along charlestown road

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Charlestown Road is one of those crazy, twisty, meandering, yet beautiful Chester County Roads. It used to be such a country road.  It still is even if it is a traffic nightmare cut through road at times now too.

I see it as another beautiful series of vistas potentially at risk.

Why at risk?   Simple, start with the intersection of Phoenixville Pike and Charlestown Road. It’s called “Pickering Crossing“. Another cram plan community of “carriage homes” or the current trendy word for townhouses.

DSC_5291While I will admit the design of these houses actually shows taste and some actual design, it’s 76 more houses.  3 and 4 bedrooms, and NOT a retirement community. It’s just another Stepford Village. You can’t even have a real garden in most of these communities.

So, that being said, time for a segue: Hey Great Valley School District are you paying attention YET to all of the development, or when the time comes will you behave like Lower Merion School District and just try to take someone’s land somewhere to expand?

Sorry, not sorry but given the pace of development in the Great Valley School District will it end up someday like Downingtown, which when I was in high school was just “Downingtown”, there was no Downingtown East and Downingtown West.

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And it’s not just the school districts which suffer from over-development.  We all are affected.  It affects infrastructure, municipal services, storm water management, traffic. It means less open space, fewer farms.

People, our food around here is not grown on the roof of Whole Foods, even if you can take a Yoga class there.

Development is an agriculture killer. Now granted, this country doesn’t respect farms and farmers the way they used to, and farming is not a business for the faint of heart.  It’s hard.  But we should support our local agriculture, not let it get developed away.

One of the beautiful things about Charlestown Road is there still is some farming left. It’s lovely.

DSC_5305BUT…..Another thing that worries me before I share the farm love is located at 124 Charlestown Road. This is the mysterious property known as Swiss Pines.

Swiss Pines is a 19 acre arboretum and Japanese garden . It USED to be open several days a week between spring and fall. BUT not so much since around 2013 (I think.)

Swiss Pines was established by Arnold Bartschi (born 1903- died 1996), born in Switzerland and by the mid-1930s, owner of the J. Edwards Shoe Company. In 1957, he purchased the 200 acres of the former Llewellyn estate, and during the next 30 years he developed the Swiss Pines site.

Swiss Pines became a nonprofit foundation in 1960- The Bartschi Foundation. The last IRS form 990 I can find is from 2016 –Bartschi Foundation 990 2016 – I do not even know if at this point there is still a non-profit. Guidestar and Charity Navigator seem conflicted in reporting and there are a few old IRS form 990s and that is about it. The last time the Bartschi Foundation or Swiss Pines was in the news was 2016 over a land dispute law suit.  Swiss Pines was mentioned briefly in May at a recent Charlestown Township HARB Meeting :

There was also discussion about the Great Valley Nature Center. Negotiations are underway to resolve issues in connection of the deed of the Bartschi Foundation that require this facility be used for educational and nature purposes. The condition of Swiss Pines was brought up. Since it is part of the Historical District, it is regulated by those ordinances but there was concern about the deterioration of the property. A suggestion was made that HARB could apply for a Keystone grant and obtain matching funds from the township to be used in maintenance of the Revolutionary Cemetery.

Once upon a time (check out this slide show from 2010 on Flickr) Swiss Pines had a Japanese tea house and garden, a stone garden, statuary, stone lanterns, and bridges set among amazing natural gardens. Plant collections include the Glendale Azalea Garden (150 varieties); the herb garden (100 species), the ground cover garden (28 varieties), and the pinetum (over 200 types of conifers).

Public interest has always been high for this property as a natural destination.  The Philadelphia Inquirer has written several times about the property, most recently in blog blip in 2010:

Living — Kiss the Earth
Swiss Pines
Updated: OCTOBER 20, 2010 — 10:32 AM EDT by Virginia A. Smith

Swiss Pines is a strange name for a place that calls itself a Japanese garden, but here you go – 19 planted acres (out of 200) along Charlestown Road in Malvern, just down the street from the Great Valley corporate wonderland.

It was built by the late Arnold Bartschi, who was of Swiss ancestry and owned five factories in Pennsylvania that made children’s orthopaedic shoes. When he bought the former Llewellyn estate in 1957, it came with an English-style garden, four Asian pieces that caught his fancy – one sculpted Chinese lion, 2 Korean dogs and a bench – and 40 Swiss stone pines.

So, according to Carl Shindle, who’s taken care of the garden since 1962, Bartschi named the property Swiss Pines, studied up on Japanese design (and at one time hired a Japanese designer), and created this unusual garden. 

Sadly, Carl Shindle died in June, 2016 I am told. Henriette Bumeder, the manager, still lives there.  I worry for her and the property also because of periodic reports of vandalism to the property over the years (reference this article from 2007, for example.)

Vandalism plagues Swiss Pines trustee
By Brian McCarthy
POSTED: 10/24/07, 12:01 AM EDT | UPDATED: ON 10/24/2007

Manager and trustee of Swiss Pines, Bumeder has owned her 190-acre property at 20 Tree Lane since 1985. She opens the Swiss Pines Japanese Garden to visitors on the weekend, and operates her property (with caretaker Carl Schindle, who has worked on the land for 42 years), as a wildlife preserve for the copious amounts of deer, geese and other animals inhabiting the area……a chain of vandalism, each incident more serious than the last, beginning in January 2006, when two dead Christmas trees were dumped on Bumeder’s driveway. In March of that year, her street sign was ripped off of its pole and soon afterwards her mailboxes were knocked over twice.

In August 2006, Bumeder was driving when she noticed she was being followed….

Swiss Pines is deteriorating.  There is a blog post about it on a blog called Scooter Kitten from 2010.

I found screen shots of two other Philadelphia Inquirer articles from 1966 and 1973, respectively (there is an article from 1985 that I also found screen shots for and actually tried to buy the article off of the Inquirer archives, but the archive site sucks and I hope I do not get charged for content never received):

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img (1) 1985img 2 1985

Related to Swiss Pines and also future unknown is the Great Valley Nature Center. Arnold Bartschi (as in founded Swiss Pines) gave the land and start-up funds to establish the nature center. That was in the 1970s.

The Great Valley Nature Center fell on hard times.  It is currently closed. They still have a phone, but their birds of prey have been relocated and no fun camps for kids this year.  Here is the update from January 2018 off a new website (old one is no more) and their blog:

update gvnc

If you can help the Great Valley Nature Center, you can contact them through the newer website.  I think they need an angel with very, very deep pockets. I do not know what happens when a conservancy goes belly up, and that is my impression of what happened (right or wrong, and if that is wrong, by all means correct me.)

I found this old video on Patch from 2012 so you all can see why the Great Valley Nature Center is so special:

Now the farm I love to watch along Charlestown Road is Charlestown Farm.  Located at 2565 Charlestown Road. You see them at the wonderful Phoenixville Farmers’ Markets and they have a CSA. This farm is owned by the same family that owns neighboring Broadwater Farm .

When I see working farms and open space, it makes me so happy.  It’s what makes Chester County so magical.  We need MORE of that.

Anyway, enjoy some of the photos I took of Charlestown Road recently:

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#savestoneleigh : the school board meeting and more questions

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As I mentioned last evening, hundreds showed up for Stoneleigh last evening at Lower Merion School District.

Now is it just ME or are others in the know wondering why Lower Merion School District shoved people into small rooms with crappy air-conditioning instead of the auditorium? Was the auditorium actually booked for the same time frame? People I know who were there found that information confusing since all they saw was the auditorium was locked up and dark and that is not very hospitable if true, is it?

It is my opinion, if this is true, that the Lower Merion School Board and Lower Merion School District wanted to make supporters of Stoneleigh as uncomfortable as possible. After all people do all sorts of nasty tricks to psych out people on the other side of an issue, right?

We all know where I stand on Stoneleigh and yes that was my column in the Sunday Inquirer and running  in the Delco Times.

As I said in my editorial, and have said many times before, eminent domain is an ugly business. It is defined as the right of a government to take private property for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of the sovereign power over all lands within its jurisdiction.

As a community activist, I was one of many who successfully stopped an attempted eminent domain for private gain taking in Ardmore years ago.  This would not be eminent domain for private gain at Stoneleigh; it would be eminent domain for public purpose, except Stoneleigh already has a public purpose.

Stoneleigh’s public purpose is preserved open space.

My next question may seem strange but  is the Democratic party of Lower Merion and Democratic Party of Montgomery County FOR eminent domain here? I have not fallen and hit my head, the question is prompted by an on camera interview given to 6ABC and reporter Annie McCormick last night:

marie beresford“While I appreciate how precious Stoneleigh is, I believe really strongly in a public education and that we provide the kids with the facilities they need,” said Lower Merion Parent Marie Beresford.

So, the reason I am confused is was Ms. Beresford speaking solely for herself, or in her positions (plural) within the Democratic party? Yes, she holds a position on the Lower Merion Democratic Party as Regional Vice Chair – Central Region (Wards 3, 4, 5, 8 and Narberth) and as First Vice Chair of said aforementioned party in Montgomery County?

Now  I knew Ms. Beresford back in the day (and she and Dr. Gilbert were always tight as ticks, weren’t they?), and liked her immensely…enough even to give (not sell) her furniture (including an antique 3/4 bed) when one of her kids needed a bed and they had just moved into a new house in Ardmore. (But I digress)

But sadly, I guess I do  NOT really know either her or Dr. Melissa Gilbert any longer, and check this out from the Inquirer in the letters to the editor:

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dialogue 1

Now Dr. Gilbert has risen in her world. (Director of the Center for Sustainable Communities at Temple University no less?) She was just starting out when I met her years ago, and again, I liked her very much.  Sadly, I liked her enough to try to help get her elected to the Lower Merion School Board in the first place. Her letter co-scribbled with Dr. Robert Copeland the Autocrat in Chief of Lower Merion School District just doesn’t sit right, does it?

Dare I say it that they sound like communists here?  Why does it also sound like they are shaming the memory of Mr. Haas because he was successful in business? Are they even aware of all of the philanthropic deeds he and his wife performed? That their children continue to perform? So their pretzel logic is such that because Mr. Haas did well and had a large property, it should just be available to Lower Merion School District for the taking? I swear that sounds like communist and “take for the state” doesn’t it???

And they refer to being “rebuffed” at their attempt in the fall of 2017 to steal Ashbridge Park? It is a park. A park with deed restrictions and oh yeah some other generous person’s final wishes that went along with it too, right? Ashbridge Park wasn’t Lower Merion School District’s to take, was it???? Allow me to quote an article written by a friend of mine, Cheryl Allison in 2014 for Main Line Media News:

The 29-acre Ashbridge Memorial Park, including the 1769 stone farmhouse, was left to Lower Merion Township by Emily Ashbridge on her death in 1940 to be dedicated for passive recreation. The grounds include a number of specimen trees that the Ashbridge family intended to serve as living memorials to World War I soldiers from the community. Later, the Rosemont-Villanova Civic Association installed the first walking trail as a tribute to those who served in World War II.

Is this to be a recurring theme? Someone dies in Lower Merion Township and the Lower Merion School District thinks they can just take land? The precedence this would set would be dangerous.  People would cease all land and historic preservation efforts and land conservation efforts in my humble opinion because why donate, why preserve if some greedy school district or other entity wants to take it?

And let’s talk about the private school property, shall we? As in Friends Central on 228 Old Gulph Road in Wynnewood? They do not wish to sell to Lower Merion School District and well one educational institution cannot take another educational institution via eminent domain, can they?

Seriously, this whole thing gives me a headache.  The meeting went until nearly midnight and supposedly Lower Merion School District has not announced eminent domain as in starting  a formal taking yet.  But can it be said many of us still believe it is in the offing?

The Lower Merion School District is out of control.  And must be stopped legally.  I think lawyer Arthur Wolk is right. Lower Merion School Board should be removed. And Dr. Robert Copeland.

Sign me disgusted with these people.

lower merion school district superintendent copeland says YES to eminent domain of natural lands’ stoneleigh in villanova ON CAMERA?

Is it polite to call Lower Merion’s School Superintendent Robert Copeland a scum sucking pig?  Probably not. But I am.

This is PROOF that the Lower Merion School District does indeed intend to try to seize Stoneleigh via eminent domain, isn’t it?   Do we think they will try to only take only 6 or 7 acres? In my opinion, which I am entitled to, that would not be cost effective for the school district, so instead I ask will Lower Merion School District instead try to seize the  entire 42 acres?

Copeland responded to an audience question on eminent domain ON CAMERA with an “absolutely”, so will they claim this is “fake news”? It’s been in the media.  Click HERE for one article. Click HERE for another article.

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Photo Courtesy Natural Lands.   “In 1996, John and Chara Haas placed their beloved #Stoneleigh under conservation easement with Natural Lands, ensuring this special place—the home where they’d raised their five children—would be preserved forever. We hope you’ll join us for opening weekend May 12 & 13 to see this special place the Haas family so generously donated to Natural Lands in 2016.”

 

Stoneleigh was donated by the Haas family to Natural Lands to be preserved in perpetuity.  Not to be selected and stolen like a juicy plum so Lower Merion School District could take it. And I think Lower Merion School District wants more than a few turf fields, don’t you?

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I have it on good authority that Natural Lands will OPPOSE any attempt by Lower Merion School District of an eminent domain taking.  I and many of my friends from Lower Merion and elsewhere will stand with Natural Lands to #SaveStoneleigh .

This is a cautionary tale for every township approving development after development with little thought (or caring) about how this all affects school districts and school enrollments.

This serenely amazing and naturally beautiful 42 acres  was donated by the Haas family so it would be protected. This is the terrifying reality of over development and communities. This is the terrifying reality that no municipality, no elected officials, no developers want you to know about.

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Natural Lands Facebook photo.  Carving by Marty Long of Phoenixville, PA

These developers do not give a crap about where we call home. We are just an area to make a quick development buck off of. They aren’t invested in our communities it’s all about what they can make and what the municipalities can get for the short term high of what they call “ratables.”

I lived in Lower Merion Township for over 30 years.  I never once as an adult attending Lower Merion Township meetings (and given the eminent domain for private gain attempt in Ardmore circa 2005 I can tell you I attended a LOT of meetings), do I ever remember ANYONE from the school board or the school district coming to a township commissioners meeting and expressing concerns about the effect of all the development and proposed development on the school district.

And it does happen. School districts will go to land development and related meetings and express concern.  As a matter of fact, West Chester Area School District a year ago, appeared at a Westtown meeting on Crebilly, expressing more that a little bit of concern of what that proposed development would do to the school district.

The only thing I have seen Lower Merion School District do over the years is raise taxes and have their hands out. And well, Lower Merion School District seems to always have something not necessarily good going on.  Here is some of the not so distant past:

Doe v. Lower Merion School District

Amicus Brief Pacific Legal Foundation STUDENT DOE 1, et al.,
Petitioners, v. LOWER MERION SCHOOL DISTRICT, Respondent.

Parents file civil rights suit against Lower Merion School District (MLMN Richard Ilgenfritz May 2009)

Doe v. Lower Merion School Dist., 689 F. Supp. 2d 742 (E.D. Pa. 2010)

New lawsuit by tax activist seeks to have entire Lower Merion School Board removed
By Richard Ilgenfritz, rilgenfritz@21st-centurymedia.com, @rpilgenfritz on Twitter (Delco Times/MLMN October, 2017)

High School Redistricting Will Sting For a Long Time
The school district gets rewarded for racist policies but the little guys learn some lessons.
By Kate Galer, Patch Poster | Jun 19, 2012 2:14 am ET

Huffington Post: TECH 12/11/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011
Lower Merion School District Settles Webcam Spying Lawsuits For $610,000

NBC10 Philadelphia: 56,000 Photos Taken in Student-Laptop Scandal
Parents of other students will get to view the webcam images of their children.
By Vince Lattanzio

Appeal in Lower Merion tax lawsuit tossed out, original Montco judge’s order stands
Cites district’s failure to file post-trial motions; original Montco judge’s order stands
By Richard Ilgenfritz rilgenfritz@21st-centurymedia.com @rpilgenfritz on Twitter Apr 24, 2017

Sued once over school tax increases, Lower Merion calls for another hike above state cap
Updated: APRIL 25, 2017 — 1:06 PM EDT 
by Kathy Boccella, Staff Writer @Kathy_Boccella | kboccella@phillynews.com

Lower Merion School District: Battle over taxes, spending on lawyers and sushi continues By Richard Ilgenfritz rilgenfritz@21st-centurymedia.com
@rpilgenfritz on Twitter Nov 4, 2016

Philadelphia Magazine: Lower Merion Parents Outraged Over “Mega School” Plans
Some schools in the elite school district are bursting at the seams, and there are big concerns over proposed solutions.
by CLAIRE SASKO· 9/28/2017, 12:12 p.m

Philadelphia Magazine: Lower Merion Teachers Are Highest Paid In State, But They Want More
The average salary for Lower Merion School District educators is just shy of $100,000 – but that’s not enough, the teachers’ union says.
by JOE TRINACRIA· 9/5/2017, 4:23 p.m.

 Philadelphia Magazine: Adderall Abuse at Lower Merion High School Is the Focus of a New York Times Piece
by MIKE BERTHA· 6/12/2012, 12:02 p.m.

 Philadelphia Magazine: Accused of Sex With Student, Fired Lower Merion Teacher Sues District
Yes, another lawsuit for the Main Line school
by VICTOR FIORILLO· 12/20/2011, 10:50 a.m.

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Natural Lands Facebook Photo. “Stoneleigh: a natural garden, is home to several PA state champion trees, including this Ironwood tree, which is number one in the state!
Located near the Montgomery Ave side of Stoneleigh, it’s a tree with grown-over scars and hollow places and yet the branches are still growing strong. It’s an old tree, likely over a century, and it’s rare to get old without taking on a few scars.
This tree is a survivor, one that’s been cared for by the families who took care of this beautiful place for generations. Maybe not every piece of it is pretty, but it’s still our champion. “

There are so many articles about Lower Merion School District issues that it’s hard to choose a select list.

Ironically, the people mentioned in the article Philadelphia Magazine from the Penn Wynne area about stopping mega schools seem sadly o.k. with eminent domain at Stoneleigh.  I find that disturbing. They weren’t overly fond of me when I suggested they offer their houses to the school district if they were o.k. with eminent domain. Sorry not sorry, but I do not get people like that.

Lower Merion School District also is eye-balling another site in Villanova….also owned by someone else other than them – 1860 Montgomery Avenue. The former Clothier Estate and now the Foundation of Islamic Education.  That estate used to have some sort of service driveway if I remember right that was somewhere through those interior neighborhoods off County Line Road in Villanova, wasn’t it? So this whole debacle will undoubtedly concern Radnor Township in Delaware County because THEIR residents are right across County Line Road, aren’t they?

It is the sheer audacity of this school district which boggles my mind.  This is not the first bad faith attempt at a land grab. There was the whole uproar in the fall with Ashbridge Park.

Here is a snippet from the Philadelphia Inquirer article from October 2017 by writer Kathy Boccella: 

That Lower Merion is considering the popular park – even raising the possibility of using eminent domain – shows the seriousness of the classroom crunch in a district that, by raw numbers, is the fastest growing in Pennsylvania. While enrollment in the Main Line district had plunged to about 5,000 amid the “baby bust” years of the 1980s, parents lured by Lower Merion’s top academic rankings and a recent development boom have brought the student population back to nearly 8,600, and it’s expected to hit 9,300 in the next decade.

With the affluent Montgomery County district racing to make a decision on building a new school or adding to several existing ones by the end of the year, officials are sending mixed signals about the seriousness of the proposal to buy the 21-acre Foundation for Islamic Education for a new school and use Ashbridge Park for a track and athletic fields.

So like fleas on a hot brick they move right from Ashbridge Park to Stoneleigh?  I am not sure what the end game is with Lower Merion School District, but I encourage people to take a stand for Stoneleigh and open space.  It’s not the school district’s to take.

I am SO glad I no longer live in the hot mess known as Lower Merion Township. But as a member and supporter of Natural Lands, I am appalled that the school district would think they are so omnipotent that they can just steal dedicated and conserved open space.

Want to tell Lower Merion School District how you feel? This is what I was able to rustle up:

Comments for the Board?
Your email will be distributed to the School Directors: communitycomments@lmsd.org

Comments for the former 6 ABC reporter turned LMSD talking head? Amy Buckman
Director of Community Relations Lower Merion School District
301 E. Montgomery Ave. Ardmore, PA 19003 Main Office: (610) 645-1800
Direct Line: (610) 645-1978   Email: buckmaa@lmsd.org

Mr. Robert Copeland Superintendent of Schools     copeland@lmsd.org  (also this e-mail shows up on the Internet copelar@lmsd.org )

Denise LaPera Executive Assistant to the Superintendent
Phone: 610-645-1930  Fax: 610-645-0703
Email: laperad@lmsd.org
301 E. Montgomery Ave., Ardmore, PA 19003

#SaveStoneleigh

another historic home bites the dust….

A reader named Eric wrote to us this morning (and sent these two photos):

905 Westtown Rd. in West Goshen is a wonderful historic home built in 1818. This beautiful estate is about to be demolished to build 12 new houses…..Sadly it seems like its time is up. It’s been abandoned for 15 years and had been up for Sheriff’s sale, though these have been cancelled and demolition is now scheduled.

Again, the photos have graciously been provided by Eric for our use here.

It seems like every day brings us a tale of another demolition in another township in Chester County.

Soon we will be very urban in even more places and that’s very disturbing as we are very urban in many places already in this county because of development.

And all these new developments load up our school districts to the point of overcrowding. And then the students pay for that because the situation changes from lovely high schools to overcrowded high schools were students are packed in like lemmings without the proper attention from educators. As taxpayers this overcrowding will be eventually reflected in our taxes, if they aren’t already.

All of this development puts undue stress on our infrastructure. And developers never pay enough towards the infrastructure. You’re lucky if you get a traffic signal out of them.

And this is the architectural history of our county that will never be replaced once it is demolished. This is why I believe the Chester County Planning Commission should not be run by someone who does not live in the county and has no intention of living in the county. That carpetbagger should go back to Lower Merion Township where he lives.

And speaking of issues with overcrowding in the schools, look at the result of all the recent past years of infill development in Lower Merion Township and the effect it has had on the Lower Merion School District. 

Lower Merion School District is eyeballing several choice private properties for eminent domain to expand their footprint. And one of the properties they have particular interest in as reported by local media a couple weeks ago, is Natural Lands acquisition Stoneleigh in Villanova. That property which spans I believe 42 acres and it was donated by the Haas family so it would be protected. This is the terrifying reality of over development and communities. This is the terrifying reality that no municipality, no elected officials, no developers want you to know about.

These developers do not give a crap about where we call home. We are just an area to make a quick development buck off of. They aren’t invested in our communities it’s all about what they can make and what the municipalities can get for the short term high of what they call “ratables.”

Between pipeline and developments Chester County is getting gobbled up. Soon there will be limited open space and limited farmland. Soon we will not recognize where we call home.

I have to ask all of you, is that the future you want for this spectacular county in Pennsylvania? If the answer is no, you need to get busy where you live. We need to toss out of office anyone who does not care about where we call home. Pro-development is a bad thing at this point because there is no moderation.

If you want to see another hideous plan or to check out the rape of the land on Pottstown Pike spitting distance from Upper Uwchlan’s municipal building right there on the edge what is left of the Village of Eagle. Toll Brothers.

For yet another hideous plan drive along Church Road in Malvern. Another Toll Brothers plan. Or should we say Toll Smothers? Because that’s what they do: they smother every square inch of space with McBoxes.

When is enough development enough?

eminent domain should be a four letter word/ little pink house

Susette Kelo

Susette Kelo taken in front of her little pink house circa 2008 . Scott Mahan photo.

Sunday we went into Philadelphia to see the movie Little Pink House, which I had written about recently.

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Mary Cortes from Cramer Hill, Camden, NJ on left with another Cramer Hill resident on the right at the Little Pink House Screening in Philadelphia with the Institute for Justice.

The Institute for Justice in Washington, DC was kind enough to sponsor an event reuniting a lot of groups who had fought eminent domain for private gain.  I was so happy to reunite with my original Save Ardmore Coalition friends and to see Mary Cortes and some of the Cramer Hill, Camden folks. I was thrilled to spend time with Scott Bullock, who is now President of the Institute for Justice and Susette Kelo, about whom the movie is about.  I had met and spent time with Susette Kelo when she was going to the United States Supreme Court and after.

Little Pink House  coming to town brought back a lot of memories.  Eminent domain should be a four letter word. Here is a re-cap of what the movie is about:

April 27 – May 3:  Philadelphia, PA: Landmark Ritz East

Based on a true story, Little Pink House is about a small-town paramedic named Susette Kelo leaves a bad marriage, and starts over in a new town. She buys a rundown cottage with a gorgeous water view. She fixes it up and paints it pink. Then she discovers powerful politicians want to bulldoze her blue-collar neighborhood for the benefit of a multi-billion dollar corporation. 

With the help of a young lawyer named Scott Bullock, Susette emerges as the reluctant leader of her neighbors in an epic battle that goes all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, inspires a nation, and helps millions of Americans protect their homes.

Most of you probably have no idea what this means. Or care. But I think you should, even more so after seeing the movie.  It is the movie about the 2005 United States Supreme Court Case Kelo vs. New London, and what Susette Kelo and her Fort Trumbull neighbors endured at the hands of Pfizer , the State of Connecticut and New London, Connecticut.

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My dear friend Sherry Tillman (left) with Susette Kelo on Sunday at the Little Pink House screening.

Little Pink House could happen to any of us.  And as I sat through the movie I was struck again by the B.S. spouted by politicians salivating and greedy for development (it’s universally sleazy.)  How they were doing this for the residents and how it would be so wonderful….and what did they do? They stole people’s homes, bulldozed them, and handed it all on a silver platter to Pfizer (it really makes you despise big  B.S. development plans all over again after seeing this movie.)

In 2009, Pfizer left New London. Yes, left.  People’s lives and homes were destroyed for them.  These were every day working and middle class people.  The heart of their community was bulldozed into oblivion. Stolen by eminent domain for private gain.

Here is a New York Times article about Pfizer’s final bad act in this play of misery and human suffering:

N.Y. / REGION
Pfizer to Leave City That Won Land-Use Case
By PATRICK McGEEHANNOV. 12, 2009

From the edge of the Thames River in New London, Conn., Michael Cristofaro surveyed the empty acres where his parents’ neighborhood had stood, before it became the crux of an epic battle over eminent domain.

“Look what they did,” Mr. Cristofaro said on Thursday. “They stole our home for economic development. It was all for Pfizer, and now they get up and walk away.”

That sentiment has been echoing around New London since Monday, when Pfizer, the giant drug company, announced it would leave the city just eight years after its arrival led to a debate about urban redevelopment that rumbled through the United States Supreme Court, and reset the boundaries for governments to seize private land for commercial use.

Pfizer said it would pull 1,400 jobs out of New London within two years and move most of them a few miles away to a campus it owns in Groton, Conn., as a cost-cutting measure. It would leave behind the city’s biggest office complex and an adjacent swath of barren land that was cleared of dozens of homes to make room for a hotel, stores and condominiums that were never built.

The announcement stirred up resentment and bitterness among some local residents. They see Pfizer as a corporate carpetbagger that took public money, in the form of big tax breaks, and now wants to run.

In Chester County, many of you should remember the case of Coatesville trying to steal the Saha farm for a golf course and whatnot.  That was eminent domain for private gain and I saw the Sahas often during the time we were fighting eminent domain in Ardmore.  Dick and Nancy Saha were wonderful folks.  I have not run into them since moving to Chester County, and hope someday our paths will cross again.
Here are a couple of articles that will refresh your memory on the Saha case:

During the two-hour hearing, much of the testimony referred to the battle between Dick and Nancy Saha and the city of Coatesville.

Prior to the hearing, Sen. Jim Gerlach, R-44th of East Brandywine, who is chairman of the committee, said he wants to establish whether one municipality can condemn land in another municipality without that municipality’s approval and whether eminent domain can be used for nontraditional uses such as for recreation centers.

The testimony which began with Greg Lownes, the nephew of Dick and Nancy Saha….

“We are not against the revitalization of Coatesville. What Coatesville does with their property, we don’t care. Dick (Saha) has a business in Coatesville. He has a vested interest. But we object to the city taking the Saha’s land for a for-profit business,” Lownes said.

In his testimony, Lownes said he would like laws to be passed that would not allow one municipality to condemn land in another municipality without that municipality’s approval.

The Sahas beat city hall quite literally. But is was a long, ugly, drawn out legal battle.

Also note the 2013 article in the Daily Times where the land acquired that the Saha land was supposed to be added to. The land was being auctioned off.  Here is the article from then:

Chester County land sale marks end of long battle for Saha family, Delco natives

By Ginger Dunbar 8/13/13

The Saha family – Delaware County natives – rocketed into the headlines a decade ago when they dug in to fight a municipal land grab in an eminent domain case that sparked national headlines.

The Sahas’ struggle with the City of Coatesville centered over the city’s desire to use a part of their family farm for a golf course development.

The Sahas, who came to Chester County from Drexel Hill, decided to fight City Hall. And they won.

They stopped the golf course plan. Elected officials from Coatesville pushing the project were ousted by voters. The city administration was replaced.

An auction Tuesday hopes to dispose of the property surrounding the Saha tract that were acquired in efforts to build the golf course and related projects.

A city property in Valley township is 22.5 acres of land with old stone farm home and is zoned as conservation land. The property is at 175 South Mount Airy Road. The property, officials said, is ideal for agricultural uses.

The city property in West Brandywine township is 63.5 acres of vacant land that is zoned as agricultural and residential land. The property is located off North Manor Road (Route 82).

Dick and Nancy Saha moved to their farm on Mount Airy Road in 1971. They said they worked hard for 15 years to make their home live able and added heating and plumbing. They raised five children on the farm.

In April 1999 they said city officials knocked on their door with legal papers for the intention to take their 38 acre farm land through eminent domain. For the six years that followed, the Sahas said their fight against the city cost them more than $300,000 in legal fees.

There are stories like the Sahas’ from coast to coast. Eminent domain for private gain has been addressed on a state level in many states, but not on a federal level.

Eminent Domain for private gain is legal stealing, economic segregation, and more often than not, class warfare. When you receive a notice of a taking, your world turns inside out, not just upside down. At first you feel like you are in the battle completely and utterly alone. But you aren’t alone. There are a lot of us out there.

I didn’t set out in life to become a grassroots activist on any level, but eminent domain is an issue that, as an American, I found I simply could not ignore. I loved Ardmore, where eminent domain threatened a block of small businesses in a local historic business district. Ardmore to me was a quintessential old fashioned main street-oriented town. It represents the bygone days of small town America.

The township (Lower Merion)  had declared this block “blighted,” and it intended to acquire these properties in a certified historic district for inclusion in a mixed-use development project to be owned by a private party.

One of the first lessons we learned as SAC was that when you are fighting a battle like this, you become an instant pariah. SAC next contacted the Institute for Justice and newly formed Castle Coalition, who gave us a crash course in grassroots activism.

We held rallies, protests and community meetings. We wrote letters to the newspapers until we had writer’s cramp. We took every opportunity to speak at public meetings. We lobbied government officials on a state and national level.

In November 2005, we watched as five new faces against eminent domain were elected to the 14-member Board of Commissioners.

During this whole time before and after the election, we had the good fortune to finally get some national and even international media publicity. We networked further with other eminent domain fighting citizens locally and nationally.  Members also gave testimony before both the Pennsylvania Senate and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. We submitted written testimony to the U.S. Congress and became part of the record on HR 4128.

In March 2006, the five new commissioners who came to office promising to end the specter of eminent domain did just that: they proposed and passed a resolution to end eminent domain. The businesses were free.

I will not lie. It was an exhausting process fighting eminent domain.  I went to so many municipal and other meetings during this time, that even today I have a hard time going to meetings.

We won our battle in Ardmore and the Sahas won in Coatesville, and Long Branch, NJ won….because Susette Kelo lost the U.S. Supreme Court Case by one vote. This of course also demonstrates what happens when administrations stack the United States Supreme Court, doesn’t it?

Seeing this movie on Sunday, and listening to Scott Bullock and Susette Kelo again, brought all of this back.  Susette and I spoke before and after the movie and I said I thought she was so brave and amazing to keep telling her story but I imagined it was incredibly hard some days to sit through showings of this beautiful film.  She said it was.

Recently I wrote a post about Lower Merion Township and Main Line Today Magazine and an article I found to be quite the piece of revisionist history. It was another fluff piece on Ardmore.

Main Line Today March, 2018

As Ardmore Prepares for a Revitalization, Some Residents are Hesitant About the Change
Will additions like One Ardmore Place disrupt the town’s way of life? Many locals are divided.

BY MICHAEL BRADLEY

Excerpt:

📌None of this is Angela Murray’s fault. Not the giant crane that hovers over the Cricket Avenue parking lot, its American flag billowing in the breeze. Not the 110 apartments rising from a giant hole in the ground. Not the upheaval for residents and business owners alike. Not the possible traffic congestion. None of it.

“People have blamed me,” says Murray, who’s been Lower Merion Township’s assistant director of building and planning for 16 years. “But I think it meets a need that was pressing.”….The allocated state money was supposed to go for the station, but when Amtrak balked at allowing apartments so close to its tracks, the plan—which included replacing some buildings along Lancaster Avenue south of the station—lost momentum. Meanwhile, the Save Ardmore folks filed lawsuits and protested the idea mightily. “Amtrak didn’t want people living so close to the rail line because it didn’t think it would be safe,” Lower Merion’s Murray says. “They were concerned about people throwing things out of windows onto the track.”📌

So….this is quite the piece in favor of Ardmore development. I don’t know who the writer is but my, he was sure led by the nose down a primrose development path.

I also take issue with the latest attempt at glossing over eminent domain in Ardmore. But then I also do not quite understand the article love affair with Angela Murray of Lower Merion Township, but perhaps she had a hand in the placement of the article?

Lower Merion Township can not unring the bells of the past.

Back in the day, as a member of the ORIGINAL Save Ardmore Coalition, Ms. Murray was awful to us. She was not nice, she was perennially unpleasant. However she wasn’t alone. You were either with them or against them. If you were against them, well then you were the enemy.

Those of us who reunited from the original Save Ardmore Coalition on Sunday remember what it was like.  It was at times, awful.

But also on Sunday we realized what we were a part of with Susette and all of the other folks who the Institute for Justice helped back then.

Also see the huge interview on Megyn Kelly on Today.   44 states changed their eminent domain laws as a result of the Kelo Case.  So many people’s lives have been destroyed by eminent domain.  Real people. Nothing in the abstract.  It almost happened to my friends in Ardmore.

Ironically today, the current governor of Connecticut announced jobs coming to Connecticut…including New London. But it won’t bring back the houses and displaced lives.

I will note that the whiff of eminent domain is once more in the air in Lower Merion Township. Why? because Lower Merion School District is searching for land they can beg, borrow, or steal to expand.  Why? A story for another day but the Cliff Notes version is all of the development there has caused the schools to (shocker) get over-crowded, right? One place mentioned in a recent Main Line Times article is Stoneleigh. Otherwise known as the Haas Estate in Villanova that was given to Natural Lands to preserve the open space.

Also don’t forget the attempted (and failed) eminent domain taking by a prior administration of West Vincent Township. Of Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show. It was real. It happened. And because of the path Susette Kelo laid down by going to the United States Supreme Court, this also was a failed taking attempt.

See 2012 East Coast Equestrian: Township Tries, Fails to Take Ludwig’s Corner Show Grounds by Eminent Domain

WNPR: ‘Little Pink House’ Hits The Big Screen, Reviving New London Eminent Domain Saga
By HARRIET JONES • APR 24, 2018

A landmark Supreme Court case over eminent domain and people’s right to private property is back in the headlines with the new movie “Little Pink House.” It tells the story of the Fort Trumbull neighborhood in New London, which was the scene of an epic struggle between a municipality that wanted to take property for the purpose of economic development, and the homeowners who resisted every step of the way….“You go to work every day, you pay your bills, you’re a taxpayer, you’re a law-abiding citizen, you keep your yard clean, grow your vegetables in your little garden, raise your family — and to have this happen to people who were just trying to be simple people and live their lives was really wrong,” said Kelo in a recent interview with Connecticut Public Radio.

 

If you are interested in learning more about what the Institute for Justice does, check out their website. IJ.org  .  Also check out the Little Pink House website to find our where the movie is playing or if you can get a screening where you live.

Little Pink House is more than a movie. It happened.

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