heaven on earth is home

It looks like a painting. But it is real life.  Taken a short time ago over in Westtown.  I made my last trip probably to Pete’s Produce for the season.  (They have the most fabulous pumpkins this year, but I digress.)

Heaven on earth is where we call home here in Chester County.  Traveling through the scarred battle zone of raped land of the Sunoco Logistics Pipeline horror show to get to Pete’s really made an impression today.

We as residents need to do a better job advocating for Chester County herself.  Election Day will be here in a blink.  The power of your vote is one of the greatest ways to be heard.  Those who are NOT stewards of the land need to GO.

We need more land preservation and land conservation and less development.  We need to see what can be done to save what is left of our beautiful landscapes, including from the damn pipelines.

We have an agricultural and equine heritage that needs to be saved.  We have waterways and woods and wildlife and even the humble honey bee depending on us.

We can’t just talk about it and we certainly can’t depend upon the Chester County Planning Commission.  Pretty pie-graphs and surveys just take up space on a website.  What are they doing, really?  What are the Chester County Commissioners doing, really?  Planned photo ops are good for politics, what do they actually do for all of us? The all like to say they are helping plan our future in Chester county but I ask again exactly whose futures are the planning? Mine, yours, or theirs and those who make lots of political contributions?

I was down on the Main Line a few times over the past few weeks.  I realized once again how I truly now dislike where I used to call home.  And it is not just the great pretenders to what now passes as the “social” scene.  It’s the density, the roads, the overall frantic pace and congestion.  I realized how I literally exhale when I start to feel the open sky, fields, and forest of Chester County every time I am coming home.

But we are at such risk of losing that. We are at serious risk of losing Chester County.  From the history to the land, forests, fields, water (wells, streams, lakes, everything), to the old farm houses and barns to other historic structures — we have to act.

As my friend Mindy Rhodes has wisely said via M. Jankowski “If not you, then who?”  and John Lewis  “If not now, then when?”

Think about it.  Start with who you vote for.  And what you vote for.

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the announcement: natural lands trust regarding saving bryn coed

Alessandra Manzotti photos courtesy of Natural Lands Trust

Alessandra Manzotti photos courtesy of Natural Lands Trust

Now that it has been announced, I can say that I have known for a few years that Natural Lands Trust was working on saving Bryn Coed.  I was asked to not say anything, so into the proverbial vault it went.  But I can’t say it is untrue that developers were sniffing around Bryn Coed’s 1500+ acres can I ?  After all, it is a magical piece of land that is almost mythical, isn’t it?

Here is the official press release:

One Step Closer to Preservation of Bryn Coed Farms

Media, Pa. – Natural Lands Trust announced today a major milestone in the non-profit land conservation organization’s effort to preserve 1,505 acres in northern Chester County known as Bryn Coed Farms.

 

On September 28, 2016, Natural Lands Trust and the current property owners, the Dietrich family, executed an Agreement of Sale for the property. Natural Lands Trust now has six months to conduct due diligence, including Phase II environmental testing.

 

The fate of the property has been the subject of much speculation over the years as development pressures have increased in the region. Located primarily in West Vincent Township, Chester County, with portions also in East and West Pikeland Townships, the property is one of the largest remaining undeveloped, unprotected tracts of land in the Greater Philadelphia region. Under current zoning, nearly 700 homes could be built on the property if it is not placed under protection.

 

Natural Lands Trust has been working with the Dietrichs for more than five years to conserve the land.

 

“It is too early to celebrate, but we are optimistic that much of this iconic property can be conserved,” said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands Trust. “It’s a complex deal with many moving parts, but Bryn Coed is certainly worth fighting to save. It’s a community and ecological treasure.”

 

If successful, the deal would result in a 400-plus-acre nature preserve with eight miles of hiking trails that will be owned and managed by Natural Lands Trust. The preserve will be open to visitors, free of charge, just like other nature preserves owned by the regional conservation group—including the 112-acre Binky Lee Preserve in nearby Chester Springs. In addition, West Vincent Township is considering Natural Lands Trust’s offer to establish a 72-acre municipal park on the property.

 

The remainder of the property would be divided into large conservation properties, preserved by conservation easements, and sold to private individuals.

 

“The amount of land that can be permanently protected as a Natural Lands Trust preserve is dependent on the amount of funding we can raise. The cost of preserving the entirety of such a vast and valuable property is beyond the currently available resources. We will be seeking support from the public in the weeks and months ahead,” Morrison added.

 

In 2003, the Dietrich brothers decided to divest themselves of the property. Various conservation and development options were explored but never came to a successful conclusion.

 

In recent years, several developers have been in negotiations with the Deitrichs, including Toll Brothers, which had proposed a 254-unit development on about one-quarter of the property.

 

Much of the property is actively farmed or in pasture. There are nearly 500 acres of mature woodlands on the property that are home to a myriad of songbirds and other wildlife. Generations of residents and visitors have enjoyed the pastoral views of Bryn Coed Farms.

 

The land also contains the headwaters to Pickering Creek, and is a high priority for source water protection. Bryn Coed Farms alone constitutes 17 percent of the remaining unprotected high-priority land in the Pickering Creek watershed.

 

Persons interested in receiving more information as the Bryn Coed Farms conservation effort progresses are invited to visit www.natlands.org/bryncoed and sign up for email updates. Those interested in learning more about the conservation properties that will be available for sale should contact Brian Sundermeir, Bryn Coed project manager, at 610-353-5587, ext. 237.

 

Natural Lands Trust is the region’s largest land conservation organization and is dedicated to protecting the forests, fields, streams, and wetlands that are essential to the sustainability of life in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey. Since its founding in 1953, Natural Lands Trust has preserved more than 100,000 acres, including 43 nature preserves totaling nearly 22,000 acres. Today, some 2.5 million people live within five miles of land under the organization’s protection. For more information, visit www.natlands.org.

 

Alessandra Manzotti photos courtesy of Natural Lands Trust

Alessandra Manzotti photos courtesy of Natural Lands Trust

So, this is not yet quite a done deal. There are three municipalities and a lot of due diligence and environmental testing.  From what I am reading, not all of the land will be conserved (it’s a little unclear) ,  but one can hope and no matter what this is a heck of a lot more than anyone expected.

As I understand it, The NLT-owned preserve will be a “big chunk ” of Bryn Coed.  The remainder will be large conservation lots with easements on them and trail easements as well. The size of the preserve can grow if Natural Lands Trust gets more money towards the project.

To David Robinson and his family who own Crebilly, why can’t you look at something like this? You can afford to.

Ok I just wanted to put this out there as some thought my post from the other evening was fabricated. I do my homework, and it doesn’t get much more official than the press release from Natural Lands Trust. And this is THEIR hard work and no one else’s (because I know some who will try to take credit, and well it is not theirs to take.)

BRAVO NLT!  This is why I am a member and big believer in the Natural Lands Trust, they  do not just talk the talk, they walk the walk.  (Brian O’Leary and the Chester County Planning Commission could learn something here, just saying.)

I am a member of Natural Lands Trust, and proudly so.  Please consider a membership. This is me asking incidentally, not them. Go out and enjoy the glorious weekend this weekend. This surely is an awesome way to start it!

Alessandra Manzotti photos courtesy of Natural Lands Trust

Alessandra Manzotti photos courtesy of Natural Lands Trust

this is development reality, chester county

Sometimes you can’t just look up, you have to look down from up. These are aerial shots taken this August in Chester County.  Sorry to say they were taken over West Vincent Township, but they were.  Can you say raped and pillaged when referring to the land?

Think about this when you vote in November because what we all love about West Vincent even if we don’t live there, is rapidly disappearing.  And further food for thought is if West Vincent lets Bryn Coed get developed densely it will be a horror show because in totality of acreage, the Bryn Coed is actually LARGER than Chesterbrook in Tredyffrin Township.

These photos clearly demonstrate why in Chester County we have to fight to save the land and open spaces we love.

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This is the Courtyard by Pulte, located on Birchrun Rd. It was originally an over 55 community of 300 homes. West Vincent Township changed it to a 185 home community and removed the over 55 restriction. Now there will be 185 additional children in their school system. This is neither land conservation or preservation.

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This is the Orleans/Toll development on Eagle Farms Rd in West Vincent Township

 

 

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, mrellahan@dailylocal.com, @ChescoCourtNews on Twitter

POSTED: 09/05/15, 1:58 PM EDT | 

Excerpt:

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.

  
  

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.

photo4

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.”

photo6

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.

photo2

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?

photo3

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” ?