For the second time in two years, the Friends of New Garden, a grassroots organization made up of 16 residents of New Garden Township, emerged the winners in their appeal against the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), one that ruled in favor of the Friends in 2013 and upheld the original decision earlier this month.
The victory, which turned back the decision by the New Garden Board of Supervisors to grant PREIT the right to split the planned White Clay Point development project into a condominium form of ownership, has not only sent a clear message to PREIT but may have set a new precedent in the way that small organizations with shoestring budgets will fight their legal battles with larger foes in the future. There is, quite naturally, popular sentiment for the common man, but a recent interview by the Chester County Press with key members of the Friends of New Garden indicates that Judge Pellegrini's Jan. 3 decision is not an excuse for these 16 individuals to rejoice, but a measure of persistence that they hope will lead the decade-long discussion about White Clay Point out of the court room and into the board room.
Imagine, they said, a private board room, perhaps at the New Garden Township or at PREIT, where over an informal conversation, the future of White Clay Point can be drawn out amiably between the many factions who impact its future or will be the recipients of such impact. Imagine, they said, a design of White Clay Point that maps out not only a blueprint for financial opportunity, but one that uses the ideas of both corporation and citizens to create a marketplace like no other -- one that contributes to a walkable community, a nod toward the environment, and a place where families can bring their friends and family and proudly be able to say to them, "We worked with our developer to make this."
Imagine, they said, that instead of a mammoth Walmart taking center stage, that the stage can be shared by medium-sized businesses, as well as cafes and smaller stores. Imagine, they said, that what had once been conceived as acres of parking can be designed in such a way to also include a walking trail, gazebos, fountains and well-kept gardens, while fully embracing local artisans and farmers to hold their events there.
The concept has gone from draft after scratchy draft, from argument to compromise, from blueprint to finished project. In various towns and cities in America, centers that satisfy both the developer, the business and the townspeople are redefining commerce and community. Although White Clay Point remains vacant for the moment, perhaps it remains so for a great reason. We believe that this period of dormancy should be used wisely, and that it is time for appeals and litigation to step aside in favor of honest dialogue between PREIT, the New Garden Township, the Friends of New Garden, as well as town planers and environmental professionals.
We believe that from these meetings – from these people and groups brought together in a room – that New Garden residents will someday be able to point out and proudly say, “This is a part of where we live.”