chester county at risk: historic birchrunville

I love being in Chester County.  Before I was a resident, anytime anyone wanted to take a leisurely drive and explore, I was all for it.

Birchrunville was one of those places.  Quiet and charming, consisting of small country roads.  Farms. Horses, as you can actually still ride your horse on the road which you won’t be doing if this development happens. Great old country architecture and some incredible old houses.  The real deal of charm.

It is NOT a place where developers should come in with their Emperor’s New Clothes grand plans for supersizing a small hamlet.  The residents should not allow it, and quite frankly, any elected or appointed official who likes a plan like this should be voted out as soon as possible.

We are, after all, talking about West Vincent Township.  And for West Vincent Township to go from needing/wanting eminent domain for private gain at Christmastime 2011 to this plan now, well it is so very Lower Merion Township that I can’t stand it.  And I can tell you how the story turns out: it doesn’t.

Once upon a time Lower Merion made a bid for eminent domain for private gain.  Then they put people through the pain of grand redevelopment plans.  All people wanted was a train station.  What they got was heartache, headaches, and nothing. Well nothing except a lot of money spent on plans, plans, and more plans.  A lot of the money spent was part of $6 million dollars that your Congressman Jim Gerlach got so Ardmore could have a new train station/transit center.  So much of that money has been squandered that I just don’t get why Jim Gerlach hasn’t pulled the money back yet.  But maybe he will and it will serve Lower Merion right.

And don’t let Supervisor David Brown tell you he had no idea of what went on in Lower Merion.  He was too entrenched in the politics for too many years not to know.  Via his own online political resume you can see: Republican Committee of Lower Merion & Narberth Committeeman 1976 – 1990, Counsel to Committee 1990 – 2004, Member Executive Committee 1990 – 2004, Former Solicitor to Montgomery County Controller,Gladwyne Civic Association, Former Director, Former Vice President.

See this synopsis from The Castle Coalition in Washington DC where I will highlight some dates in particular (although I encourage you to read it all):

….a letter in February 2004 informing him that Lower Merion Township had targeted his property and those of his neighbors for eminent domain acquisitions, he was devastated and uncertain about how to proceed….

In September 2004, the Township hired an independent consulting firm to study Ardmore and assess the extent to which economic redevelopment really required condemning their properties, as local officials contended. The Urban Land Institute, an outside organization that specializes in land use and has no financial connection to the business owners or the Township, conducted a comprehensive study of the downtown business district slated for demolition, and strongly urged against the plans proposed by the Planning Commission. Instead, the Institute submitted a number of alternative approaches to the Township, all of which protect property rights and promise the same benefits the municipality sought without condemning the Ardmore properties.[3]

“We kept coming up with alternative plans, but the Township kept ignoring us,” Mahan said.

In December 2004, the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners overwhelmingly approved the most destructive redevelopment option of all the plans submitted for its consideration. The proposal submitted by Hillier Architects called for the demolition of Ardmore’s entire historic district—even though Hillier simultaneously concluded that all of the buildings were in restorable condition…….the Save Ardmore Coalition continued fighting, attending all civic meetings, speaking against the proposal and especially against the abuse of eminent domain, and pursuing practically every grassroots avenue available.

“We’d march to the meetings, carrying signs and making statements. We’d have 300 people on our side, and 100 of them spoke out against the Hillier plan,” he said. “We just kept gaining momentum and the SAC kept growing and growing.”

 

These plans fermented for years prior to 2004 being the year eminent domain came full out in the public eye.  And during that time there were commissioners on the board in favor of this, including one Ken Davis and there is no way David Brown did not know him. Ken Davis represented parts of Gladwyne and was a fellow Republican and member of Gladwyne Civic.  Trust me, not that big of a sphere.

And if David Brown is for this development of Brichrunville, then he should go as soon as his term is up, but if Ken Miller and Clare Quinn are up first, vote them out.  If you do not change the face of who governs you in West Vincent, you will not achieve what you need to achieve.  I know because because I was part of a group who did it.   We flipped five of the seven commissioner seats up in elections, and the people who came in had adopted our group’s mission to defeat eminent domain for private gain.  You see, we endorsed no one.  We had a position: no eminent domain.

But after we defeated eminent domain and the fractured community came together once again, we were faced with re-development plans.  We should have said no.

And if you don’t believe how the land can be raped and pillaged by development that is not truly necessary, take a ride down King and check out the mega mess in Malvern.  They got sold a New Urbanism Fairy Tale and they will rue the day when all is said and done is my prediction.  I am not anti-progress, but I am anti-supersizing it on the theory of build it and they will come because it is not true.  All this hoo ha over transit oriented development.  It’s suburbia, people will always drive, always have cars. Duh.

Malvern got themselves a nice new train station, and if this current development being built was much smaller and in a scale actually in keeping with a very small town?  Well we might be having a different conversation.  Instead, West Vincent, you are being presented with cautionary tales.

But residents, I and others can talk about it, offer opinions from the sidelines and write articles, but you have to pull a real We The People and rise up with pitch forks if necessary.  You have to not just talk about it but actually fight.  Accept it will get nasty and dirty tricks will abound.  To me, it should all be important enough to preserve your way of life. As well as your property values.  (C’mon you think you are going to find it easy to sell a property if West Vincent keeps up indefinately with the West Vincent of it all?)

Rise up, support folks like BirchrunvillePeople who are trying to do good.  And if you feel your government is not quite right and not quite ethical, hello it is a MAJOR election year.  Your congressman needs more than checks from fat cats to survive, he needs votes.  Get him to come around an you show him what you are trying to preserve.   Go to the state.  Surely the Attorney General’s office and ethics board are there for a reason?

But you have to do it for yourselves.    This video like the one up top is awesome.  Kudos to whomever did that.  It literally shows people what you are talking about.

None of this will be easy, but you defeated eminent domain for the time being, so keep on keeping on and save Birchrunville too.  After all, you may or may not realize that developers as much as they love to destroy small towns, also love to recreate them.  You have the real deal.  Preserve your way of life.

And don’t be swayed by “oh but look we can improve our roads.”  Beg to differ.  If your roadmaster actually took the proper care of the roads you would be fine.  But what will happen with road improvements if development occurs?  It will look good for a while because it is new and then it will be back to mainteance business as usual so what is the difference?

This historic school house could be easily sold and preserved from what the video says.  It is YOUR community.  Make that happen.  YOU are the taxpayers.  YOU are the voters.

Once a way of life is destroyed, it is gone.

Lecture over.