the fairy tales of development

Updated: AUGUST 9, 2016 — 4:34 PM EDT

by Joseph N. DiStefano, Staff Writer @PhillyJoeD

EXCERPT:

New stores and apartments are boosting tax collections, and have given Chester County’s West Whiteland Township (pop. 20,000) a rare distinction: Yesterday Moody’s Investor Service boosted its credit rating to AAA, a rare distinction shared locally with Tredyffrin, Whitpain, Upper and Lower Merion, and Whitpain townships…..”We didn’t used to be known as developer-friendly,” Soles told me. “The current board has changed that. We want to attract development. We are a retail-based township. We have to stay ahead of the curve.”

The township’s presentation to Moody’s lists more than 1,000 new apartments, including 410 units approved for Main Street Apartments, 276 for Parkview at Oaklands (where residences are replacing office/industrial zoned space), 240 at Marquis at Exton; plus 108 “new carriage homes” (rowhouses) at Glenloch (where the township fought to keep out a trailer park), plus 86 at Waterloo Gardens, and several smaller developments….”Those develoments are going to have minimal impact on the school district,” Soles promised. “The primary market that developers are going for is the millennials and the empty nesters.”

 

Mmm O.K. That is a really nice BUT regular residents don’t want townships to be so “developer friendly” – we as normal, everyday residents of Chester County are in fact looking for BALANCE and RESPECT for open space and the county’s agricultural heritage. And some historic preservation. And community preservation.

exton_1937 guernsey cow photo

Exton in 1937 courtesy of the Guernsey Cow

I learned something very amusing the other day. An executive of a large developer active in local township meetings where they live doesn’t exactly live in one of the developments that supports their salary, does he? Does he not in fact own a lovely property that is private and part of the beautiful rolling hills of Chester County? If even the developers and their employees don’t live in these cram plans, why should we want them in our communities?

Aerial shot of Exton 1974 courtesy of The Guernsey Cow

Aerial shot of Exton 1974 courtesy of The Guernsey Cow

All of these developments have an impact on every single resident and that also means they do have an impact on the school districts.

Aerial shot of Exton off of Paramount Realty Website – not sure how old, but current times to be sure.

They can’t say in West Whiteland (or elsewhere since it is a common mantra) every single one of these units being built is going to go towards millennials and empty-nesters.  And as for that younger generation just starting out out of college they don’t necessarily want to be all the way out here – they want to be closer to an urban area because they’re single and social.  That behavior pattern extends to empty nesters and retirees too – not all of them want to be so far out. And a lot don’t want to be so far out living in cheaply constructed projects.

Areial shot from Pennsylvania Real Estate INvestment Trust

Come on, these projects are plastic city and built for the masses to do ONE thing: show a profit for the developer.  These developers shove in as many projects as possible and move on to the next area. These developers are not building for posterity, only their own prosperity. They get in, and they get out.

IMHO Steve Soles (the article calls him Rick, quite amusingly – see screen shot.) owes his constituents better. Of course given his day job as a lawyer lawyer for a hedge fund, I never would have voted for him in the first place if I lived in West Whiteland.

And so we know who is who in West Whiteland (and do not forget the Township Manager is the former Township Manager of Tredyffrin who was just going to “retire”, Mimi Gleason), here is a screen shot of the supervisors:

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Now if you do a quick flash back to the most recent election, you will recall a very interesting Daily Local article:
West Whiteland supervisors race getting nasty

POSTED: 10/27/15, 10:59 AM EDT

WEST WHITELAND >> Democratic challenger Rajesh Kumbhardare is running against Republican incumbent Steven Soles for his position on the township’s board of supervisors.

Kumbhardare launched several accusations against Soles that both Soles and fellow Democratic board member Joe Denham claim are false.

West Whiteland board supervisors serve six-year terms. One member of the board is up for re-election every two years.

In a phone interview, Kumbhardare criticized the township’s financial practices, saying township funds were “running into the red.”

He also mentioned the $31.2 million price tag for the township building….

Soles said during his tenure, the township greatly increased its transparency and kept taxes low.

“We have a fiduciary duty to our residents, I think we’re on the right track,” Soles said. “We are working for the residents of West Whiteland Township.”

Really?  Seems to me that West Whiteland Township has ambitions to become another King of Prussia. (But what do I know, I am a mere mortal and a female and not a lover of malls.)

We are starting to drown in development from one end of Chester county to the other. It’s ridiculous. I also do not believe that the economy can in the end support so much development and remember there actually is an ample housing supply already. Sure there are lots of retail and minimum-wage jobs, but those people are not going to be affording these developments. This is the whole emperor’s new clothes story of the New Urbanism fairy tale of development.

My photo. Views like this will continue to disappear by the day if we do not act as Chester County residnets

My photo. Views like this will continue to disappear by the day if we do not act as Chester County residnets

There are all sorts of things that no one thinks about when salivating over ratables as an elected official.

They definitely don’t think of the impact on the schools and they don’t take that into consideration. Mostly because school districts are autonomous from local governments and they don’t play well with one and other.

Also elected officials are NOT telling you another reality of getting rid of more and more farmland: it will drive your food costs up.

27406131775_05ddcef1f4_oIt’s a snowballing effect. We have lots of housing but we simply don’t take care of it. Our elected officials just approve more and more projects.

Someone said to me yesterday “I’m not really sure if a lot of local officials have the capacity to comprehend all of this and see the future and think about ecosystems etc.”

I think that is correct.

We have the power to change this and we need to pressure state elected officials to comprehensively update the Municipalities Planning Code to PROTECT us and actually plan wisely, not just literally give away the farm to developers.

It is an election year, which means we do have the opportunity to be heard by exercising our right to vote. We need to make our open space and agricultural heritage a huge election issue in Chester county and elsewhere in Pennsylvania.

26799260573_465b0e0d29_oAnd remember Moody’s is issuer paid. Municipalities get what they pay for and given the hot mess Lower Merion Township is due to developers (and is Tredyffrin with all it’s issues and the mother of all open space killing developments Chesterbrook from time to time far behind?) I wouldn’t be so bragging that my municipality was right up there with them as AAA. But again, a municipality is getting what they pay for.  And what will it mean when developments empty out because they are older and falling apart?

27887459781_c733efdbd5_oAnd I love when local elected officials in Chester County  brag about stopping mobile home parks. I do not think anyone really gets how many of those are in Chester County, or that they are kind of one of the few sources of truly affordable housing for what defines affordable housing. They approve building of huge projects with zero truly affordable housing.   Or a developer will toss out there that they will make a few units of something affordable, only it’s never truly affordable for say the family of four or six or even larger that might actually NEED affordable housing.

2706453199_4767aac241_oNow see what I think would be a great idea is if these developers who are salivating over Chester County’s open space would actually restore some of the actual run down housing supply that exists in areas that suffered downturns when factories and manufacturing left their towns.  Think Phoenixville, Downingtown, and Coatesville and any of the number of small cross roads towns you find scattered throughout Chester County.  Heck if they did this more in Phoenixville and Downingtown they would probably see a positive result fairly quickly given how hard these two places 27334976761_071b627e2e_ohave been working to rejuvenate their towns and business districts already. But it takes talent and patience to restore older homes or do an adaptive reuse of a mill or factory, doesn’t it?  And again, these developers aren’t about communities, they want to get in and get out.

But that is another idea: if elected officials and county level planning commissions pushed for an overhaul of Municipalities Planning Code that could be made part of the approval process legally: if developers want in, then they need to contribute more than traffic signals.  Let them contribute a certain amount of rehabilitated existing housing as a condition of approval.  Come up with a formula that for every new unit they want to add, they have to restore a certain amount of existing units in areas that could use the help, thereby actually helping provide actual affordable housing.

But that’s the other thing  – Pennsylvania does not make it attractive for people to preserve anything.

 

In other states there are many more avenues of tax credits and what not when it comes to saving things for environmental concerns and saving things as historic assets.
However what local officials do you have the power to do is to try to work with developers to reduce the footprint or encourage them to donate big chunks of land where they’re developing for conservation…..And in my opinion most don’t.
 I get that PA is a private property rights state so this is really tough, but it  is like the whole tale of Crebilly Farm in Westtown possibly going Toll — does anyone believe that NO ONE in that township knew anything?

Here are the Westtown Supervisors again:

westtownAgain, of special note is the Chair, Carol R. De Wolf.  How ironic is it that she works for Natural Lands Trust as the director of the Schuylkill Highlands???? Are residents asking her some tough questions?  Has she tried to get any of the land that is Crebilly conserved?

14359111719_cb799ed180_oOk and when you are speaking of development you need to consider the Herculean efforts some put into land preservation.  I have a friend who put four years of his life into obtaining Federal land conservation. He got a  USDA Easement on his farm. The easement is a conservation easement for the preservation of a thriving bog turtle colony. It’s locked up in perpetuity  I think that is wonderful.  His name is Vince Moro, and you will now read about him in this article on ChaddsFord Live:

 

Pop-up gala joins fight to save orchard

 

Read the rest of the article, but you get the point.  Here is more on the orchard at risk:

Help The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC) save Barnard’s Orchard, a fourth generation family farm in Chester County!

Project Update:
TLC is working to conserve Barnard’s Orchard and its 75 beautiful and productive acres. To date TLC has raised
$863,000 toward the $901,000 total project cost, leaving a balance of $38,000 (less than 5% of the total project cost).
Securing these funds now will successfully conclude this important land conservation project and keep  intact a 1,200+ acre corridor of vital lands.
Here’s what is at stake, and once plowed under, irreplaceable:
  1. 74.3 acres of important agricultural soils across two parcels
  2. Fourth generation family owned farm established in 1862
  3. Orchard and orchard store are a community staple with generations growing up visiting the property
  4. 32 varieties of apples
  5. Apple cider
  6. Pumpkins
  7. Snapdragons and freesia
  8. Peaches
  9. Additional fruits and veggies grown on site
  10. Produce donated to the area food cupboard when possible and collection taken at the counter
  11. Hosts school groups at no cost to educate children about the orchard
  12. Rural vista along Rt. 842 for public enjoyment with ½ mile of road frontage
  13. Protects prime agricultural soils and keeps them in active agriculture via the agricultural easement
  14. Protects portion of a first order stream and wooded, steep slopes
  15. Protects the groundwater recharge abilities of the woods
  16. Maintains the existing riparian buffer to protect the watershed
  17. Protecting the stream corridor benefits downstream neighbors-over 500,000 people depend on the Brandywine Creek watershed for public and individual water supplies
  18. Protected woodlands are part of an unbroken corridor extending north onto Cheslen Preserve
  19. Stream corridor and woods are home to multiple endangered and threatened plant species
  20. Farmland and open space benefits everyone – keeping the costs of community services under control: For $1 of tax revenue from farmland, only 2-12 cents of community services are required. Residential costs are $1.33 for every $1 of tax revenue.
tlcBe a part of the solution by helping conserve Barnard’s Orchard for future generations!
Donate online here OR send check payable to TLC to:
The Land Conservancy for
Southern Chester County
541 Chandler Mill Road
Avondale, PA 19311

TLC also accepts Gifts of Stock; for details click here or contact

610-347-0347. 
All donations are 100% tax deductible.
If you have questions about this project,  please contact TLC today.
Thank you,
Gwendolyn M. Lacy, Esq.
Executive Director
(610) 347-0347 x 107
(610) 268-5507 (c)
sad
Chester County residents it’s do or die time. What do you want where you call home to look like?
Here is another very telling image taken by a friend of mine August 1st in West Vincent:
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Do we really think anyone is cleaning up the ruins of a decrepit old gas station or whatever for historic preservation?
And speaking of West Vincent, remember Bryn Coed.  It is TWICE the size of Chesterbrook. In my opinion, it is not a question of IF the land will be developed, but WHEN.
img_1840And I am not, believe it or not, completely anti-development.  Small and thoughtful projects that demonstrate careful planning are not problematic to me, but you do NOT see that today.  Developers come in and rape and pillage. It is nothing, ever about where WE call home, only how much money they can make. They don’t care about fitting their developments in with our existing surroundings or employing human scale in infill developments in towns (think East Side Flats in Malvern. I am all about supporting the local and small businesses there but talk about not fitting the surroundings.)
After all, take “Linden Hall” on Route 30 in East Whiteland.  The actual Linden Hall is NOT yet restored and what do we see? This:
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Is that about our community betterment or just about lining a developer’s profits?
8534073683_85d0f86dda_oAgain, I remind everyone that development should darn well be an election issue out here. Look at your candidates and what they stand for.  We need less who are proud of being “developer friendly” and more who are willing to preserve where we call home.  From the local township, borough, and so on to the State House and State Senate vote for Chester County. If a candidate can’t go on the record about what they will actually DO or an actual PLAN for preserving Chester County, it’s open spaces, agricultural and equestrian heritage, say bye bye to them.
I think Chester County’s future is worth more than crammed in developments of front end loaded plastic houses on postage stamp sized lots where there is not even enough room to garden let alone enjoy being outside.
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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.

eastside-flats-malvern1_750

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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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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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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