Open space in Chester County

This past Saturday, I went to a well attended and inspiring meeting at the Chester County Historical Society, The Future of Open Space in Chester County’. Anne Pickering of the Daily Local Newspaper moderated a panel discussion between members of the French and Pickering Conservation Trust, Brandywine Conservancy, Chester County Planning Commission and Natural Lands Trust, along with Arcadia Land Company.

Daily Local’s Dan Kristie wrote up a brief article and highlighted Michael DiBerardinis’s passionate keynote speech. DiBerardinis is Secretary of the PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources in Harrisburg.

State Senator Andrew Dinniman gave the opening introduction and Representative Duane Milne was also in attendance.

Robert Lonsdorf of the Brandywine Conservancy suggested that we need better use of easements and to think about how we approach our zoning ordinances in the townships. He said that large reforestation projects should be viewed in much the same way that recycling on a township wide scale, has been made an everyday process over the past decades. He mentioned that some townships have taxed themselves over a period of ten years, to protect open space with transferable development rights.

Bill Gladden of the Chesco Planning Commission submitted that we need to find new ways to compensate for open space and to keep preserving new properties. We should use the tools we have to be smart about preservation and conservation.

Pamela Brown of French & Pickering Conservation Trust, wants to see bike and walking trails connecting greenway corridors. She says these can eliminate ‘islands’ and have proven to be very safe, contrary to some public concerns.  Joe Duckworth of Arcadia maintains that if the developer shows potential home buyers the trail before development, people are thrilled to have the recreational opportunities and the value of the property increases. After development, there is an irrational fear linking trails to crime that needs to be dispelled. Numerous statistics and studies refute these claims, but advocates must work with citizens at the outset. 

Joe Duckworth, Arcadia’s developer, suggested that current zoning makes it harder for developers to utilize small properties or to create walkable spaces within them. There need to be overall revisions to all township ordinances for small-lot zoning, rather than large-lot as is most often currently offered. He reminded us that preserving open space is always cheaper than managing new development.

Molly Morrison of Natural Lands Trust, said an open space committee was originally required of every township in order to create the 1989 Open Space Bond. She says there is a growing interest in preserving land.

Adding community gardens to these spaces only enhances their viability to citizens for quality of life and recreation. Homeowner’s Associations are another target; they need to manage for invasive plants.

Secretary DiBerardinis reminded us that people leaving a population center and moving further away require more natural resources and this only increases sprawl. We need to change how we use energy, and renew alignments of economics and social trusts. In terms of reforestation and saving trees, the Wharton School of Business conducted a study showing that property values increase 15%, with tree lined streets within 1 mile from a park.  

DiBerardinis also mentioned local food production being a key issue here in the county. Yes, save local farms!

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