that gave developers back then their wood for structures…and eventually deforested the island.
By the 1970s when we first started going to Avalon because Ocean City even down in the gardens was getting too developed, Avalon was developing but there was still a lot of room and cool old houses. The grey monster a big grey stone house around 10th street, and the cute little yellow cottage around the corner. I was fascinated by the old houses, a lot of them literally humble cottages. My parents’ friends owned the historic cabin on 13th street once owned by Woodrow Wilson when he was at Bryn Mawr College.
Listening to the history lectures presented by the Avalon History Center I literally watched a time line of how a small community became overdeveloped over time, including a garish recent example known as the Utz house that is this utterly vulgar high dune gobbling mega McMansion that created such a battle it even made the New York Times.
The New York Times also featured the reminiscences of a beach goer long ago that resonated. Jen Miller is her name. She talks about her memories before it became a summer McMansion boom town:
“On a hot August afternoon in the late 1990s, I waited at Donnelly’s Deli in Avalon, N.J., for our family’s sandwich order. This was a rare treat. We were a bologna-and-cheese-on-white-bread kind of family, loading up the car with beach chairs and boogie boards and a basket of towels for the drive to the Avalon beach from our trailer at a campground a few miles away.
But on that day, near the end of the summer, when my mother was tired of fixing our family of six a summer’s worth of beach sandwiches, we went to this one-story, brick-front deli that smelled like chips, sweat, pickles and meat, to let someone else do it for us.
In 2005, Donnelly’s closed, and the building was torn down — along with the rest of the block. In its place now is a three-story retail and residential building whose first floor features a Lululemon and a Lilly Pulitzer, both open for the summer only….The erosion of local character that I saw take over the South Jersey Shore is underway there too.
But who cares, other than some old, nostalgic saps like me? Someone who on a recent cold spring day walked around town worrying that Circle Pizza and Avalon Freeze would go the way of the deli, to make room for a strip mall I could see in any other wealthy town in the country?”
I totally get her sentiments. I am one of those who remembers communities in the proverbial “way back when” of it all for lack of a better description. But what we see happening in and already has happened in quaint beach communities is happening on an even larger scale out here. Farms and estates and any open space getting gobbled up for condos, townhouses, and housing developments of all shapes and sizes where it’s crap, not quality construction and it’s packing them in like lemmings. You can’t even garden in a lot of these communities.
Watch these videos. It’s a cautionary tale as well as being a very well done history of a place I once loved…before McMansions and trying to make it the South Jersey Hamptons. The difference is in the Hamptons, they actually DO historic and open space preservation, it’s just ungodly expensive.
Oh and don’t forget to check out the news about the high rise in Miami that had half the building just collapse overnight. Surfside. Some news report said something about what the building was built on and how it was sinking. (see this story HERE.) This news is a cautionary tale of development for sure, and it makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
And some day in a time far far away, maybe some historical society will be doing oral history videos and presentations where we live, and will talk of a time before pipelines arrives, and development gobbled up all the forests, farms, open space, and little hamlets.