development food for thought

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

As the Inquirer article stated at the time:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was an emotional scene in the haze of smoke.

Residents were in tears.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks for stopping by.

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has developer bentley been “barn” again?

kennedy barnIn a rather un-developer-like turn of events, it appears Bentley isn’t tearing down the barn? Has decided to stop fighting residents?  Well, I will believe it when I see it, but here is hoping he really will find an adaptive reuse.

The world could use a few more historic barns and a few less McMansions. I am so glad Caroline O’Halloran is writing more.

News

Builder raises white flag on historic Devon barn

Tuesday, October 29, 2013   By Caroline O’Halloran
cohalloran@mainlinemedianews.com

barn saleThe luxury homebuilder who wanted the right to tear down a 200-year-old stone barn in Devon is having second thoughts.

Tom Bentley has decided not to continue opposing residents who have been fighting to save the so-called Kennedy barn in their neighborhood.

“We’re working hard on a concept to preserve the barn and make it appealing to someone who might buy the lot,” Bentley said, in a phone interview.

 

 

 

save the barn (easttown township)- important october 3rd meeting!

I have written about residents trying to save this historic Chester County barn before. Twice as a matter of fact.

Here is a flyer that was sent to me about an upcoming zoning meeting on October 3rd in Easttown Township.  Apparently the developer (Bentley Homes) is seeking a demolition permit now I presume.  Not shocking after that fabulous effort to market the barn to a new owner, right? And the thing is this: this barn has had restoration to modernize it and is in good shape.  So why wouldn’t it sell unless it wasn’t really ever marketed?  Why not make the barn into a house as part of this development? Oh never mind, why ask redundant questions.

A historic barn means nothing to Bentley Homes, does it? They are, after all the people who took a heck of a lot of forest off of Forest Lane (Willistown Township, Malvern), right? The people who have done the same de-treeing thing on County Line Road in Radnor Township, right?  This is a sin if this barn gets demolished.  If you can help or know someone who will buy it, please go that meeting.

You can always build another Tyvec wrapped box.  Structures like this barn? Not so much. We need to preserve history like this.  And this is perfectly adaptable to modern use.  This developer has more than enough jingle in his pocket that he could either sell or reuse this barn if he wanted to.

Once again I reiterate my plea to residents in Chester County to lobby any elected official they can to slow down development in the county.

Bentley Homes development County Line Road, Villanova, Radnor Twp

Bentley Homes development County Line Road, Villanova, Radnor Twp

nothing says “forest” like cutting down the trees…

photo1So if you drive around Malvern and are familiar with Forest Lane, parts of it are indeed quite wooded and lovely.  It seems like the road runs between East Goshen and Willistown Townships.  Unfortunately down towards what I believe is just Willistown, there has been a lot of building – Bentley Homes has been super-sizing and Main Line McMansioning. They are currently advertising 830 Forest Lane on their website. Ironically they call it “The Evergreen”.  Kindly note there is barely a tree in site.

Across the street from these Bentley homes still remain some of the homes built less recently on Forest.  There are some truly lovely homes.  And as you proceed down Forest towards Sugartown you head into woods.  I think some smidgen of them are conserved, but I am not sure.

817 Forest Lane is a home that was in the woods and for sale for years.  It almost had the look of abandonment it looked so unloved.

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A smaller house built at the end of the 1950’s it had that look like Mike Brady of the Brady Bunch was the architect.  Definitely a retro mid-century modern, it did however fit into the woods.  The house itself needed a major overhaul and who knows if it was actually salvageable.  I think if someone had a little imagination the house could have been cool.

However, the chatter on this always was whomever owned it had moved some place  else and were holding out for a developer.  It had once been listed at a ridiculous pie in the sky price, and the price had been chiseled back over time.  It had been listed with descriptions like:

pieAN INVESTORS DREAM! Oversized 2.10 acre lot in highly desirable Malvern. The potential of this superb lot is limited by your imagination. Tear down and build the home of your dreams in serene wooded splendor. Home is located across the the street from conserved trust land and surrounded by newly-constructed, luxuriously-appointed homes. Owner will do no repairs. This home/lot is being sold “AS IS.”

 

Yes, it screamed “developer buy me”.  Of course reading the ad you did not realize it was an odd pie shaped lot.  But note the term “serene wooded splendor”. Unfortunately what I drove by the other day is more aptly described as “rape of the forest.”

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Now I get the former owners so allowed this home to rot and lot to get way overgrown, so I accept the eventuality of the house being saved was slim.  I also accept that there was nothing much architecturally special about this mid-century woods dwelling house, but still when I drove by the other day all I could think was there goes more of the woods.

I did a little Internet research and according to Realtor.com the home sold for $285,250 on February 4, 2013.  That coincides with when it appeared someone was actually cleaning up debris around the property.

Apparently the destiny of a good part of Forest Lane is new construction.  That is a pity because once the fabulous open space and woods that make people love the road are gone, they are gone.  Cut down enough woods and you change the eco system too.

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Once again I ask the residents of Chester County if you really want to have so much development? Part of the extreme beauty of this county is the landscape which used to be far more wooded and wild than it is.  Farmland is also what makes the county unique and beautiful.  That is also disappearing far too quickly.

I am of course totally confused by what I see on Forest because this land is located in Willistown Township which I thought was all big on land conservation and protecting the environment? If as a novice and non-resident you look at their municipal website, what is it you see first when you look at their website? The moving banner of photography that shows woods and nature, don’t you?

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Glad I can’t see this from my window, but it is sad to note that nothing says “forest” like cutting down the trees….to me this is very sad…trees that tall take sooooo long to grow and it is not like all of them are dying or something. I am sure the neighbors are thrilled they will no longer have to look at basically an abandoned house, but still I lament the loss of those trees.  Some municipalities might refer to these as “heritage trees”.

Is new construction and multiple developments of homogenous Tyvec wrapped boxes the new “heritage” ?

 

the beauty that is chester county

This is Chester County, Pennsylvania.  These are million dollar views that shouldn’t turn into million dollar developments.  But that is what is happening.  It is NOT happening in this photo, but the purpose of this photo is to remind Chester County residents what is indeed irreplacable.  This view doesn’t come in the Mount Vernon  Carriage Home Model.

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what defines “marketing” a historic barn?

UPDATE:  A Realtor I know was finally able to come up with listing on the barn.  It is on TREND (# 6161851). However, it is listed under “land type” as “One Building Lot” and under “structures?”  the answer is “N”. So here y’all go (and as a non industry professional I still say this is all about as clear as mud, can’t you agree?):

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ORIGINAL POST:

 

So not so long ago I wrote a post about the Rossi Barn on Waterloo Road that Bentley Homes asked to tear down, but agreed to “market” for sale?

Simple question: what defines market for sale?  An MLS listing?  A page on their website where everything else they have for sale is?  How does one obtain information?  Realtors have listings, developers have listings, so why is it Realtors I know can’t seem to find a listing let alone anyone else?

As a matter of fact someone I know sent me three interesting screen shots today.  They wanted to see the listing on the barn.  I don’t know why, it shouldn’t really matter since Bentley told those Easttown folks he would actively “market” the barn for sale a while longer, right?

Apparently Bentley’s website has that live chat/live assist capability.  This person, looking for info on the barn and what it was listed for couldn’t find anything on the barn – just what appears to be the original listing on this property with Prudential.

Obviously it makes for easy Tyvec Kingdom building if a developer could just tear down a barn like this, only the barn is 200 years old and isn’t in bad shape….so in theory someone could buy it and live in it .  But if people can’t easily find a listing, how can they buy the barn?   My sources tell me there is interest in this barn, so perhaps something good could happen if info was out there for the world to find?

Maybe it would behoove Mr. Bentley to put a listing page conveniently on his spiffy website?  Or should people just contact Easttown Township directly?

Here is what I was sent and please note the “Me” is not me literally, it is apparently how it comes up on the live assist/live chat function:

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Links to articles on the topic:

Easttown planning commission approves demolition of 19th century barn

Published: Thursday, January 03, 2013

By BRENT GLASGOW
bglasgow@journalregister.com

Plans to demolish centuries-old barn raises hackles in Chester County

January 28, 2013|By Aubrey Whelan, Inquirer Staff Writer

if stepford were a real place, is this is what it would look like?

Chester County residents, do you want the entire county to look like this?  Didn’t some of you move out here to escape this in the first place? Can you now shudder at what that old DuPont Estate will look like?  Can you imagine what that next  Appledumb, Mountainfake, Potters Field, and Byers Remorse will look like? (Can’t keep track of all the municipalities and doofy names of developments or developers so pardon the comedic license.)

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