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Chester County Press

Kennett Township board in disagreement over future of open space and trails management

12/07/2021 03:24PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

In a follow-up discussion they had at their Nov. 17 meeting, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors voted 2-1 at their Dec. 1 meeting to further table a decision that if adopted would dramatically alter the way the township manages open space acquisition and trail management in the future.

Those voting in favor of tabling the discussion were supervisors Whitney Hoffman and Scudder Stevens. Board chairman Richard Leff, who reintroduced the discussion, voted against the decision to table the discussion.

Leff’s proposal attempts to rework, redefine and restructure when it comes to preserving open space in the township, by eliminating the township’s Trails & Sidewalk Committee and its Land Conservation Advisory Committee (LCAC), an arrangement that Leff said would preserve more open space and provide greater accessibility for residents.

“Now that I’ve had some learnings about easements, and although the Board of Supervisors approved these easements, they all were at the recommendation of the LCAC,” Leff said in his Dec. 1 comments. “In addition, LCAC has only worked with [the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County] these past eight years. Due to that closeness, the wider goals of Kennett Topwnship may not have always been as protected as what is best for [the township], in part due to the structure and narrow focus of our committee structure.

“Therefore, we need to change to get not only open space, but access – trails and access for parking -- and also flexibility for unknown future goals. Thus, by combining LCAC and the Trails & Sidewalk Committee, we can preserve more open space but can do so with an eye to greater responsibility for all, and for generations to come.”

To those in favor of consolidating resources, Leff’s argument to take a new look at the way the township manages its acquisitions and maintenance of open space and trails is a worthy discussion, given the generous overlap of entities who facilitate land acquisition, design and maintenance in the township and throughout southern Chester County, which also includes not only the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC) but the Kennett Greenway project.

On the other side of the argument, consolidating resources would involve determining who would serve on any new committees that could be formed, which may lead to the potential for in-fighting between members of various committees, as well as run the risk of leaving several current projects on the table.

Just like he had done at the board’s Nov. 17 meeting, supervisor Scudder Stevens again expressed his disagreement with Leff’s proposal, calling it “a rush to judgment.”

“If we are going to speak about revising the committees – revise them, take them apart, cancel them, add to them – we should be looking at the larger picture of what needs to occur,” Stevens told Leff. “Are there other areas that need to be addressed? Who can be on the committee? How long can they serve? Who can be chairperson and how long can they be chairperson?

“There are all kinds of aspects for committees that your proposal does not address. For some reason, this is being done as quickly as possible, to get it done by the end of the year, and I have heard no reason why this is necessary. There is no rush as far as I am concerned.”

Supervisor Whitney Hoffman said that by restructuring township committees like the Trails & Sidewalk Committee and the LCAC, the township would be able to minimize the number of meetings it has and provide – in many situations -- one source of information, “rather than a different story everywhere,” she said. “We’ve got to start making change. We’re dealing with a lot of open space and trail issues, so maybe this is a place to start.”

Stevens said that if the township plans to restructure its committees, he recommended that it be done in a methodical and well-considered way, “so that we can define the break and define the solution, rather than just crunching it all together to see what you get as an experiment.”

“We’re in a different place than we were eight years ago, but our structure hasn’t changed, and that’s pretty clear,” Leff told Stevens. “The way I am looking at these options is to address your statements. What would the committee look like? How would the chair be elected? What would the committee be tasked with? To me, these are actually good questions.

“To me, it also speaks to creating something new, not choosing one committee or the other. Let’s create something new, and see where it fits.”

Leff then made a motion to create an ordinance to eliminate both the LCAC and the Trails & Sidewalk Committee, and create a new committee to advise the township on matters of trails, sidewalks and open space. The motion was then tabled.

Discussion on the proposed ordinance – which is expected to be in draft form soon -- will resume at the board’s Dec. 15 meeting.

Township nearing approval of 2022 budget

During the preliminary adoption of Kennett Township’s 2022 budget on Dec. 1, the supervisors gave their authorization to allow the township to advertise the budget for a 20-day public review prior to the budget’s final approval, which is expected to come at a special meeting during the last week in December.

As reviewed over a series of meetings by Director of Finance and Human Resources Amy Heinrich and Manager Eden Ratliff, the township’s general fund for 2022 projects a revenue of $7,762,882 – a $1.6 million increase (27 percent) from the current budget. On the other side of the ledger, the projected expenses for the township’s general fund will total of $6,409,081 in 2022 – a 14 percent increase from the 2021 budget. (The proposed 2022 budget is included on the township’s website: http://kennett.pa.us.)

The board also approved a $49 real estate tax increase for 2022 – or two-tenths of a mil per parcel – that will be added to the township’s capital reserve.

Environmental Advisory Council recommendations

In a presentation before the board, Matt Sabo of the Environmental Advisory Council (EAC) spelled out the Council’s recommendations for environmentally-based projects in the township.

The EAC recommends that the township appoint a qualified representative to conduct visual inspections of all environmental projects when they are finished, in order to assure that they comply with township’s original plans. Sabo estimated that the township consultant would spend between 8 and 12 hours for each inspection.

“We do not think that someone has to go out there and count every tree and bush that was planted,” Sabo said. “We do not think anything other than somebody putting eyes on the site and saying, ‘There is supposed to be a cover crop planted on this site? There is a cover crop on this site.’ We think it is a reasonable thing for the township, learning from our history, to say having a visual inspection by somebody other than i2 Capital (who sponsors the Revolving Water Fund [RWF] that creates clean water projects in northern Delaware and Southeastern Pennsylvania) makes sense.”

The EAC also recommended that following the PA Department of Environmental Protection’s approval of proposed RWF projects, the township schedule advertised public meetings or work sessions to discuss the township’s environmental plans that invite the public to submit questions in advance of the meeting or ask them in person at the meeting.

Regarding Barkingfield Park, Sabo told the board that the consensus of the EAC is to place less priority on the frequency of mowing and instead focus on manage the park and provide natural habitat for native species.

Based on the EAC’s research, they recommend dividing the mowing of two meadow fields near the park into three separate cuttings every year in the early spring.

“The reason for limiting the mowing is that mowing is a disturbance and the more you mow, particularly during the growing season, the more you perpetuate that disturbance at a time when animals are reproducing and when plant resources are most available,” Sabo said.

Sabo said that the all-volunteer EAC is calling for the township to demonstrate their level of commitment to environmental projects.

“They as a group came to us and said, ‘We are all volunteers, we’re all very enthusiastic and we’re trying to do as much as we can, (but) there is only so much we can do,’” Sabo said. “[They said] ‘If we understand what level of commitment the township is willing to make, then we can start to decide if there is anything going to be done over and above what is being proposed tonight.’”

After Sabo’s discussion, the board agreed that it would not cast any votes related to the EAC’s recommendations, but expressed interest in engaging in more discussions with the Council.

In other township business, the board voted 3-0 to amend a stormwater management ordinance that grants a requested waiver to Longwood Gardens that will allow the institution to truck processed and enriched soil from a 1.87-acre area near Longwood Gardens to the construction site of the $250 million “Longwood Reimagined” project that is expected to be completed in 2024.

The project will include the construction of a new education and administration building with a state-of-the-art library and classrooms, and restore several glasshouses. The temporary disturbance area is located at the south side of Route 1 near the intersection of Route 52 (Lenape Road). As per a stipulation in the waiver, the soil disturbance project will not last longer than 30 months, and the 5,000-square-foot area will be stabilized with vegetation after the project concludes.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected]