should municipalities be allowed to sell off parts of public parks?

12472521_1288480304498962_6317939821284350831_nWorth mentioning – there is an email circulating in Radnor Township in Delaware County concerning an old house and a Township Park owned by the taxpayers of Radnor. The property is called the Willows.

In this email the sender addresses a neighboring development and the residents looking for their support – the development is called Inveraray.

Inveraray is a bit pretentious, check out their website. They scream landed gentry but are they really? It’s quite the stucco land of Stepford actually:

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Anyway this person says that they want to buy the house and a couple acres around it, actually close to three and move there. I am not naming this person by name, their name is somewhat immaterial. The important thing is not the WHO but the WHY. They claim they are looking for a larger house in Radnor Township:

For the last several months I have looked for an opportunity to move into a larger residence with my family…. where I could again reinvest in an older property and turn it around to current premium standards we all love and admire.

 

This past week I submitted two proposals to purchase or lease for long term the Willows residence plus 2.25 + or- acres surrounding the residence for my family.

 

My plan proposes to reinvest in the manor house well more than $1.0 million dollars to modern livable standards.

 

It is my hope that this would be a win-win solution that would not cost the tax payers nor would it cost your beautiful neighborhood.

 

After all we, long term Radnor Residents paid for the 47 acres to stop development but certainly did not purchase the estate because a family lived in the main house.

I have had some astounding emails shifted my direction over the years but this one takes the cake. It’s like “Hi fellow rich people I want to move into your sandbox, won’t you kindly help me and I will have you over for tea?”

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The house is part of a public park. How could Radnor Township legally sell something that belongs to the taxpayers the could affect the rest of the park usage?

If this person wants to live like nouveau landed gentry, that’s terrific. Let them go buy a building lot over at Ardrossan. There are lovely lots for sale, correct?

And when you research how the Willows was acquired by Radnor (see Willows Ordinance ) you see it was done via condemnation, or eminent domain. In this case it was public purpose. They paid what? Like a million dollars for the land and house in 1973?  Was that even worth that back then? And it was all for a PUBLIC PARK.  So if that is how the land and house were acquired and flash forward to 2016 and they sell off the house and acreage around it, in the visual middle of the park to a private person can’t it be contemplated that Radnor Township is turning eminent domain for public purpose to eminent domain for private gain?

How can that even be considered as a solution???

10366001_1288480357832290_6348205829566592359_nThe Willows has been a problem for Radnor Township probably mostly due to past mismanagement of the property, and a lack of consistent maintenance, correct?  They refer to the house as a “mansion” and it was never a mansion it was just a house. And it is NOT a huge house with landmark status or special historic preservation status – it’s not as if it is on the NTHP list.

I actually know quite a bit about the house because a friend of mine went to high school with a grandson of the last owners of the house and I know a woman who is the granddaughter of the architect. The granddaughter of the architect (Charles Barton Keen) suggested at the beginning of 2016 that the house be razed and turned into a folly. (Read this letter.)

This isn’t happening in Chester County, no, but I am somewhat astounded at the premise.10402709_1288480391165620_9078402028615408367_n

A park that is a public park should remain a public park. And if a tenant can’t be found in the can afford to do the necessary upgrades to the house which I think would probably include updating the electrical wiring to more than knob and tube and making sure there was no lead paint or asbestos on site and Radnor Township can’t afford it why keep the house standing? Mind you I never say that about old houses but this is one of those situations where I just shake my head.

Yes it’s an old house but it’s not even spectacular when compared to other old houses in the area that are still standing. It has no real historical worthiness. It is not one of the important works of Charles Barton Keen. It’s just a house.  And I have always been curious as to the financial circumstances surrounding Radnor Township purchasing this in the first place. I don’t think anyone has ever seen a report of that.

If this house was at the edge of the park, the public park, I probably wouldn’t write this post. But this house is in the middle of a very large park and that sets a dangerous precedence for public parks anywhere.

Of course the issues with the house at the Willows also points to a larger problem and inconsistencies in historic preservation at local levels in municipalities through out Pennsylvania.

I love old houses. I like but not love the Willows as far as the house goes. But I love the park in which it sits and other things like the Skunk Hollow Community Garden. Turning The Willows into a giant donut by carving out the center so a private party owns it and then could even flip the property is not a solution, it’s a big problem waiting to happen on so many levels.  Putting a nursery school in the Willows is also a problem. And why is that nursery school really leaving St.David’s Church after all these years and who else were they speaking with who may have said no thank you?

The perfect solution was when a caterer wanted to rent the Willows and use it as a dedicated destination site. That was perfect because well, weddings were held there for years. But that fell through because of funding issues, didn’t it?  And that brings this full circle to the fact the Willows in past administrations of Radnor Township was not truly maintained. I mean who knew until recently about the electrical wiring still being so old? That is a fire hazard, correct? And what about the other issues? Is their lead paint and are their lead lined pipes for example? Has anyone ever heard about that definitively?

12742356_1288480367832289_375092838788559525_nThis isn’t an 18th or 19th century mansion. It’s a house. It was a house built in the early 20th century in the California style by a father for his daughter when she married. The Main Line has lots of those wedding gift houses and another one that actually was even more lovely and left to rot before it was razed was the former Clothier house on Buck Lane in Haverford across from the Haverford School Football field.  The land was empty for a long time but  new construction planned for it. Not sure if anything ever got built.

The Willows house has been a long time folly for Radnor Township, so maybe now is the time to actually consider it becoming one? Because if Radnor commissioners fall down the slippery slope of selling off land and a house taken for the public in 1973 as public propose to a private party that is a slippery slope to a great deal of unpleasantness. And my greater concern is it sets a dangerous precedence in Pennsylvania.

At the end of the day, sign me very glad I can’t see this hot mess from my window.

Here is the Main Line Media News Article:

Resident offers to buy mansion at The Willows for private home

Leslie Morgan of Wayne, a commercial real estate developer, has offered to buy the house plus two surrounding acres or lease it and make it her family residence. Morgan did not disclose the amounts she offered the township but said she would make her financial information available to the township solicitor or finance director.

“I would say to the taxpayers and residents of Radnor that it would be a shame for the Willows to be torn down or for the park to be overtaken by over 160 non- school age children due to a lease termination of their private business (the nursery school).”

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bird in a twisted, gilded cage.

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When we were growing up, she was one of my sister’s friends. She lived over on Millbrook Lane (number 773 if memory serves) on the Haverford College and Delaware County side of Haverford. In 1973 her father committed suicide.

As kids you are sort of aware and sort of oblivious at the same time to the tragedies of other kids. It was before the age of the Internet and adults still spoke in hushed tones of “certain things”. Her name was Amy Whittlesey, and perhaps the subtitle of this post should be Defending Amy (once a newspaper headline read Judging Amy and it never sat well with me.)

I remember her as a teenager only a little because there were three years between my sister and I ….and once you hit high school, that’s an ocean. I remember her as soft spoken with an almost shy smile. I remembered at the time that her mother was a politician. I wasn’t even sure what that really entailed at the time and well, it was someone unimportant to a teenage girl. When I first met her we were all at Shipley.

Her mother was indeed quite the politician. A State Representative, Delaware County Council, and she ran in the Late 1970s for Lieutenant Governor (but lost). Then Ronald Reagan became president, and her mother, Faith Ryan Whittlesey, became Ambassador to Switzerland.

Her mother, Ambassador Whittlesey, is more than a little bit terrifying on paper. Like a modern Catherine de’ Medici sort of, if I can say that out loud without a case of “off with her head” , that is?  I can’t recall ever meeting her, I just remember Amy. Her mother is perhaps in some senses more driven and disciplined than Hillary Clinton ever will be.  Hillary truthfully could take a page or two out of Ambassador Whittlesey’s  book.  She has always to me represented the ultimate female politician and political survivor meets public saint. So yes, scary. She came up in a political climate of more subterfuge and in many senses, more brutal because women just weren’t doing much of  politics, then. So it was an era of politics that were rather medieval. And it was Delaware County where she got her start. Very tough. Crazily so.

MOTHER, LAWYER, POLITICIAN, ENVOY

PHILADELPHIA, Oct. 3— For Faith Ryan Whittlesey, who is often described here as the most powerful woman in Pennsylvania politics, life has become a little more hectic than usual since her nomination early last month as Ambassador to Switzerland.

There was, of course, her swearing-in last Wednesday at the State Department in Washington, but that was only one of the many details to be handled by the new Ambassador, a widow with three children, who has a law office to close, a local political career to pack away in mothballs, a household to move and shopping to do….Mrs. Whittlesey, who has been a supporter of President Reagan since 1976, was co-chairman of his defense and foreign policy committee in 1980 and presented the defense plank at the Republican National Convention.

Two of Mrs. Wittlesey’s children, Amy, 14, and William, 8, will accompany her to Switzerland, but her eldest son, Henry, 15, will continue at St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H.

But you have to wonder about those saints, right?

When her mom became ambassador, Amy appeared to be thrust into this whirlwind jet set glamorous kind of life. But was it? As an adult, in retrospect, maybe not so much. I kind of think she was like a bird in a gilded cage…a twisted, gilded cage. In retrospect, she lived a Victorian girl’s life in a modern world. It was modern all around her, but she wasn’t really ever free. Ever.

In 1989 on a Sunday in the New York Times there was a wedding announcement:

NYTimes

I remember it because at that point in time I had a few friends who had married and I thought they were nuts because everyone was so young, and she was like at least 3 years younger than I. And I also remembered wondering because her husband was so old was she like some sacrificial virgin married off in some Elizabethan drama? How many goats, horses, casks of wine,  and estates was she worth?

Then she faded from many of our memories as she went on living her married life.  If you did not swim in those social oceans, and it was quite the stratosphere with rarified air, well, you are young, people fade from memory and life goes on.

Then BAM! It’s the millennium and in January 2000 this shocking article appears in Vanity Fair by writer Lisa DePaulo hits the newsstands.  It’s called Irreconcilable Rockefellers .  I re-read it again recently and it is still quite the stunning tale of how rotten a fairy tale can get. It was quite the talk of the Main Line and beyond when it was published and all those pretending it was so awful a series of events to be aired in public, were pouring through the many pages of the article in private.

And that is the thing of it, isn’t it? We sit here with our ordinary lives sometimes envying what appears to be a rather fancy life of someone we know or have known. You wonder what would it be like? Would we do fabulous things, meet fabulous people, and would life sparkle more? Well after reading about the life of someone who was a contemporary of my younger sister and seeing it splashed across media outlets in one headline after the other, wow, be grateful for the magic of more ordinary days.

When I would read the articles, and even today as I re-read them again I am still struck with the same thought: why the hell did her mother sacrifice her? Power? Politics? Social ambition? Money? Mothers can be ambitious for their daughters, yes, but wow, right?

So the media dies off as Amy gets divorced and once again people go about their lives. In 2012 her mother makes local papers about her biography (she moved years ago and I assume still lives in Florida) . (Reference Main Line Media News October, 2012)

Keeping Faith: Former Haverford politician is the focus of new biography

From the time the former Haverford resident entered the political arena as state representative for the 166th District in 1973 until she entered the West Wing of the White House as President Ronald Reagan’s public liaison in 1983, the “Kennedy Democrat”-turned-Republican made headlines in her old hometown.

Along the way, the mother of three suffered the loss of her husband to an apparent suicide, became Delaware County’s first female county council chairman, was appointed ambassador to Switzerland and survived a congressional investigation into her management of the embassy and its link to the Iran-Contra arms-for-hostages deal supervised by fired National Security Council aide Oliver North.

I became reconnected to Amy via social media and have been enjoying getting to know the adult I only knew in the most peripheral of ways as a kid.  (Face it our lives are all filled with people who are friends of other people, that touch our lives in different stages, and then the scene shifts and there are other people.)

mother and son

Amy as an adult is amazingly creative and writes this achingly beautiful poetry. She lost her beloved brother Henry in 2012 and wrote about him so lovingly and eloquently. She is incredibly kind and sensitive.

She loves her kids, she lives for her kids. Her youngest child, a boy whom she had post-divorce drama, is with her in Cambridge MA. Or should I say was because as I write this post, he has been removed from her quite literally.

And yes, I told Amy I was writing this post. I felt almost compelled to because since I have come to be a small part of her circle I have not been able to escape the horrible thought that this woman, this nice gracious and gentle woman is still a pawn in the chess games of life of others.

You don’t reach the age of 50 and beyond without hearing the horror stories of divorce and child custody…and the explosions when those related to the affluent and powerful step away from the shadows of control and into the light on their own. And I am sorry, but Grace Metalious and her fictitious Peyton Place have nothing on things rooted in the Philadelphia area. It’s no wonder Agnes Nixon had decades of things to write about , right?

I think Amy deserves to be free and happy. She is a good woman. The rest can be told in these screen shots I am posting. They are public, and again, I told her I was writing this.  My heart breaks for her right now.  People we love can often be quite cruel. It is a lesson you wish on no one.

Amy, stay strong. People care.

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