Editorial: New Garden Township: A new "there" there03/16/2021 04:44PM ● By Richard Gaw
Throughout the halls, back rooms and meeting forums of our
local municipalities, bean counters elected to office abound to an almost
absurd and comical extent.
Most, if not all, are voted to their respective positions in order to do just that – count up the rubles, francs and shillings of their government and measure each and every decision against whether even the smallest of ideas affects the township’s account. While all of this bottom line tallying is quietly necessary, it often places a paralyzing chokehold on those officials who were elected to lead and yet chose to allow their township’s respective budgets to dictate the course of their time in office.
Over the last decade, the most profound and lasting municipal, civic and social progress of southern Chester County has been measured by the work of our elected dreamers, the men and women of our local governing boards and councils who have managed to look first at the bottom line and then bravely reach for the heavens. Their accomplishments dot our towns and landscapes: witness the business revitalization of the Kennett Borough; the purchase and permanent preservation of land in Kennett Township; the continually forward motion of progress in downtown Oxford; and several other initiatives by elected officials too many to mention within this space.
During that time – in a decade-long highlight reel of achievements from one municipality to the next – the work of one township has stood clearly and consistently above their neighbors.
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Ten years ago, New Garden Township and its then Board of Supervisors were on the brink of relinquishing a sizable chunk of the township’s prized and available acreage to the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust (PREIT), whose preliminary plans forecasted the arrival of what would have become a concrete wasteland of box stores and parking lots. It was a concept that was overwhelmingly rejected by the township’s residents -- and one easily 25 years past its prime – but some board members applauded the idea, thinking that it would increase tax ratables in the township, while others voted in favor of the plan simply because they feared that PREIT would drive the township into litigation if they voted against them.
Thanks to a combination of a citizen-led brigade of opposition and the company’s wish to sell off many of its properties, however, the deal fell through. In April 2019, PREIT sold the undeveloped land parcel to JP Morgan Chase for $11 million – $8.25 million cash and $2.75 million in preferred stock.
A few years later, a new group of supervisors took their seats, and with a renewed sense of vision, leadership and a lot of wise investments, they began to redefine the township.
The board, made up of Steve Allaband, Richard Ayotte, Randy Geouque, Pat Little and Michael Loftus – as well as township manager Tony Scheivert -- heard then New Garden Township Police Chief Gerald Simpson call for the establishment of a regional police department, and even more broadly, the need to create a new home for the regional police.
Within two years, the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department was formed, and in 2018, its $5 million facility opened.
Seeing the need to expand their residents’ increasing need for a walkable park, the township wisely invested in a two-phase plan to upgrade New Garden Township Park.
Witnessing the decaying infrastructure of its wastewater system and the taxpayer funding required to maintain it, the board voted to sell the system to Aqua PA for the sum of $29.5 million, which after four years of negotiations, was finally settled late last year. Now flush with capital from the sale, the township is using the funds to pay off the cost of the police facility, as well as continue to invest in the upkeep and expansion of its intricate system of nature trails, as well as look for more opportunities to purchase and preserve township land as perpetual open space.
In 2018, the Board of Supervisors, under Scheivert’s leadership, entered into what may become the most sound investment made by a local municipality in the last several decades. After years of back-and-forth negotiation, the township purchased the 137.5-acre St. Anthony in the Hills property for $1.5 million in December 2018 from St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Wilmington.
Guided by the wish to serve succeeding generations, the board made the choice to give new life to a neglected part of its past, and through the work of a consultant, is now orchestrating the future of a property through commitment, vision and the people’s ideas. Neglected trails and walkways once over-run with growth will someday join the township’s trail system. The long-dormant structures of a popular miniature golf course will someday be used again by families. An empty pool will soon become the home of a beautiful swimming and recreational facility, with a restaurant and other amenities. An old Greek-style ampitheater is on the planning docket to be converted into an outdoor movie theater.
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The future of New Garden Township is just beginning, but it rests entirely in the hands of its leaders. Allaband, Little and Loftus, now joined by fellow supervisors Kristie Brodowski, David Unger and new township manager Ramsey Reiner, are charged with the responsibility to properly usher in the development of the proposed White Clay Pointe, whose planned footprint of commercial and residential growth will occupy nearly 200 acres along Route 41.
In order to do so, they must steer the development’s design in a way that it will lend itself seamlessly to the rest of the township, not dominate the landscape. They must adhere to the standards of success that their decisions have already yielded: to maintain an appreciation for open space; to create a proper balance of commercial and residential opportunities; and to orchestrate a viable and walkable connection to Saint Anthony in the Hills.
Criticizing her native Oakland for its provincial and vacuous culture, Gertrude Stein once wrote, “There is no there there.” Long thought of as merely a drive-by municipality with very few reasons for an out-of-towner to pay a visit, New Garden Township is emerging as the new “there” for southern Chester County.
The there is there in New Garden Township, and it has been built on the foundation of vision undertaken by its leadership. On the heels of this foundation, we patiently wait for its future to fully arrive.