is there a new race for open space in chester county?

Stroud Preserve, West Chester PA (Natural Lands Trust Property)

Michael Rellehan has hit it out of the ball park in The Daily Local today. Every single person who lives in Chester County should read this article and the rest of his series. I think it is crucially important.

Daily Local: Open space in Chester County: Past, Present, Future

By Michael P. Rellahan,, @ChescoCourtNews on Twitter

POSTED: 09/05/15, 1:58 PM EDT | 


Note: This is part one of a three part series.)
Numbers don’t lie, and in 1990 the numbers looked bad for the future of undeveloped land in Chester County.

The county — with its rolling landscapes, verdant farmland, quaint boroughs, and quiet suburban enclaves — saw its population growing at an astonishing rate. In the 40 years from the post-World War II boom in 1950 to the economic go-go-go days of 1990, the number of people who lived in the county rose by 136 percent, from 159,141 residents in the 1950 census to 376,396 in the 1990 survey.

Those people needed places to live and work, and figures showed that the construction of new homes and offices was eating open space in the county like Pac-Man ate dots. Figures showed the county losing 30,000 acres of farmland between 1982 and 1987, and having 32,400 acres under development proposal in 1988.

There was a real sense that people would look out the windows of the homes they had lived in for years and see not the green fields they played in as children but houses and buildings and strip malls. To put it mildly, there was a horror that the beauty of a landscape like those in Unionville or Birchrunville or Martin’s Corner would be replaced by something seen in Havertown or Lima or, worse yet, Upper Darby.

“We were going to end up looking like Delaware County unless we did something,” said Irene Brooks, the East Bradford woman who had been appointed as the county’s first female commissioners in 1986. “That was terrifying to me.”

Above is but an excerpt of the first part of this series which is going to be a few parts long. This first article was long and worth every word. I was so thrilled to see it, because I had noticed that The Daily Local in the era of modern journalism does not do much anymore in the way of these in-depth looks at issues facing our county, Chester County. Truthfully they should let Michael Rellehan do more reporting like this. It is to me, absolutely wonderful.

The open space and beauty of Chester County drew me here long before I was a resident. But in the last decade plus in spite of open space and preservation initiatives, development has occurred at alarming pace. Which is why when a sponsored Facebook post out of West Vincent came along this morning in my news feed, I could not believe they posted it with a straight face. 

Obviously it is election season, and this community page is quickly becoming a thinly veiled re-election shilling campaign page to keep Ken Miller in office in West Vincent. (Miller got jettisoned by his own political party when he got tossed in the Republican primary his past spring and ended up on the Democrat ballot as a write in. Truthfully, he is not a Democrat, just a political opportunist hanging on for dear life.)

Anyway this is what I saw:

A sponsored post means the admin or admins of the page are paying for the post to reach all timelines of a certain geographic area. It’s not terribly expensive but it is paid content to ensure their certain selected posts go farther than they would organically.

But their broad faced declaration which implies elected officials have been toiling away at saving open space during the Miller era ? Really? Would their  attempted taking of Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show grounds via eminent domain for private gain to build a mini city in the midst of rural cross roads been open space preservation? 

The West Vincent Supervisors who supported an eminent domain taking of Ludwig’s Corner were Ken Miller, David Brown, and Clare Quinn. This is what jettisoned Quinn out of office eventually as well as costing her the position she held with the French and Pickering Creek Conservation Trusts, right? Remember Kathleen Brady Shea’s December , 2011 Philadelphia Inquirer article? 

Let me refresh your memory:

Horses and hot-air balloons, the optimal modes of transport in Chester County’s West Vincent Township, offer idyllic vistas of covered bridges and rolling pastures – as well as a jarring contrast to a recent, acrimonious land dispute.

Like many area municipalities, West Vincent, which boasts pre-Revolutionary War lineage, is struggling to preserve its rural ambience, having more than doubled its population from 2,268 in 2000 to 4,567 in 2010.

….The supervisors voted Nov. 28 to seize the horse show grounds by eminent domain for a public park, generating an outcry that rivaled the din of a steeplechase and resulted in a reversal less than a month later….About 300 protesters packed each of two township meetings, and the fracas cost one of the township’s three supervisors her day job.
On Monday, the board of the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust ended its more-than-five-year relationship with its executive director, Clare Quinn, one of West Vincent’s three supervisors.

In a prepared statement, the trust said Quinn’s vote to condemn the horse show grounds represented “a fundamental conflict with the trust’s long-standing mission of voluntary land conservation.”
The Federation of Northern Chester County Communities, an intergovernmental advisory group; and East Nantmeal Township also sent letters criticizing the condemnation.

Now at the time the West Vincent Supervisors all claimed they were doing this to “preserve open space”, which of course is and  always has been hogwash. The plans flying around for the land at the time had nothing to do with preservation. But given the predilection for revisionist history, they will keep on trying I’m sure.

And I have to ask if those cheap and hideous apartment towers behind the Ludwig’s Corner Horse Show lovingly referred to as “Miller Towers” along with all the shoved in plastic house developments between West Vincent and Upper Uwchlan are also considered “preserving open space”?

  I remember when I first moved out here everyone was talking about that giant Dietrich  Estate / Bryn Coed (roughly the size of Chesterbrook which was roughly 885 to 1000 acres) or whatever being ripe for development? 

There was all that talk of developer TDRs (transferable  development rights) and development talks with a major developer over all of this land? It is or was 1000 acres of land? If the development chatter has not gone away but rather gone underground what would that mean for Supervisors  Miller and Brown?  That certainly could not be considered “open space preservation” if that tract of land gets raped and pillaged by a developer much the way the old DuPont Estate Foxcatcher Farm in Delaware County is today in its new plastic self called Liseter? Or if it becomes the next Chesterbrook?

Of course this is yet more reason people in West Vincent should retire Ken Miller by voting him out of office this November and Dave Brown when he is up for re-election, but I digress.

  West Vincent and Upper  Uwchlan are not the only Chester  County municipalities guilty of wanton and often indiscriminate ill advised development . It is all over the county with more plans happening daily it seems. Downingtown, Malvern, East Whiteland, Willistown, East Goshen, Easttown, West Chester,Charlestown, Schuylkill, Phoenixville , Westtown,  Coatesville area and out beyond to Oxford.

 You name the municipality in Chester County and there is development.  Way too much of it. And remember there is what we can see  today, and there is what is coming down the road in various stages of planning and municipal/developer dealmaking.

And many folks  point to Tredyffrin to the start of it all with Chesterbrook. That was the first monster development in Chester County of its size, wasn’t it?  And once that got in, the cherry was popped in Chesco, wasn’t it?

TE History has a history of Chesterbrook available online. In it this brief white paper of sorts discussed the Cassatt family and the history of Chesterbrook farm, which was sold in the late 1960s:


The timing of the final approvals of this development that no one wanted which to this day has had long term far reaching effects. And it was probably one of the first  developments of its kind under the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, Act of 1968, P.L. 805, no. 247 which took effect January 1, 1969, correct? And when was its last real update? The 1970s? It (the MPC) was conceptualized to protect our communities, but does it?  Look no further than their section 705 titled Standards and Conditions of Planned Residential Devleopments just to name a section that we would all benefit from getting  updated.  That and what historic and land preservation really means, as well as the updated definition of what suburbs and exurbs are and the list goes on.

  The PA MPC is the bible on which all of our zoning and municipal land use guidelines come from. When we don’t like a development how often have we heard from land use professionals, municipal employees and politicians “we can’t do anything, they are all good under the municipalities planning code.”

People always lament that the land conservation and preservation nonprofits don’t do enough. They can’t . Why? Because they can’t buy up all the land. 

Developers have the money and political lobbying power to do so and until we comprehensively change in Pennsylvania when,what, and how they are allowed to develop and where, nothing is going to change. And to change that, the Municipalities Planning Code needs to essentially be overhauled. In order to be effective stewards of our land with regard to conservation and preservation, our state level tools need to reflect what we,as residents  of our communities, actually want.

  In order to get more where we want in a lot of cases we need to change the faces of who govern us starting with the most local positions in various borough councils, supervisors, commissioners, town councils, mayors. And whichever state representatives and state senators next time they are up. 

So think about all of this going into the fall, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the articles in this Daily Local series.

Thanks for stopping by and  incidentally  all the development photos have been taken in Chester County between 2012 – 2015.


this is living?

Snapped these two photos as a passenger on Route 202.  These developments are perched right on the highway.  As a matter of fact the second photo shows an additional phase of one of these developments where you could literally open your front door if you lived here and spit on cars going by on Route 202.

I have to ask: this is living?  Seems kind of gross and very sad to me.  I don’t get the whole move-out-to-the-country-and-hear-the-highway thing…



it’s palm sunday, so why not post about an abandoned church?

DSC_0049So yesterday, I went out and photographed an abandoned church that had historical importance to the area: Ebenezer AME Church.  I had taken a couple of photos a while back and then Pete Kennedy from Malvern Patch told me what I was looking at so I wrote the post ebenezer ame church – bacton hill road.

DSC_0042Ironically and as life might have it, as I was out yesterday taking photos, someone from the East Whiteland Historical Society popped by to leave a comment on my post.  His name is Peter H. Spengeman and this is what he had to say:

As a member of the East Whiteland Township Historical Commission, I appreciate the writer’s interest and concern about the considerable historical resources in the Township , and the ongoing need for protection of structures such as the Ebenezer AME Church, a recent focus of beginning conservation planning.   All of us shudder when we pass a formerly stately structure crying for help.   To mount preservation efforts , it does require committment, time and often public advocacy and substantive funds to ensure that bricks and mortar are added to create stability of these structures as well as interest in publicizing our rich history.  We are pleased that the Supervisors of the Township have supported the Historical Commission over the years, as well as past and recent efforts by the County of Chester and private societies to catalog all resources and provide new and excellent research into the Paoli Battlefield  and Battle of the Clouds.  The Township Historical Commission now has openings, and those in the community who feel strongly about historical preservation are welcome to come to a meeting, held the second Tuesday of each month, and see if they would be interested in contributing.  Thank you,

Peter H. Spengeman, Member, EWTHC

I am going to not try to sound harsh, but what is it they do besides bemoan the fact that a heck of a lot of history in East Whiteland is rotting?  Loch Aerie, Linden House, and more?  For example (I do not know all the municipal boundaries so feel free to correct me) but isn’t part of Duffy’s Cut that Amtrak won’t allow any more archeological digs on in East Whiteland?  Is the mass grave important enough that maybe another marker closer to the actual site is in order?

DSC_0037Or Linden Hall or Lock Aerie?  Have they sought commercial conservation minded buyers or donations from the developers getting rich off of East Whiteland?

I get that part of the problem is East Whiteland has probably more commercial zones than residential so why not get smart with zoning and planning?  Is it possible to write into ordinances and make conditions of approval that not only include  these developers to improve the roads and infrastructure, but to kick in towards the preservation?  I mean seriously they have developers with huge, deep pockets like Brian O’Neill and Eli Kahn, right?

Both developers and their partners have made noises out here and elsewhere about how their developments add to the character of an area, so why not have them put their money where there mouths are on historic sites?  I would even say welcome them making corporate offices out of a historic structure in a commercial zone – we all know it is not going to go back to residential so why not encourage a developer to preserve the facade and do an adaptive reuse of the interior?

Paoli Battlefield and Battle of the Clouds are important, but why is it I see neighboring municipalities succeeding with preservation efforts? Historic Sugartown, Historic Goshenville, and even though sometimes I think they need to do more, Historic Yellow Springs?

DSC_0023I note that East Whiteland’s Historic Commission has openings, but I am a writer, not a board person.  I have little patience for boards where not much has changed in decades and trust me, they would not like my impatience.  I am doing them a favor by raising awareness, what I do not get is how they seem unable to think outside the box here.  Why not go to their supervisors and ask for more public and private partnerships?  After all, Chester County has great wealth in it, and it is win-win for those who have those beautiful estates and properties to have what lies around them look nice too.  Preservation and adaptive reuse can do that.

Also to be commented upon is that I sent out my initial post to historical groups who keep records of the black soldiers who served in the Civil War and others interested in local history and preservation and not one acknowledged receipt of the e-mail or commented on the post.  I also sent to media outlets and did not hear anything.  But that part doesn’t surprise me because history, crumbling history, and historic preservation aren’t sexy to the masses that feed off local and regional media.  I will remind the print and t.v. media that you used to cover stuff like this.

DSC_0027So on Palm Sunday I offer you photos of Ebeneezer AME, or should I say her ruins in Frazer.  This church meant a lot to a lot of people for a lot of years, right?  Is this how we honor her dead buried in her church yard, or what was her church yard?  I wondered as I took my photos yesterday if descendants of the dead buried there even know they have people in this old abandoned churchyard?

DSC_0078I have no idea who owns this, maybe the state, but I know from paying attention to other cases involving abandoned churches and grave yards, local municipalities like East Whiteland can take them over.  And seriously what would it cost to put a little fence and marker up and to cut the weeds?  You could probably interest more boy scout troops  and archeological types to help right the graves.  All it would take would be a little effort on the part of say, East Whiteland Historical Society.

EWTHC I have started something here for you, am happy to share my photos.  Am happy to volunteer in as much as trying to raise awareness and take photos of preservation efforts should they actually occur.    But you have to actually want to care about this stuff and again, not trying to be mean, it is a little hard to decide what it is you care about – on East Whiteland’s website there are no current agendas or meeting minutes since 2009.