the case for open space

See this photo above? The one I am opening this post with? Gorgeous view and vista, right? That is what conserved and protected open space looks like.  That is part of the 571 gloriously preserved acres on Stroud Preserve, which we all have to visit thanks to the Natural Lands Trust. This is one reason why I am so in awe of this non-profit.  They are amazing.

Now look at the next photo. Also taken by me from the air a couple of years ago and notice the difference:

 
Next is another shot- both of these were taken over Chester County . 

  
Recently we attended a party out near or in West Vincent. We got turned around on the way and ended up in a development I never knew existed.  I think it may have been off Fellowship Road, I am not sure, because it was one of those times where you just get all turned around. 

Anyway, we ended up in this development that had rather large houses so crammed together you felt as if you were in one of the houses and stuck your arm out the window that you could basically touch the neighbor’s house.  Don’t misunderstand me, it was a pretty, well-kept neighborhood but it looked so incredibly phony, almost like a movie set. Or a life sized model. And it was also very odd because it was a neighborhood no one was outside. Not even to walk a dog. It was eerie.

Every day we hear about more and more developments happening. Just this weekend somebody posted the following photo taken  in West Vincent:

  
If I have the location correct it is on Birchrun Road and has passed through a couple of developers’ hands? Like Hankin and now Pulte maybe?  Anyway soon this will be a crop of plastic houses. And it seems like Chester County keeps sprouting  more and more crops of densely placed plastic houses.

You would think that Chester County would have learned from the mistakes of Montgomery and Delaware Counties.

Just look at what once was Foxcatcher Farm or the DuPont estate in Newtown Square at Goshen and 252? How is any of that attractive? And look at the beautiful natural habitat that was literally bulldozed under. I said before I’m a realist, I didn’t expect when an estate like that was broken up it would remain pristine and intact, especially given the history and events of recent years.  However, it still shocks me that none of the land was truly conserved. In my opinion, the only land that has not been built upon is land they couldn’t build upon easily.

   

The two photos you’re looking at above I took this spring. Giant manor sized  houses so close together .  And they are going up lickety-split in all of  their Tyvec glory.

I think it’s horrible. I think it’s horrible especially since I have seen what nonprofits like the Natural Lands Trust are able to accomplish and achieve in land preservation. But did Newtown Township ever wanted to preserve any of it given the projects that have almost but not quite happened on the former  Arco/Ellis school site in recent years? 

However there are many opinions when to comes to development. Recently my blog posts about Foxcatcher, which are in some cases years old, were brought up again on a  Facebook page about Newtown Square.

   

Ok so this Nathan above  is entitled to his opinion even if he is somewhat ignorant in his approach.  I never called Newtown Supervisors  “commissioners” are we will start with that. And if he wants to go pointing fingers, there are several villains in these plays.  At the top of my list are  local municipal elected officials, state elected officials, and developers.

We’ll start with the local elected officials. These are the people that have temporary elected stewardship over our communities. I think they have an obligation to represent us all equally and not just select factions or special interests. But the reality of politics even on the most local level is that is whom they cater to exactly.  Are we talking about real or theoretical payola  here? Doesn’t matter because at the end of the day they get sold a bill of goods and they know better than the rest of us. When you challenge a local municipality on development most of the time they will throw up their hands and say “Wecan’t do anything. All our codes are based on the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code.”

Then there are the state elected officials. These are the guys whose  campaigns are supported by not only local elected officials but people with big check books  like developers. Our politicians on the state level could reform and update the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code but they don’t want to deal with it.
 They also don’t want to deal with the building and development lobbyists. And it’s those lobbying groups that killed a very interesting bill that was proposed in Pennsylvania a few years ago.

This was known as HB904 in the seission of 2007:

AN ACT 1 Amending the act of July 31, 1968 (P.L.805, No.247), entitled, 2 as amended, “An act to empower cities of the second class A, 3 and third class, boroughs, incorporated towns, townships of 4 the first and second classes including those within a county 5 of the second class and counties of the second through eighth 6 classes, individually or jointly, to plan their development 7 and to govern the same by zoning, subdivision and land 8 development ordinances, planned residential development and 9 other ordinances, by official maps, by the reservation of 10 certain land for future public purpose and by the acquisition 11 of such land; to promote the conservation of energy through 12 the use of planning practices and to promote the effective 13 utilization of renewable energy sources; providing for the 14 establishment of planning commissions, planning departments, 15 planning committees and zoning hearing boards, authorizing 16 them to charge fees, make inspections and hold public 17 hearings; providing for mediation; providing for transferable 18 development rights; providing for appropriations, appeals to 19 courts and penalties for violations; and repealing acts and 20 parts of acts,” adding provisions to authorize temporary 21 development moratorium. 22 The General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania 23 hereby enacts as follows: 24 Section 1. The act of July 31, 1968 (P.L.805, No.247), known 25 as the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, reenacted and  1 amended December 21, 1988 (P.L.1329, No.170), is amended b.

This act stayed around a couple of years until it was just made to disappear. it was last referenced in a 2009 article:

Philadelphia Inquirer: A home-building ban in an economic crisis? By Diane Mastrull

Amid an economic disaster that has brought the home-building industry to its knees, a Pennsylvania lawmaker intends to resume his push for building moratoriums.
A building ban? When federal-stimulus proponents long for a resumption of the construction cacophony of hammers and electric saws?
The moratorium advocate, State Rep. Robert Freeman (D., Northampton), insists he’s not hard-hearted when it comes to builders.
“It’s important for us to stimulate our economy, so I’d be glad to get the home builders back to work,” Freeman said in a recent interview.
He just wants to ensure that when the orders for new houses start pouring in again, communities have a way to temporarily stop the bulldozers if they do not have adequate growth plans and ordinances in place.
“It gives the opportunity for those folks who have been feeling the pressure from development to take a breather,” Freeman said of moratoriums.
Municipalities currently have the right to reject a development proposal if it does not meet local land-use requirements. But they cannot simply declare that no building can occur if in fact there is room to accommodate it. Freeman wants to give them the temporary right to do so – but only if a town determines that it is overwhelmed by development and that its growth plans, ordinances, and zoning are inadequate to address that crush.

That bill was a great idea. It would’ve allowed communities to hit the pause button for a brief amount of time.

As individuals and residents  in these communities facing wanton development our culpability partially lies in the fact that we keep electing these people to public office. And once these people are in elected office, not many are willing to hold their feet to the proverbial fire are they?

I also do not feel it is as simple as saying people should just put up the money to buy all the open space. 

Ordinary people don’t often have the means to match what developers will pay so they can put up hundreds if not thousands of houses.  Even on small building sites, often regular people cannot match what developers will offer to buy a house as a tear down because the lot or neighborhood is desirable for them to build on . I saw that happen a few years ago when someone was trying to buy a house and they ended up bidding against a developer. They just walked away from it. They couldn’t compete.

But as for people like this Nathan, I am not going to just zip my lip as so eloquently stated. We need to speak out about these monster developments in order to preserve our very way of life. It’s not just open space, it’s more complicated than that. It’s what makes us want to live in a specific area in the first place. We are trying to preserve our communities. Our sense of place.

People who are extraordinarily pro-development for whatever reason will immediately label people like myself as being completely “anti-development”. But that isn’t it .

What we are looking for is yes, preservation and land conservation, but also moderation.  And when is the last time in recent years that you have seen moderation in any kind of development?  The ironic thing is that shortsighted on the part of the developers. If they exercised moderation once in a while they would get a lot farther with their plans.

But it is as if development is revving up to warp speed once again.  It makes me wonder if that is why people in Chester County can’t save their oak tree – seriously, it’s in the Daily Local:

Chester Springs family works to save 270-year-old oak tree 

By Virginia Lindak, For 21st-Century Media

Chester Springs resident Jim Helm has spent the last several weeks trying to save a historical estimated 270-year-old oak tree on his property from being destroyed by utility companies. The tree, which stands on the border of his property, extends into power lines which run along the road, making it vulnerable for unwarranted trimming and cutting by Verizon and PECO…Recently the Helms discovered Verizon crews cutting off branches of the oak tree and halted engineers as best they could, as the police were called in to regulate the situation and ordered the Helms back to their house. West Vincent Township officials have told the Helms they want to help save the tree but progress has been slow. 
Helm noted that between the trimming conducted by Verizon and West Vincent Township, 25 percent of the tree’s canopy is now gone….Perhaps a larger question continues to loom; as modern development continues to grow at a rapid rate in Chester County, who will advocate on behalf of the few, rare old trees left and save them from being cut down?

We need open space. We also need just basic land and community preservation. Every plastic McMansion, “Carriage House” and townhouse development that comes along further detracts from what makes where we live special. It lines the pockets of developers and creates a sea of plastic houses that are ridiculously close together.  Also, what do we as communities really get out of these developments except traffic jams and a change in our overall ecological profile?

From one end of Pennsylvania to the other we need land development reforms. We desperately need to re-define what suburbs and exurbs are. Having the ability for our communities to have temporary moratoriums on development is not a bad thing, either. And in order to get these things we have to put better people in elected office from the most local level through to the Governor’s mansion. 

We also need to better support land conservation groups. If we don’t, open-space will merely become an antiquated term with no practical or real applicability.

Thanks for stopping by.

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maybe it is time to tell sunoco to get the frack out of chester county?

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I am all for capitalism, don’t misunderstand me. However, what I don’t like is capitalism at the expense of where and how we live. And that pretty much sums up Sunoco and their quest for pipeline domination.

Take this timely news about Sunoco Logistics. And a gigantic oil spill attributed to their pipeline in Ohio…..that has affected among other things a nature preserve.

Huffington Post: Ohio Oil Spill: Mid-Valley Pipeline Leak Released More Than 20,000 Gallons Into Oak Glen Preserve

CINCINNATI (AP) — Federal environmental officials now estimate more than 20,000 gallons of crude oil — double the initial estimates — leaked from a pipeline into a nature preserve in southwest Ohio.

Meanwhile, Sunoco Logistics said Monday that the pipeline has been repaired and re-opened. Sunoco shut off the stretch of Mid-Valley Pipeline from Hebron, Ky., to Lima, Ohio, early March 18 after a leak was confirmed.

Sunoco spokesman Jeff Shields said under a federally approved plan, a specially engineered clamp was placed on the 20-inch diameter pipeline, which had a 5-inch crack that leaked oil. The clamp was tested before oil flow resumed Sunday evening.

Shields declined to say how much of the oil supply was disrupted in the last week in a system that runs about 1,000 miles from Texas to Michigan. He said the information is considered internal company business…..The oil leaked into an intermittent stream and acre-sized marshy area in the Oak Glen Nature Preserve just west of Cincinnati. Teams from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Ohio EPA and other federal, state and local agencies responded after Sunoco Logistics reported the leak at about 1 a.m. EDT March 18….. some small wildlife has been affected by contamination.

Define “some”? I have friends with existing pipelines going through their property where Sunoco is drooling to put more. These are more rural friends with land that looks like a nature preserve because it is so beautiful and full of wildlife and scenic natural water sources.

In some positive news on this topic, East Goshen this week voted to intervene along with West Goshen. I think it is SO important for these municipalities to go to the mat for their residents. Slowly some State Senators also seem to be getting involved, but my wish is they do more than write a few letters. Political resistance needs to be fierce. The time for polite is pretty much over.

I never thought I would think about this pipeline issue. But I am and someone left a very valid comment that made me think. It is on the Just The Facts Please Facebook page:

How did this argument become “Not In My Back Yard”? I appreciate the passion and concern but to say move it a mile down the road only shifts the burden onto another community.

That was never the reasons for fighting this to begin with.

The real issue is that a for profit corporation is walking over cities, towns, and communities on its way to higher profits for their investors. If we use NIMBY in this fight WE WILL LOSE.

For me it has always been about stopping the process and not allow Sunoco to steal from our state to ship 90% away. There were people in the Northeast region this winter that were freezing due to a lack of propane, while Sunoco stockpiled it. This should be unacceptable for everyone

I have to say I feel this person is correct about the NIMBY thing and makes several good points. Chester County communities should band together whether they are immediately affected or not. This is a “big picture” issue as well as being intensely personal to those affected right now.

NIMBY is Not In My Back Yard. I thank the good lord above I don’t have Sunoco in my back yard right now. But I could. Most of us in Chester County are all close enough to Sunoco and other existing pipelines. So I wholeheartedly support my neighbors’ efforts in neighboring municipalities — I don’t want this in my back yard either!

Sunoco Logistics as has been said repeatedly in the media is applying to the Public Utility Commission to become a utility for natural gas purposes. The cliff notes version is if they get this they more easily get the power of eminent domain basically to seize property when they want under the guise of eminent domain for public purpose. It’s not so public purpose, this is to positively impact their corporate bottom line so in my humble opinion doesn’t that make it eminent domain for private gain? How despicable, right? Do we work hard so we can live in beautiful Chester County so they can take our land and destroy what we have worked hard for??

Another interesting thing to ponder off of the Just The Facts Please Facebook page:

If you think that Sunoco’s desire to be honest should not be questioned, then here is something to think about.

In Sunoco’s filing with FERC (OR13-9-000) they state that they have already committed 90% of the product to ship (par. 5). That leaves 10% for domestic use. They also cite that FERC has not established a minimum percentage of capacity that must be set aside (par. 14). Sunoco claims there is no major market in the Northeast for the product (par. 4). Apparently the 55,317,240 (2010 census.gov) that live in the Northeast region are nothing compared to the Norwegian population of 5,109,059 (wikepedia.com) Our question would be if PECO claimed the same thing and wanted to ship excess electricity to another country would this then be alright with FERC. The answer would most likely be no. PECO is required to allow any and all customers to tap their lines. A Sunoco representative, Joseph McGinn—Senior manager, Public Affairs, has already stated when asked about tapping into the line “you cannot connect into it, but if PECO wanted to get it to you then that would be a possibility.” Sunoco Pipeline LP/Sunoco Logistics LP wants us to believe it is OK for them to ship our resource to another country, not pay taxes to the townships along the way, devalue our homes & regions, and destroy the place we call home only to put money into their investor’s & politician’s pockets.

Sunoco Logistics comes in and pays once for use of your land. You don’t get an annual rental fee, if you buy a property with a pipeline from them already there you get nothing, correct? Except if you have pipeline running through your property you get all the risk of having a pipeline in your backyard, don’t you? Which includes not merely environmental concerns but economic concerns as well, right? If you don’t think property values of residential real estate won’t be affected by a pipeline running through it, I would have to say my opinion is you are ever so sadly mistaken. It doesn’t take much to adversely affect a property value does it?

In Chester County a great deal of us don’t have access to natural gas to heat with. Why? Because the only gas lines are pipelines and are Sunoco’s and some other companies for their profit. They aren’t for residential usage and supply. We can have propane tanks, oil tanks, or heat with wood or wood pellets. But that gas is for other people.

Not only does Sunoco want to suck our natural resources out and ship them elsewhere and not give residents access, they don’t even pay their fair share of taxes for using the land and sucking it dry . Which is exactly why as a Republican I am saying people all across Pennsylvania should have yet another reason to send Governor Tom Corbett packing. Start with sending him a message in the upcoming gubernatorial primary. Write in Daffy Duck if you have to.

I have also personally decided to avoid filling up the car at Sunoco gas stations whenever possible. We have plenty of other brands and stations to use out here, and well Sunoco gas stations are the most expensive most of the time anyway, so it’s also being more economical. Yes, I am talking a personal boycott…personal choice and all that if you care to embrace the concept, right?

Another thing you can do is sign and send the letter available via the Chester County Community Coalition website to the Public Utility Commission. Power is in numbers, so the more people who take the time to do this simple thing, the better.

A website called ChescoPaGreen has a lot of information. I am a visual person so the maps they have really hit home. Chester County is literally all carved up by these pipelines.

It is time to stand up to Sunoco and the rest of big and small oil criss-crossing Chester County. The ratio of risk vs. reward is skewed in the favor of big and small oil and any politician or related company or person in their pocket. We as a collective of residents are bearing the burdens and the risks. Safety, property values, environmental concerns (how many of you out there depend on wells for your water?), and so on. We don’t see much in the way of benefits and these companies aren’t even paying their share of taxes let alone actually compensating people properly who have had these pipelines carve up their properties.

If you can’t go to meetings, please contact the Public Utility Commission and ask them to DENY Sunoco. Contact television stations and ask them to join our regional news websites (like PaNewz.com), regional and local newspapers like The Daily Local, Philadelphia Inquirer, and Main Line Media News and give residents more of a voice. Also contact elected officials. On every level for local to Harrisburg to Washington DC, but remember a lot of politicians take donations from big business and individuals involved. You probably can’t expect much from lame duck elected officials, but contact them anyway. Like Congressman Jim Gerlach, for example. He has plenty of pipeline near where he calls home in Chester County.

Again, I didn’t think this would be an issue I really cared about and I was somewhat ambivalent for a long time. But then I moved to Chester County. We live in a beautiful county and we have sacrificed enough already between developers gobbling up ever scenic acre they can get and existing pipe lines.

I am just thinking enough is the word of the day. As in Chester County has given enough.

Time to hit the pause button.

I don’t have a pipeline running through my property. But I could. That makes it more than enough for me as a Chester County resident to say “NO”. Please say “NO” as well.

Thanks for stopping by.

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no this isn’t a made for lifetime tv movie…

dollsPeople always shake their head in amazement and skepticism at made for TV movies on Lifetime based on real stories and say  “How can things in real life be that horrible?” The short answer is you would be amazed.

In December, 2010 a really dear friend of mine from high school got engaged.  I was so very happy for him.  I did not know much about his intended other than a rather rocky past and quite a few children, but figured she looked nice enough even if she seemed to have a hard time in photos smiling and my friend Scott, well, he was so over the moon happy with this woman.

We’re not teenagers any more and this woman brought kids into her relationship with my friend.  My friend Scott is a very emotionally generous person and had been doing the single dude thing for so long I thought it was terrific.  And I knew those kids were lucky to get someone like Scott in their lives. After all, some people don’t want to be step-parents to the children of others.

Now Scott and I grew up minutes from each other and he went to one of the private schools many of my friends came from.  But for years now he had been out on the west coast.  So a lot of our communication over the years was by phone, e-mail, letters, and Facebook. So I had watched from afar as my friend fell in love with this woman.  He was so happy.  They were creating their own family unit and he loved her kids. Then came the news she was expecting.

Scott was going to be a father.  He was, quite simply put, over the moon.  Then on Tuesday, June 28th his daughter was born in sunny Petaluma, CA.  Scott was a dad.

Scott took to fatherhood like a duck to water.  We  as his friends shared their joys and Baby Girl’s every step. Baby Girl is a magically beautiful child and there is no doubt whose genes were dominant – she is a mini me to her devoted dad.  The only thing at this point that gave me pause was the fact this woman seemed to be dragging my friend deeper and deeper into this church which seemed a little too California cult-like to me.  Sorry, but I am who I am and I come from a traditional religion.

Time passed and this past September Scott’s friends received the jolt of a lifetime: he was out of the house and this woman was trying to get a restraining order out on him to keep him that way.   He was barred from seeing his daughter, the now ex  had all his stuff, and there he was wondering why he just got run over by an 18 wheeler.

Skeptics out there might say he must have done something wrong, and to them I say he might be many things but my friend Scott is not an abuser of anything or anyone.  He is not perfect, he is human complete with all the dents life gives you by your late 40s but he is honorable.

Besides, this is ironically the third case I know about where exes (women) are using the legal system to their advantage. For example,  I know another man in NJ who dates one of my very close friends and he  is going through a version of this.  His case is even stranger because his now soon to be ex wife wanted the divorce. He acquiesced and became accustomed to the idea and started to move on with his life with someone else (my friend), and whammo, all of a sudden he is an abuser. He has been fighting these charges brought on by his soon to be ex-wife for months and in his case  his soon to be ex-wife continues to contact him when she should be speaking through her lawyers (After all one would expect a woman in fear for her safety would not seek constant, direct contact for minutia the attorneys are supposed to handle, right?)

I have a HUGE problem with women who work the system like this.   I have zero respect for women who work the system to merely keep a home court advantage. It’s like women who cry rape and later it is proven rape did not occur.  Women who work the system to their own selfish ends make it that much harder for women actually in need.  After all it takes two to make a relationship, get pregnant, and break a relationship.

So now my friend Scott  has to scramble to pick up the pieces of his life.  He has not seen his daughter in over 110 days by my count.  I mean what kind of judicial system is it that doesn’t allow a father to see his daughter on Christmas or puts a dad who was the primary caregiver for more than a year in the position where he can only see his child two hours a week?  And because of the bogus restraining order it kind of makes it hard and down right dangerous for Scott to even attempt court supervised visits.  Why?  Because this woman has already exercised the order on him for coincidentally somehow being in a store too close to her in the same SMALL town they were both living in until recently….and isn’t that crazy?  He wasn’t attempting to see her and was getting a cup of coffee or something innocuous and whammo he gets a police visit?

What is wrong with the judicial system in California?  I am kind of surprised that a state that is often more forward thinking because of its Trendy Wendyiness for lack of a better description wouldn’t be more fair.  What happened to a father’s rights?

Nowhere have I heard my friend speak of taking primary physical custody, let alone taking his daughter anywhere.  He just wants his parental rights.  He was not some anonymous sperm donor and he’s not some impregnating baby daddy who bolts at conception and/or birth. He wanted this child, he loves this child, he wants to see and spend time with his child. Real time, not pizza time.

Of course now that this is all unfolding there are many sad details of his ex-fiancee’s life coming to light.  I will spare my readers the details as I think this is a woman with deep-seeded issues and we’ll leave it at that.  But I am of the opinion that the California legal system needs to take off the protect-the-woman- at- all- costs blinders and look to this woman’s life before she was in Scott’s life. And then these esteeemed professionals in California’s system have to ask is this the first time she has worked the system?  Is it possible for one woman to have so many issues with her multiple prior baby daddies  or is there something else not being seen clearly or fairly?

And a little shout out to this “church” that this woman dragged my friend into.  You see, when this all began, like a good Christian my friend went to their pastor and kind of said “what do I do?” I hear this pastor person gave some solid counsel at the outset. But soon the tides turned. Behind the scenes, and inspired by his ex fiancee, church members traded accusations — one of them went so far as to threaten Scott with physical violence on his Facebook page. Right there in black and white for all to see. Whoa. There’s Christianity at its best, right?  So why is it all these good Christians have turned their back on him?  It was all ducky and peach preserves until someone cried wolf, so what up with that? To these God-fearing hypocrites I suggest they brush up on their Matthew – Judge not, that ye be not judged.

A little shout out to Scott’s ex: I spared writing about a lot of details his friends and family are privy to.  I did that not for your delicate sensibilities, but for Scott and his daughter.  Which is also why I did not name you or her by name.  What you are doing is wrong, and you know it is wrong. Am I wrong in thinking you have a very destructive pattern?  Am I wrong in thinking you need to stop popping out kids from different baby daddies and get to the root of your issues? Girl, you need a shrink and birth control. Relationships end, but fathers have rights too. Moving from man to man and leaving a litter of children with various fathers isn’t going to fix what is wrong, is it?

I am so sad about this. I might never get to meet my friend’s daughter.  And the thing that makes me the most sad is somewhere there is a little girl not quite old enough to get what is going on, but old enough to miss and ask where her daddy is.  And Baby Girl is a daddy’s girl so I know she’s asking.

Lifetime TV?  If you need story ideas, here’s your next moment of truth movie.  It is all very sad, and all very true.

along 202…

Along Route 202 towards Delaware there are so many things….billboards, abandoned old buildings, strip malls, a few farms, more billboards and abandoned old houses.

Can anyone tell me about the house above?  I think technically it may still be in West Chester.

And speaking of West Chester, the tradition that just makes you smile:

 

And here again is the billboard that is the pride of Westtown – just like the giant T.V. you would never want:

 

working on the railroad

There are all these abandoned bits of railroad in Chester County.  Much of it looms high above us.  Will it just rust in perpetuity?  Is access to all of this blocked off?  Could the materials be used in something else?  What happens to the railroad skeletons and whose responsibility in Chester County are these?