'It needs to be cleaned up, now’
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
On a night when Kennett Township received recognition from a nationally-known conservation group for its efforts in sustainability and conservation, it also absorbed the collective anger and frustration from a citizen group, who accused the township of not enforcing the clean-up of the long-closed Stephens Garden Creations, Inc. and Stephens Aquatic Services, located at 257 Kennett Pike in Chadds Ford.
Just moments after the township was given the distinction of being named “Audubon Bird Town” by a board member of Audubon Pennsylvania at the township's Board of Supervisors meeting on March 20, a group of ten residents from the 26-home Hillingham residential development spoke for nearly an hour about their frustration and fear of living adjacent to an abandoned business that has been repeatedly cited for health and safety violations. The group also shared photographs with the board that were recently taken of the abandoned property.
“We are unfortunately located next to the nightmare known as Stephens Gardens,” resident Joy Davies began, in a written statement delivered to the board. “For years now, our residents have appealed to Kennett Township to take steps to have Stephens Garden clean up its grounds, and stop dumping chemicals which affect our trees. These trees were planted at great expense to try to shield our view from what has become a replica of a tornado.”
Davies cited Section 168-25 of the township’s property maintenance code -- Items A through G -- which the Hillingham group believes the company is in violation of, specifically Item A, which states that “Properties subject to this section shall be kept free of weeds, overgrown brush, dead vegetation, trash, junk, debris, building materials, any accumulation of newspapers, circular, flyers, notices (except those required by federal, state, or local law), abandoned vehicles, portable storage devices, discarded personal items including, but not limited to, furniture, clothing, large and small appliances, printed material or any other items that give the appearance that the property is abandoned.”
“The property continues to grow more unsightly every day,” Davies continued, mentioning the difficulty a homeowner in the development would have in selling his/her home, and the site’s potential effect on property values in Hillingham. “They need to remove the trash, the broken glass, the timber, the rats, the fish tanks filled with dirty water, and barrels filled with who knows what.
“The township needs to step in… and clean up this unsightly, unhealthy junkyard. The residents of Hillingham have been forced to live with this for far too long, and it needs to be cleaned up, now.”
Davies said that despite the township’s efforts to force the business owners to clean up their site, it was merely a “token effort” that she said didn’t help much.
“It does wonder us that given the fact the township was aware of the condition of this property, that no attempt was made to take the necessary action to remediate the problem before it became so much worse. Doesn’t any one of the township’s officials care enough about Kennett Township to fix up this problem? Is this how you want our township to be viewed?”
The residents have signed a petition requesting that the township take immediate action, in accordance with township codes regarding property maintenance.
Davies also pointed to a major fire and explosion – caused by tanks stored on the property – that took place in November of 2012.
“Hillingham homes were rocked by this explosion, even to the point where pictures fell off our walls. At one point, it looked like the fire was going to jump into our development,” she said.
Board Chairman Scudder Stevens said that the township’s concern about the Stephens business extends farther back than the 2012 fire there – “a long-term concern,” he said. “We try to enforce the rules. If they show us that they are attempting to meet what we demand, we’re obligated to back off and give them time to finish what they’re doing. We’ve given them too much time, but unlike you, it’s not in our backyard the way it is yours. We’re not reminded in the same way as to the seriousness of it, but I assure you that it is a very grave concern, and you’ve made it very clear that we need to escalate our concern.”
The protest may have forced the township to reinvestigate the problem, but at the same time, it steps into formation in a long line of efforts the township has made to get the company to clean up its mess to the township’s satisfaction. Echoing the content of a recent meeting she and township building inspector Rich Hicks had with Hillingham Home Ownership Association President Marilyn Monahan, Township Manager Lisa Moore gave an overview of the township’s history with Stephens, which has included issuing several fines and citation letters.
“They did start to clean up the property, not to anyone’s satisfaction, but in the court’s eyes, they were making an attempt [to clean the property], so they were permitted to continue,” Moore said.
Moore said that Hicks did meet with Stephens group, who told him that they would continue to move items off site once the weather improved, but that Hicks has not been able to reach the company representatives in recent weeks. Moore said that she will meet with Hicks to explore possible enforcement measures the township has.
“We can tell them to clean it up – we can cite them – but unfortunately with all of the liens on the property, we’re not sure that it will make an impact with them, but we’ll continue to see what we can do,” she said.
The residents of the development aren't the only neighbors who are subject to these views. Supervisor Whitney Hoffman, who lives in a development nearby the site, said that she sees the debris from her office and kitchen windows. She supported Moore’s recommendation that the township involve the continued efforts of its building and codes inspector.
One Hillingham resident suggested that the township elevate the seriousness of the problem by taking their grievance to the Chester County court system.
“If the board of supervisors took it to the West Chester Court, they can not only fine them, but they can hold them in contempt of court, which threatens jail,” she said. “That might be something to consider as a plan if you can’t get them to clean it up quickly. Our concern is that while you wrestle with what the next steps are, the next steps can’t be to see what’s going to happen during the next steps.”
Moore said she will also speak with Township Solicitor David Sander, to see what legal actions the township can take under its maintenance code.
While the township convenes to decide their next course of action, the unsightly and inconvenient problem at 257 Kennett Pike remains, and it’s also for sale. First constructed in 1950, the property is currently on the market for $779,900. It’s being publicly sold, and is advertised as a nursery, greenhouse and florist (retail, wholesale) that features a 2.3-acre lot and 3,112 square feet of living space.
“Everyone who signed the petition and those who are here tonight are asking that the supervisors put their nose to the grindstone and get something done,” Monahan said. “Not every two weeks, not every month, but a constant effort. You may have done that, but it’s not apparent from this. It’s been ten years, and it’s been a nightmare for ten years.”
In other township news, the township received a third-place award from the Pennsylvania Association of Township Supervisors for outstanding efforts and achievement in citizen connect, in the category of websites.
The township will hold a drug take-back event at the Township Building on April 27, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
The board adopted a resolution to endorse Chester County's Landscapes3 Plan, which was adopted in November 2018.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email email@example.com.