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Chester County Press

Resident issues raise need for more policing in township

07/12/2016 01:35PM ● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

Two key agenda points discussed at the July 6 London Grove Township Board of Supervisors meeting served to illuminate what has been on the mind of township officials for some time: That the current police service it is receiving from the State Police in nearby Avondale, while efficient, is also not enough to tackle all of the potentially thorny, legal and safety issues that confront the township.
By either a stroke of luck or design, an issue labeled "Inniscrone neighbors" on the meeting's agenda began with an on-going dilemma concerning one resident of The Preserve at Inniscrone, then opened the door to another problem in the development: speeding vehicles. Three residents of Inniscrone Drive criticized the addition of six median islands -- approved by the supervisors as a means of slowing down traffic through the development.
They are not doing the job they were placed in the middle of the road to do, they told the supervisors. They are nuisances, and they are not slowing down drivers who speed through the neighborhood, mostly those who have begun to use the development as a cut-through to get from State Road to East Avondale Road and Clay Creek Road.
"We're literally at a point where we're parking our cars in the street when our kids are out playing, so that people need to slow down in order to go around our vehicles,” one resident said. "Speed signs that were placed throughout the development are not being followed."
The medians, also known as "chicanes" -- are smaller than what the township anticipated, made that way in order to give residents more room to get in and out of their driveway in vehicles, but of the six medians, two are located in areas that impinge a few homeowners from easily getting their vehicles in and out of the driveway. The development's homeowners' association, one resident said, has not been effective in communicating these speeding problems with the township.
So if the HOA is not doing their job, what can be done to alleviate the problem? she asked.
"This has been an issue that has been going back and forth for the last four months. It's on the agenda and tables," Scott-Harper said. "Finally, we needed to make a decision (to have the medians installed) and we made a decision. Issues of this kind are the responsibility of the homeowners associations, not the township."
The supervisors encouraged the Inniscrone residents to contact the State Police in nearby Avondale in an effort to curb speeding throughout the development, but supervisor Dave Connors then acknowledged that this problem -- like so many other thorny, legal and potentially hazardous issues confronting London Grove Township -- is one that will best be addressed through increased enforcement. Right now, the State Police serves as the only law enforcement agency for the township.
“In my opinion, the only way to really stop (the speeding) is to have better police presence there,” Dave Connors said. "I see people flying through roundabouts, past speed bumps. I think law enforcement is the way to really try to control it.”
Connors' comment then led cleanly from an issue about moving vehicles on one end of State Road to another issue that has bothered many residents of the Heather Grove development for the past several years: illegal parking.  One resident of Heather Grove told the supervisors that the number of illegally parked vehicles driven by students from neighboring Avon Grove High School has not diminished, leading to roadblocks and confusion in the development during the school year.
"(The school district) can create 900 more spots at the school, and there's always going to be five more cars that will be parked in the development," the resident said. "Our streets are only 18 feet wide. Our streets are not designed for on-the-street parking, for anyone.
"At this point, the kids are now parking on both sides of the street, so that you can't get down the street with a large vehicle, a trash truck or God forbid, an ambulance. To make matters worse, they park so far back on the corner that when you come around the corner, you can't see (the vehicles). It's out of control."
Enforcement of the problem in Heather Grove does not fall on the Avon Grove High School administration, the supervisors said.
"I think there's a good relationship between the township, the boards and the area school districts," Scott-Harper said. "There's a limit to what they can do, and we can't force them to do something they can't do."
The supervisors then discussed possible solutions, including whether or not the township may be able to hire a parking monitor to help enforce proper parking in the development. The board also discussed placing "No Parking -- Tow Away Zone" signs in the development, but without a dedicated police department, enforcement of the signs would leave tow truck drivers to serve as the long arm of the law.
The township is currently exploring the possibility of establishing contractual policing in London Grove, with the regional police department that is expected to combine the forces of the New Garden Township Police Department and the West Grove Borough Police later this summer. If agreed to, the contract is expected to cost the township about $300,000 a year, in exchange for 40 hours of police service per week.
Supervisor Mike Pickel said that signing off on this agreement, in conjunction with enacting a traffic study of the development, would allow the township to direct a portion of its contract to fixing issues such as speeding in neighborhood developments and enforcing parking ordinances in Heather Grove.
"If we pay (the regional police department) an hourly rate for an hour a day, five days a week as soon as school starts and then intermittently control it, then we're done," Pickel said. "We can do the study, get it signed, and then we start to work with this new regional police force, very slowly."
For several months in 2015, the supervisors considered the concept of latching the township onto a concept that would combine the forces of several area police units to form a dedicated regional police department for southern Chester County, which, at the time, included the possible merger of five police units: New Garden, Kennett Borough, Kennett Township, West Grove and London Grove.
To some elected officials in the township, the idea seemed like the perfect solution to the need for increased policing, while others believed that the annual price tag -- about $1 million per year, or about $700 for each household, for access to full-time police services -- was too costly, especially given that the township already had a good relationship with the State Police up the road in Avondale.
In order to fairly give residents a say in the matter, the township held a town hall meeting at the Fred S. Engle Middle School in May 2015. After a 90-minute discussion to decide whether or not to pursue involvement in the planned regional police department, the vast majority of those in attendance gave the supervisors a resounding “No!”
Soon after, the township officially backed away from further involvement with the concept, and eventually, so did Kennett Borough, Kennett Township, and a few other local municipalities who expressed mild interest in the plan. However, West Grove Borough and its five-member police department continued to pursue the concept, as did the 14-member New Garden Township Police Department. While final negotiations are still being agreed upon,  the new department -- which will be called the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department -- is anticipated to officially begin operations later this summer, as a 25-person department, with 15 full-time police officers, five part-time officers and administration.
Scott-Harper suggested that before the township signs off on contractual policing, that it go back to its constituency and schedule another town hall meeting to hear their concerns. He suggested that the meeting be held in the fall, and also recommended moving forward on a traffic study of the Heather Grove community.
The board agreed by a vote of 3-1 to conduct the study to include Heather Grove and the nearby Chartwell development, to begin as soon as possible, in order to determine whether or not the township should be able to enact an ordinance, post signage, and enlist the services of the regional police force. 
While the Heather Grove resident pressed the supervisors for the need for more signage in the development, Weir said that the solution to the parking problem in the development will not come from signs, but from an increased police presence.
"It is an issue that is bigger than parking on the street," he said. "It's an enforcement issue, which adds fuel to the fire of why we need policing."
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail .

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