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Chester County Press

Editorial: Kennett Square's embarassment behind its riches

08/06/2019 12:30PM ● By Richard Gaw
There it was, the lone smudge mark on a breathtaking canvas of achievement.

There it was, the single digit standing forlornly against the glowing numbers of realized potential. There it was, a record-scratch moment that interrupted the grand symphony.

At the July 29 meeting of the Council on Economic Development, held at the Genesis Building before members of the Kennett Borough Council and two Kennett Township Supervisors, Economic Development Director Nate Echeverria introduced a map that updated the officials on the recently built, under construction, approved and proposed development in the Kennett area. In that matrix were 762 residential units that are being built and are proposed to be built in the borough and the township. Of that number, 71 percent are expected to be multi-family residences, 18 percent will be twin and duplex, and 11 percent are likely to be single-family homes. Echeverria said the number came close to the projections of the 2015 Kennett Region Economic Development Study, which is to create between 600 and 1,200 additional units in the borough and township by 2030.

In direct contrast, the 61 units defined as “affordable housing,” proposed as the Cope Road Senior development, accounted for only eight percent of the entire list of complexes, apartments and parcels that were included on that map of progress.

Some who attended the meeting promptly leveled the officials with sharp criticism about the tiny percentage dedicated to low-, moderate- and middle-income individuals and families. Their comments served to further echo the down-low reality of a town that is so inebriated with its progress and swept up in its own headlines that it has neglected to answer the housing needs of a fair share of its population.

The truth is there for everyone to read. The Kennett Region Economic Development Study targets its desired demographic by identifying six “tapestry segments” that it states “represent more than 60 percent of all households within the 20-minute primary market area for Kennett Square.”  Their names seemed ripped from the pages of  high-fashion magazine: Savvy Suburbanites. Exurbanites. Urban Chic. Professional Pride. Golden Years. In identifying these populations in the study, every person in every photograph is white.

“Successful economic development activities will identify public-private investment objectives designed to appeal to these top socio-economic groups,” the report added.

The news is out: Kennett Square is hip and happening and cool.

In a town of 6,200 residents, 10 percent live in poverty. In a town where the yearly median income is $76,000, its per capita income is $29,000. In a town that continues to attract real estate developers who cater to the elite and the well-off, 30 percent of its population works in the agricultural industry (i.e., mushroom farms), which contributes several billion dollars every year to the local economy.

The individuals who spoke up at the July 29 meeting collectively took a side of the beautiful carpet that Kennett Square has created for itself and lifted it again for everyone to see. What was revealed is the ultimate truth behind the veil: a town with great living opportunities for those who can afford them.

Perhaps the most glaring example of this blatant disregard came on May 29, when local officials saddled up with real estate developers at a groundbreaking ceremony for The Flats at Kennett, a four-story, 175-unit rental apartment complex that will be located on a 14.4-acre tract at 603 Millers Hill Road in Kennett Square, and open in 2020.

There were no rental fees listed anywhere in any of the literature found at the ceremony, just trinkets: each luxury apartment will offer quartz counter tops, stainless steel appliances, under-cabinet lighting, and amenities will include a fitness center, outdoor pool, fire pit and conversation areas, yoga studio, bike storage and repair facilities, a pet-friendly policy and pet spa, resident storage, 23 underground parking spaces and electric car charging stations.

While we wait in expectation for the rental fees for The Flats at Kennett to be determined, we can already assume that not many making a salary in the range of Kennett Square's per capita income range of $29,000 will be able to afford to live there.

While the comments of those who attended the July 29th meeting served to identify the problem of providing adequate and affordable housing options for its low-income and working-class population, it is a topic that does not entirely go unnoticed in the borough's – and township's – long-range plans.

In its list of strategic challenges, the Kennett Region Economic Development Study does indeed address the area's rising incidence of poverty, stating that future investment should “recognize the needs of this socio-economic group (e.g., affordable, quality housing and retail offerings targeted to a broad consumer tastes and incomes). A successful economic development study will offer goals and objectives designed to mitigate the poverty rate and increase economic opportunities for low-skilled, low-income residents.”

While this news is encouraging, the statistical summary included on a map of the area's development is not. The Kennett Square area did not get to earn all of those accolades that tout it as one of the coolest small towns in America by accident. It enjoys this prominence as a result of the roll-up-the-sleeves dedication of its volunteers, its residents, its business and educational leaders and its elected and appointed officials. Moreover, we believe that Kennett Square deserves every headline of praise, and this newspaper has documented this rise with enthusiasm.

Yet if we, the Chester County Press, fail to acknowledge the elephant in the room, we become compliant in this negligence.

Devoting eight percentage points to an entire population of residents of the Kennett area is an incredible insult, and does not do justice to the sweat equity that these individuals and families have made. We encourage the architects whose combined vision and ingenuity has given new life to Kennett Square to get to the drawing board again, and create opportunities for everyone to be able to afford to live there.

In a town that has become new, hip and happening, creating designs of inclusion and affordability may save Kennett Square from eventually suffocating in its own coolness.