food for thought

I wrote this column for Main Line Media News in 2009 under editor Tom Murray, who would also become the editor of The Daily Local News until his untimely death. He was an amazing guy, and he encouraged community voices participating in local news.

But this is an issue we are continuing to deal with all over, and it is especially felt in Chester County with all the wanton and unnecessary development.

The photo in this post I took September 4 and it is the literally rotting historic farmhouse on the Clews and Strawbridge property in Malvern/Frazer East Whiteland Township. It is clearly demolition by neglect, and there’s nothing seemingly that can be done to ensure that the property is at least preserved pending redevelopment of that property. A developer recently had wanted to come in and build an apartment tower there and thankfully was turned down because it required a zoning change. I will note that in West Whiteland cerebral historic properties, like this have been preserved in the midst of commercial development. But a property owner has to want to do that.

Whether it is for historic preservation, land, preservation, community, preservation, or just sanity of the residents preservation. This is why we need to push elected officials in Harrisburg to enact an act of the state constitution and update the Municipalities Planning Code. truly, I do not know why this is not a state wide initiative.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by.

The small neighborhood: A place worth preserving

The small neighborhood is like no other. As a resident – young, old, or in between – it gives you a truly authentic sense of community. This sense of community is something you can’t bottle, beg, steal, or sell. It exists as an integral element in the fabric of smaller neighborhoods.

As a young child in the 1960s, my parents made our first family home in the Society Hill section of Philadelphia. In Society Hill, I not only discovered my love for historic preservation, but my love for small neighborhoods and communities with particular individuality.

Small neighborhoods are just so very real. When you grow up in a small neighborhood, you develop a life-long affection for neighborhoods of a similar pattern that provide their residents with that singular sense of place: you know your neighbors, and they know you. Even children can appreciate this uniqueness, and as a child, I most certainly did.

As an adult, I have found that I seek neighborhoods like those I experienced as a child. This is why I chose my current neighborhood in Haverford. It had all the elements I loved: walkability, community, and interesting and quirky old houses. No, the houses aren’t the majestically elegant 18th century townhouses of Society Hill, but they are special nonetheless.

When I first heard of impending development in my neighborhood, I felt so very bleak. I knew that a change was coming that would irrevocably alter the face, fabric, and landscape of my neighborhood. And it has already changed our neighborhood even though nothing has been demolished yet. Just the very thought of the hum of multiple air conditioning units on a flat roof when all we are used to hearing is birds, the laughter of small children, and the oddly comforting, yet familiar noises of the train is depressing.

Development in moderation is something I can stomach. What I see happening everywhere today, I cannot. I see the past of this region being sacrificed daily at the altar of new construction. And every developer is the same: they see their projects as their Pygmalians; testaments to their individual legacies. I suppose that is only natural, as they pour their hearts and souls into their projects, just as we pour our hearts and souls into our neighborhoods. It is just a shame that they can’t see their projects as we see them: alien invasions.

We are facing such a development on North Buck Lane. The development is unfortunately a by-right development, so it will be built. I have been to multiple meetings on this development, and I have come full circle to my original starting point: this project is simply wrong for such a small neighborhood. It’s too big.

This project is like an adult woman trying to squeeze into a little girl’s dress. The ultimate shame of this situation is that up and down the Main Line, there are many projects like this playing out. And I have to ask, are these projects about enhancing neighborhoods or are they just about profit?

Local governments from townships all along the Main Line and beyond say they feel for the complex plights of the smaller, older neighborhoods. And all of us in the small neighborhoods along the R-5 and Lancaster Avenue corridor are under siege. But how can all these local governments say they feel badly for small neighborhoods when they don’t take enough steps to preserve them? When you live in a small neighborhood, you know density is a given. However, isn’t there a big difference between reasonable density and being sandwiched in like sardines in a tin can?

The small neighborhoods of the Main Line and beyond need and deserve protection. The architecture that makes each neighborhood in each community unique disappears daily and is replaced by what can only be described as super-sized and homogeneous.

Isn’t it also curious that no matter what local township is involved, it seems like zoning variances for new development and demolition permits for our older and historic homes can appear to be approved in a seemingly short duration of time? Oddly enough, it feels like the process average citizens must take to achieve historic preservation and changes to zoning codes that can protect neighborhoods takes much longer and is more complicated. Where is the balance? We need balance.

I mourn the sense of community that is lost brick by brick as older homes are demolished for McMansions and developments. I believe that we are overdeveloped all along the Main Line.

I truly long for the simpler times of my childhood when older homes were cool and historic preservation was the name of the game. I long for the times when small neighborhoods like mine were just allowed to be, and mourn the sense of place called home that is being lost a bit more with every day that passes, and every old and historic home that is razed.

hey east whiteland residents are you aware the weston development on w. king road in west whiteland is marching forward?

Hi it’s me, the development critic. Weston is selling on West King Road across from Johnson Matthey. This is in West Whiteland, JUST over the East Whiteland border quite literally. I have written about this before:

So there was a meeting last night in West Whiteland. Planning. The Weston Development came up again. If it wasn’t for a West Whiteland resident looking at the agenda because they were at another meeting last night, I would not have known Weston was up again and with a zoning change going to zoning with I presume planning approval.

Now I have not seen the property change hands as of yet, but there is the possibility the sale is through since Chester County seems behind in what they record almost always.

I am kind of pissy about this. Right or wrong.

One reason WHY I am pissed is I have been on zoom calls of other meetings involving this property in the past. I even contacted them in writing as did many others from EAST WHITELAND. As a COURTESY, you all should have let East Whiteland residents know. I know full well they know how to reach me, and if not me the peo in East Whiteland Township.

This plan will drastically impact residents of East Whiteland who live on roads off of W. King or who are in the many houses that pepper W. King Road in East and West Whiteland.

It would be common courtesy to let your neighbors know when ANYTHING happens with this property because ANYTHING that happens with this property or the acreage across the road being sold by Johnson Matthey WILL AFFECT MORE THAN WEST WHITELAND, correct?

There is quite the eco system on that property. Has a property search been done as to any special special like bog turtles which might reside there? How many and what trees will be removed and how large will the trees be? And any tree planting should NOT be developer specials lined up like for a firing squad (what Toll brothers does) and left to die.

Also, the neighbors want a traffic signal as in yes a light right there at the mouth of that development at King and Weston Way. Otherwise, NO ONE WILL BE ABLE TO GET OUT. And speaking of not getting out, has West Whiteland been monitoring the intersection of Ship and King lately? They should. And the guy who zips around on W. King in the motorized wheelchair in the lanes of traffic with nothing reflective? They should pay attention to him as well, and get him like those big reflective triangles Amish buggies have. It’s terrifying to be on W. King with traffic with him zipping around like he is driving a car.

West Whiteland approving a development of this size is going to affect the neighbors in more than one municipality. I saw a reference in old materials about a neighbors’ meeting in 2022. I don’t recall hearing about that. Thankfully this development will only overload West Chester Area School District.

I feel East Whiteland is completely out of the loop on projects that they border with West Whiteland and other municipalities and this has to stop. Soon we will not be able to navigate around the area with the development approved in West Whiteland on Route 30 from the Laborers past but including Ship Road and east on Lancaster to the municipal border with East Whiteland. Oh and this latest developer seeking big bucks at the expense of Chester County residents has a very similar plan to this brewing in Willistown. They are from Blue Bell which I sadly remember the farms and open space there before the developers moved in.

I am pretty tuned in to what happens around here, and I was a little distressed to see this all moving forward without us lowly East Whiteland folks being clued in.

Also has West Whiteland forgotten the pipelines that run through this property? Still want people running uphill or whatever?

I go out of my way to try to get East and West Whiteland to communicate. It’s only COMMON SENSE. Yet here we are.

Like I said, I can’t stop this development but I will talk about it. West Whiteland will have conditions of approval on this project and respectfully, one of those needs to include A TRAFFIC SIGNAL as well as answers to environmental questions.

It’s nice they are saving the historic structures, but as is the case with a lot of these things, seeing will be believing.

When I lived in Lower Merion they would create resident email lists for development projects. Someone in planning and/or zoning would notify residents of actions on a particular plan. A lot of your projects don’t just affect residents of just ONE municipality, they also affect residents of bordering municipalities.

It drives me CRAZY that no one in Harrisburg wants to get off of their asses and do a comprehensive non-Band-Aid update to the Municipalities Planning Code (MPC), since hello the MPC drives our zoning. The last comprehensive update circa 1969 is what cause the first monster project to tear apart Chester County and blow up a school district: Chesterbrook.

It drives me CRAZY that municipalities that border each other and often have similar issues act like independent island nations. When there is collaboration there is often greater success. And West Whiteland and East Whiteland had success, great success years ago over what Rouse had planned for Church Farm. More recently, residents banned together to stop a hydrogen plant.

Development rant over. For now.

they all look the same.

These are the apartments in Frazer known as “The Yards.” And like everything else being built today they look pretty much like everything else being built today.

I don’t find them attractive. I don’t find them architecturally significant. It looks like Legos put together for grown-ups to live in.

And these are the buildings that are being erected in communities all around the area. And it doesn’t matter who the developer is THEY ALL LOOK THE SAME.

Probably one of the only ones that I don’t find as offensive in Chester County are some in Paoli behind the train station. The Airdrie. But it’s still a similar design, only that has some actual setbacks, so it doesn’t smack you in the face along Lancaster Avenue and elsewhere.

But if you drive around, and you look at all of the apartment complexes being erected, they all are the same variations on a similar theme.

It’s NOT architecture.

I really started noticing these buildings when Eastside Flats in Malvern Borough were built. Most of these buildings have lousy setbacks, ignore human scale, ignore the architecture that exists around them, pretty much ignores everything that makes Chester County special.

The design in a word in my opinion, sucks. This is all about these developers, making money and moving onto the next project. It’s not about enhancing a community or enhancing a sense of community. These developers don’t care about our communities, we are just an area where they can make a profit.

From municipality to municipality it’s all the same. Literally Lego boxes for people to live in or plastic mushroom houses squished too close together.

Somebody gave me a hard time for saying I think these apartments are also ugly etc. and then they told me I was insulting people’s homes. Apartment dwellers don’t move into communities and stay forever. They are more transient it’s the nature of apartments.

If it’s a senior living community, it might be a little different, but the architecture is all the same and it’s all bad.

These developers are changing the nature of community quite literally. More and more. All of the rentals mean people stay for a while. They don’t stay like buying a home in a neighborhood. And even the nature of those neighborhoods with single-family homes are changing. Front end loaded cheek to jowl. No gardens. Just boxes with bad siding.

The developers are driving the real estate prices which is driving how long people stay if they stay. Sometimes just flip property and leave and so on.

There is quite simply put too much development. And there especially seems to be too many apartment complexes being built Chester County is looking more and more like King of Prussia. Does Chester County want to look like King of Prussia? Or Bensalem? Does Chester county want all these apartment buildings creating urban landscapes?

And when you post the pictures of these developments, people think someone’s palms are being greased. I don’t know anything about that what I do know is what allows these buildings, and these developments to march forward. The Municipalities Planning Code of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or MPC.

The MPC has not been comprehensively updated since circa 1969. The MPC guides all local zoning. No one holds state representatives and state senators accountable for this. It is their job to an act an act of the state constitution and get off their asses and update the MPC .

However, there is also the fact that people really don’t bother to learn what is going on within their communities until there’s a crisis. People do not keep up with what local government is doing and what plans are being presented for development and there’s no excuse now really because meetings are hybrid and in person and recorded so if you can’t make a meeting, you can watch a recording of a meeting or you can watch a meeting via zoom platform or even YouTube.

If people went to meetings, local government would have a better idea of what they didn’t want before it actually happened. It wouldn’t necessarily be within municipal power to deny a plan, but they might be able to mitigate certain circumstances or conditions of approval.

Or when municipalities are updating comprehensive plans for municipality to municipality it’s not necessarily super exciting but it’s also something that residents ignore the opportunities they have to comment on these plans so again it’s another avenue of being able to get your message out there as a community as to what you want to see vis-à-vis development or not see.

And basically the hands of local officials are truly tied from protecting communities from bad development without the proper support from not only county planning but primarily because the MPC is so out of date.

It’s all a drag. I’ve spent years going to meetings and listening to meetings and going to meetings now via Zoom for a few years, but if you don’t pay attention to what goes on in your own community, you never learn.

I’m really sick of people that either want to complain to me about development or criticize me for not liking development. if they use half the amount of energy participating in their community as they do coming after me for my opinion, think of everything that could be accomplished from municipality to municipality?

I’m sure I will receive criticism for this post. I’m being mean I’m being unfair. Whatever. I don’t like all of this development. It all looks the same. It’s ruining the landscape that once was Chester county. And that people is the bottom line.

Happy Monday.

yes this is a rant.

Development should be a four letter word. Nothing has architectural style and human scale is non-existent.

Nothing being proposed on the Main Line or into Chester County and further out even complements the surrounding areas developers want to build in.

Everything is about maximizing density for developer profit.

The problem with that is there are a lot of moving parts and why is it residents can see the holes in the planning process and the zoning process and the development process and the political part of the process yet no one else seems to be willing to?

Everyone always thinks I am 100% against development. I’m actually not, but I cannot stand what is being shoved into our communities today.

The municipalities get all hot and bothered over the short term high of ratables but are incredibly short sighted as to the future. They don’t even look to protect the basics like stress on infrastructure, stress on first responders, stress on school districts which are all getting SO big.

It’s always QUANTITY instead of QUALITY.

And don’t forget the conditions of approval that they could ask for and sometimes they don’t even try. If these developers want to be in our communities then they can build the roads that will support their development. They can help pay for the schools that their future residents will put children into. They can finish the parks the townships don’t ever seem to have the money to either start or complete yet they have the land. And occasionally, these municipalities could learn to say “no give us a better plan.”

And in some municipalities you have to wonder for whom the township staff actually works? For whose benefit do the politicians work?

Years ago several members of the Pennsylvania legislature put forth an idea for a law. That law was simple it would’ve provided a short term moratorium on development. Just enough for Pennsylvania municipalities to hit the pause button to try to get better plans – like 90 or 120 days or something. The lobbyists for parties who objected to this being put forward killed this thing at least twice.

Also the Municipalities Planning Code of Pennsylvania? When was the last time that was comprehensively updated? Wasn’t it either the late 1960s or 1970s?

And here in Chester County why is it everyone thinks the Chester County Planning Commission’s Landscapes is so fabulous? All I see is a blueprint for over-development. We live in Chester County and we don’t live here so we can feel like we live in Bensalem or King of Prussia correct?

And while on the topic of our Chester County Planning Commission why is it our county level planning is being driven by an executive director who does not live in our county? To me that is just nuts and the worst kind of politics. That in my humble opinion is a person not truly invested in our communities and how can he be, he doesn’t live here does he?

We need change or we are going to continue to lose what makes where we live special. I don’t know about you but every time I look at a plan it is homogenous, boring, uninteresting and not community minded in the least for where ever it is proposed. It’s mall architecture. Bleck.

Once open space is gone it doesn’t come back. From Lower Merion in Montgomery County through to Caln in Chester County and everywhere in between, something has got to give.

And the history and historic preservation also doesn’t seem to matter. And it should.

I have never believed in “build it and they will come” as a reason to develop. And I’m not saying there aren’t areas that are in need of sprucing up. There are. Only the planning and vision that is realistic doesn’t seem to exist does it?

And the zoning? Why is everything high density? And all these special zoning overlay districts? Who benefits besides developers?

But everything is the same: ugly apartment buildings, cheap townhouse communities, fake carriage house communities. Density, density, and more density.

And in a lot of areas people are asking about low income and affordable housing. And we’re not talking section 8 here we’re talking about where do the single mothers go if they want to live in a safe community and raise their children? Where do our seniors go who can’t afford ritzy retirement communities? Where do regular people go who can’t afford McMansions?

And is there the economy to support this development? I was talking to somebody last week who remarked about not being able to work close to home. So are the jobs really here locally that will support the development? In my opinion, no.

Yes this is a RANT. And developers aren’t going to like this post, but none of you were being singled out. I am disgusted with all of it.

We deserve better. We need to demand better.

Development is an epidemic and we need a solution.

another development east whiteland?

valley view farm

I actually have photos of 99 Church Road but don’t have time to dig through them (but I will later).  This property (photo above off Google or Bing) is up for discussion tonight in East Whiteland:

Preliminary/Final Land Development Plan – 99 Church Road – APG – Proposed construction of 43 new single family residential units and the restoration of one existing historic home on the east and west side of Church Road. The property is zoned R-1 Residential and is approximately 41.5 acres and a motion to adopt Resolution No. 23-2016 granting approval of the Preliminary/Final Land Development Plan.


EW 1 EW 2


Come on, East Whiteland.  I know you can’t stop every development, but 43 new “residential units”  on 41.5 acres? Lord above people, can’t you find any developers who will develop large lots to conserve some open space?

Oh and the house on it is apparently a “Class 1, historic property which dates to pre-Revolutionary time” (See 5/14/2015 East Whiteland Supervisors’ Minutes)

From the May 14, 2014 East Whiteland Supervisors Meeting

So it is being marketed with information on the local schools , so the potential is to add 43 new households with kids here, right? Add that to all the OTHER development in various stages of planning in East Whiteland and elsewhere in the Great Valley School district and is someone going to say with a straight face that these developmnents will NOT impact the schools, will NOT impact our infrastructure, and will NOT affect things like police and first responder coverage?

Here is the listing info I found on the internet:

99 church last viewagent

development opportunity

Marketed as a “development opportunity” by these folks as per broker cloud:

agent info

These folks captioned above are locals? And apparently a couple of these folks above are part of the family that owns the National Bank of Malvern? That is what an article in The Hunt Magazine said circa 2009. Heavy sigh. These folks are legendary in equestrian circles, so one would think they would be able to market this property to other than a developer who wants to build quite so many homes on this parcel?

church roadSome will say it’s “only” 41.5 acres.  Well if you can do basic math, all the acres add up.  Who knew when I wrote my development post earlier, I would be following it up with yet another East Whiteland Development project.

It’s too late to fight city hall on this one unless there are bog turtles or Revolutionary War Soldiers buried there, or something similar, but Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ East Whiteland hit the pause button somewhere, anywhere.

And speaking of the Revolutionary War, how does anyone know this potential development site is clean of artifacts given it’s proximity to other places?

another view church road

from the February 11, 2015 East Whiteland Supervisors Meeting

Every time you turn around somewhere in Chester County is yet another GD development being proposed. And once again you have one where the “promise” to restore the historic asset. Umm East Whiteland, we are still waiting for the developer who “promised” to restore Linden Hall to make good on said promise.  And we all know that if push comes to shove they can’t make these developers do anything, correct? So telling them they have to do something basically doesn’t mean squat, does it?

So we are seeing the slow death of more open space. Fabulous.

2 -11 -15 EW supervisors 99 church road

church road 2

Here is the report from Chester County in the fall of 2015 regarding this plan.  FYI only because this plan is essentially another done deal.

Again I state that we should really pressure all state level elected officials to do a comprehensive update of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code

After all, the MPC is the bible that guides planning and zoning across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Maybe if it was updated to protect and enhance our communities with more control over development and help for historic preservation and land conservation we would all stand a fighting chance?

Just a thought.

Thanks for stopping by.  Sign me development depressed.

chesco 1

chesco 2

chesco 3

chesco 4

chesco 5

Oh and before I close off this post, here is this little something concerning Linden Hall:

Linden Hall 1 linden hall 2