Western Philadelphia Suburbs Push Back on Development.
Survey markers are popping up like daffodils, and as daffodils signal the coming of spring, orange survey markers signal development is imminent. Depending where you live, it could be a pipeline, fracking site, shopping center or new housing development. Some consider it progress, but for many residents, development is unwelcome as an April freeze and increasingly each new project is matched with an organization to oppose it.
People often feel blindsided by these developments and sometimes wonder why they weren’t aware of them when there was still time to do something. People are notified, but notices aren’t always in the places you might be looking for them (such as a posting a billboard on the site in question) or written in a way one might understand (a township newsletter might read “discussion of the Brown tract subdivision”, for example). Sometimes you have to go hunting for details because this is not the sexy kind of news reported by the mainstream media. And by the time the big news makes it to social media, the development is halfway through the approval phase. What if notices for new developments had the same requirements as the application for a liquor license? If no one sees the notice, they won’t know about the township meetings and if no one shows up at the meeting and the developer has done a reasonably good job of checking all the zoning requirements, the next development is on its way.
There was a time when new developments promised a new tax base to fund schools and government. What wasn’t anticipated was the 3 to 4 car family, increasing school bus and delivery truck traffic, turning lanes and one-way problems; all things I’ve learned about from the latest traffic study done in conjunction with the development of Crebilly Farm in Westtown.
Picture perfect communities welcome future homeowners with impressive entrances, with names of the very things they’ve eliminated, such as “preserve,” “run, ” “trees” or “farm.” The homes themselves are gorgeous and I understand why people love them. With stunning granite kitchens, soaring entrances and luxurious bathrooms, what’s not to love? And if you are moving from a densely populated area, this looks like the country. And you can’t blame the developer for wanting to build them, because they are only meeting demand.
But if the descriptions included a dark side it would be: increased traffic congestion, worsening air quality, increased storm water runoff and groundwater contamination, school boundaries being reconfigured to accommodate more students (and yes, increased school taxes) and the decimation of trees or farm land that go away with these new homes.
Citizens are no longer sitting on the sidelines helplessly watching as the bulldozers pave over their favorite vistas. They are signing petitions, crowd funding, hiring lawyers, putting signs in yards and making their voices heard at township meetings in record numbers. And with social media, developments are no longer being silently approved. People who care are being heard AND they are making a difference. Citizen engagement is crucial.
And what about that open space that that is promised by the developer in exchange for squeezing in a few more homes? Open space is often the leftover, unusable wetland or retention basin that are off-limits to kids, hikers and dog-walkers. Does that fit the definition of open space? It is something to think about, as the last remaining large parcels are being developed. And did you know that some landowner/developers had preferential tax treatments prior to development? Accordingly, they may have benefitted from agricultural or be otherwise tax-exempt over the years, meaning that local taxpayers (i.e.; you) have been subsidizing them as they held their investment until they decided it was time to develop. Whether for or against development, most people do care about their taxes. These are the types of questions that may be overlooked if not for diligent residents who make them an issue to planning commissions and township supervisors.
To make an impact, reach out to your officials, who are mostly volunteers and citizens with the same concerns as you. If they are taking the time to volunteer, help them. Show up, even if it’s only to listen. And if you don’t have the time to attend a township meeting, consider donating to the organizations who have the time and motivation to do so. If you can’t change the world, at least you can have an effect on your local community.
Do you have an impending development in your back yard? You might. Whether it’s a neighbor wanting to build a non-conforming garage or a developer wanting to build 300 homes, your township is likely notifying you and asking you to participate. I encourage you to sign up for your township e-newsletters to find out. Here are just a few developments underway in Delaware and Chester counties:
Don Guanella Forest – 213 pristine acres along Sprould Road (Route 320), owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was once home to the Don Guanella School in densely populated Marple township. A plan to build 305 multi-family dwelling units was proposed. This plan is currently off the table but the property may be back on the market.
Earles Lake-Earles Lake in Newtown Square, Newtown Township, PA and 9 acres of wooded land are at risk of becoming a 54 townhome community.
Sleighton School (Middletown and Edgmont townships)There had been a proposed over 55 development by Toll Brothers. At this time approval status is unknown.
Edgmont Edgmont County Club-200 acre golf course on Route 3 in Edgmont township.
Franklin Mint Property-current proposal for 300+single family and mixed-use nursing facility on a 173 acre site.
Beaver Valley: Potential development of 160 homes on 230 acres which was recently saved and now money is needed to purchase the land as open space. Still more is at stake with Wilmington University.
- Sign up for updates: Concord Township
- Community Groups: Save the Valley
- Beaver Valley Conservancy, Beaver Valley Alliance
105 Stoney Bank Road: 55 acres adjacent to Martin Park, currently under agreement and pre-approved for 27 new homes. Known by the township as the Crane Tract.
Sign up for updates: Thornbury Township
Crebilly Farm 300 acres in Westtown township with a proposal for 350+ homes located at the intersection of Routes 202 and 926.
Township Updates: Westtown Township
If you want to find out more about regional planning, please explore these sites
- Delware County Planning Commission
- Chester County Planning Commission
- Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
While demand for new housing and development of land is a reality, property rights of sellers of the land and developers need to be balanced with the property rights of neighbors being affected. The little land that is left needs to be developed responsibly so it doesn’t create the same problems people are moving away from. It takes time to be involved and there are more projects going on out there than one person can keep track of. With long work hours and commutes, families and responsibilities, it is easy to overlook what’s happening around you and hope that someone else will save the land for you.
If only it were that easy.
Disclaimer: The status of the projects listed above are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, check in with the appropriate group’s Facebook or web page.