Township leaders share ideas at community visioning event
By Richard Gaw
Representatives from five London Grove Township committees shared their ideas with the township’s supervisors on Feb. 28, the content of which will be absorbed into the township’s Community Vision Plan.
Held as a means of getting separate groups on the same page of township initiatives, accomplishments and needs, the two-hour session included 18 members from the Parks & Recreation Board, the Emergency Services Committee, the Open Space Committee, the Golf Course Advisory Committee and the township’s Planning Commission.
The Community Vision Plan will be shared with township residents, promotes a shared understanding and across-the-board vision by employing its leaders as stakeholders in the township’s future, by identifying and creating an idealistic balance of the community’s values and needs, and addressing emerging trends and issues.
“I thought, ‘Do we all have the same common thoughts of where this township should go, and have we had any conversations about where it should go?’” said board chairman Richard Scott-Harper at the beginning of the meeting. “That led us to directing [Township Manager] Ken Battin to put together a program, where we can all have a common conversation. We need to make sure that we have open dialogue with each other.”
Representatives from the Park & Recreation Committee contained the majority of their comments to the continuing growth of Goddard Park, which is celebrating its 10th year in 2019.
Committee members said that over the past year and a half, the group has worked on developing a long-range vision for the park, one that balances the need for preservation of the natural environment with the needs of those who use it. Included in that plan is to develop long-term maintenance and landscaping plans for the park’s pond, trees, invasive plants, rain gardens, trails, riparian buffers and parking area. The committee is also looking into the potential of organizing a community day at the park, installing a tot lot for families and their children, and creating additional parking.
As a method of conserving the committee’s budget, a suggestion was made to enlist the volunteer efforts of local scouts and high school groups, as part of their community service projects.
Funded by the township’s dedicated earned income tax, the open space efforts in the township have acquired and preserved 2,000 acres of land, much of it in cooperation with allies in conservation. Formed in 2005, the Open Space Committee works closely with the White Clay Wild & Scenic River Program, Natural Lands Trust, the Brandywine Conservancy and the Chester County Agricultural Preservation Board, and continues to meet with prospective land donors at the Township Building, which has resulted in a high success rate for land acquisition.
Scott-Harper made a suggestion to the committee to explore methods of how it identifies potential properties it intends to pursue. Committee consultant David Sweet said that much of those details are included in the committee’s Open Space Resource Plan, currently available on the township’s website. Scott-Harper also suggested that the committee take an aggressive approach of marketing the advantages of preserving property, which can be shared with potential land donors.
Formed in 2017, the Emergency Services Committee is developing long-term action plans to consolidate the efforts of the township’s two fire departments – Avondale and West Grove -- in an effort to better provide emergency services to township residents. The committee is training most of its current focus on developing a standard of response times, as a measure to determine the time it takes from an emergency call to the time an emergency unit arrives on the scene of a fire or emergency. The board adopted the standard of response plan at its February meeting.
Other priorities for the committee include developing additional strategic actions plans that will lead them to 2022; and making sure that fire and EMS departments will carry out the committee’s community risk reduction plans. Committee chairman Robert Weir said that another overall goal of the committee is to strengthen the way each fire and EMS department functions, with better cost efficiency, and to approach emergency services proactively, rather than reactively.
“That’s what this committee is all about – trying to take a community approach to emergency services,” Weir said. “It’s not just about the reaction. It’s about proactive mitigating and prevention. We have to change the way we think, and we have to change how we approach it.”
During their presentation, Frank Scarpato and Rick Schroder of the Planning Commission said they would like to see the township entice a particular kind of commercial business to set down roots in the township.
“I’m leaning toward that T.G.I. Fridays, a Chili’s, or a nice family-oriented restaurant, something that you know will be used,” Scarpato said. “I believe that in listening to residents, that everybody wants one. All of the surrounding townships have all of the restaurants, pubs and bars that you could possibly want, but our township is not benefiting from that, because we don’t have that label in place.
“It’s our turn. The vision should be to try to encapsulate that and bring it into town. I think if we built it, they will come. I truly believe that this township is in need of something here, in our base.”
If the township is looking to open the door to prospective businesses, it should stick to one component of commercial development and not the other, Schroder suggested.
“Retail is dead,” he said. “When you think of retail [today], it is perishable goods and restaurants -- things that have immediacy. You can now have $6,000 worth of merchandise shipped to your door in crates.”
Supervisor David Connors said that while increased commercial development will help offset township costs, one of the biggest obstacles to commercial development is the [sewer and water] infrastructure costs to the developer.
Scarpato responded to Connors, saying that because the essential infrastructure capability is already in place along Gap-Newport Pike, the highway is the perfect spot for these businesses to locate, but Scott-Harper said that several years ago, the township’s board made a decision not to invest in the township’s sewer and water infrastructure, and to allow the developers to build the system.
“The problem is that you get that infrastructure where the developer wants it, not where [the township] needs it,” he said. We’ve had multiple conversations over the past few years, and can say, what’s going to be the trigger that’s going to change the philosophy of the township? So we’re going to have to float a bond or something to try to put infrastructure in, if we really want to draw [commercial business].”
While the township meeting served as a dovetailing of ideas between committee members, several stakeholders called for an even larger cooperation – perhaps in the form of a regional comprehensive plan -- that links the township with its immediate neighbors.
“The question is, ‘Why aren’t we doing something with Avondale and West Grove and somebody else?’ The answer is because none of us can communicate with each other and get on the same page, so [as a result], we’re operating independently,” Schroder said.
Scarpato said that he’s seen a shared sense of cooperation between the Avondale and the West Grove fire departments, and believes that sense of co-ownership could extend to other services between the township and the two boroughs. “It’s a shared opportunity to have two different towns come together as one,” he said. “If that could be the footprint, then why couldn’t it be done in other areas of the township?”
For many years, a common argument in the township has centered on whether it is economically wise for London Grove Township to own the Inniscrone Golf Course, which it purchased for $700,000 in 2009. Members of the Golf Course Advisory Committee said the course is on a financial upswing, due to its agreement with the Heathland Hospitality Group, and the work of Course Manager Tom Bolko.
Inniscrone has undergone landscaping changes that have improved its 18-hole course, as well as the addition of new golf carts, signage and course markers; youth leagues; and programs that allow golfers to play at Inniscrone and several other courses in the area. The course’s banquet facilities and clubhouse regularly hosts wedding and baby showers, anniversary parties and other social events. Committee member Ed Wasno said that in 2017, the course was voted the seventh-highest ranked golf course in Pennsylvania by Golfweek magazine.
“There was a big concern as to whether we should keep it or sell [Inniscrone],” Scott-Harper said. “We’ve been doing a lot of analysis of things, and [we learned that] if we just shut the golf course down, it would be a $200,000 expenditure on a yearly basis, just for the township to keep it as open space. When you look at its’ potential to make $25,000 or $30,000 a year, it’s a no-brainer.
“I think our hearts were in one place, but now the facts have backed that up.”
The community visioning project sprang from a conversation Scott-Harper had with Battin a year ago.
“I went to a meeting of one of our committees, and I didn’t understand what they were doing, and I don’t think they understand what was expected of them from the supervisors,” Scott-Harper said. “Most of these members were appointed by previous board members, and when you appoint someone to a board, you generally tell them what you expect and what their responsibilities are, and that wasn’t happening.
“I couldn’t blame them for not understanding what we wanted from them, because we failed to communicate. Ken suggested that we bring all of the committees together, to have them all understand what is expected of them. In addition to communication, this is to revisit what our goals and our objectives are as a township, and to modernize it.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.