Editorial: The City of New Garden03/29/2022 03:17PM ● By Richard Gaw
New Garden Township, 2032.
Once a tidy, semi-rural municipality of 12,000 just one decade before, New Garden Township has become a sprawling, suburban metropolis of development that continues to be paraded before its residents – who now are double in population -- as what happens when ingenuity meets opportunity, when smart growth meets the land on which to make it happen, and when elected officials defy the pleas of their constituency and build it all up in the hopes that they will come.
Comprehending the enveloping sweep of the new township is best done by capturing the images taken by an overhead drone, which begins its flight in the Borough of Avondale and follows the path along Gap-Newport Pike -- the key thoroughfare that slices through its center – to the Route 7 intersection.
At first glance, it is immediately apparent that the long-term goals specified in the township’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan for Route 41 have been swallowed whole, and the drone sees everything along the corridor:
The areas around every intersection have been kidnapped by an Applebees Nation takeover by chain restaurants, three-story office buildings, townhomes and apartments, and faux-chic shops whose expiration dates have already been stamped on their shingles by the power of online buying.
Its streetscape concept of tree plantings and sidewalks are poisoned by the exhaust of the more than hundreds of 18-wheelers that careen by every day, and nowhere is there any proof that the emphasis on safety – one of the key aspirations of the plan – is being met.
The new Route 41 has conspired with the influx of drivers and businesses to create a constantly calamitous clog of traffic, leading some frustrated drivers to choose less navigated roads in the township until they too become congested with vehicles.
The new Route 41 has become the dominant definition of New Garden Township – a paved and permanent monster that has overwhelmed the township’s infrastructure, forever altered its identity and wrecked the quality of life for its residents.
It is 2032 in the City of New Garden.
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At its March 21 meeting, the New Garden Board of Supervisors introduced a proposal to rezone 97 parcels – currently zoned Highway Commercial (HC), R-1 and R-4 Residential along Route 41 -- to a Unified Development (UD) classification. The idea was in keeping with the township’s 2018 Comprehensive Plan to incorporate certain design and improvement standards in keeping with the township’s wish to “revitalize Route 41 and Route 7 to create a more functional and attractive environment in which to work, shop, dine, live and play.” The plan also calls for the construction of a variety of housing options along the corridor, and the enhancement of streetscapes through the addition of street trees, street lights and sidewalks.
For more than one hour, the board was pelted with the voices of outraged residents who appealed to the supervisors to reject the ordinance. Their reasons were as sound and principled as they were numerous. One by one, they expressed their belief that the development would decrease the value of properties along the corridor; that Route 41 and Route 7 are not conducive to residential and pedestrian traffic; that development would severely impact the quality of life for township residents and increase demand for police and emergency services; that it would increase property taxes; lead to additional traffic on an already busy route; and impact the availability of well water for residents who live nearby.
Upon the recommendations of the township’s solicitor, planner and at the request of their constituents, the board chose to table their vote, at least until a follow-up hearing on May 16.
They were wise to do so, but an even wiser choice would be to drop the ordinance altogether – or for at least the foreseeable future. The arrival of this ordinance is both awkward in its timing and introduced concurrently with far more pressing items on the township’s agenda – issues and initiatives that already promise to have enormous impact on the township.
New Garden Township must first address and implement its strategic goals for Saint Anthony’s in the Hills, that include creating access routes, assuring safety, overseeing the development of a trail system, and anticipating the arrival of the Splash New Garden swim club scheduled for later this summer and a proposal to convert the 2,000-seat amphitheater to an outdoor film and music venue.
New Garden Township must also attend to the slow and steady revitalization of the Village of Toughkenamon, sell the village as an attractive home for new businesses and residents and monitor the improvement of the Newark Road and Baltimore Pike intersection.
New Garden Township must continue to prioritize the preservation of open space over development. While it is doubtful that future generations of families in Landenberg, Avondale, Toughkenamon and West Grove will really need one more pizza parlor along Route 41, leaving them untarnished spaces for posterity – such as the township’s recent purchase of the Loch Nairn Golf Course property – is a quality of life value that cannot be measured in dollars and cents.
Finally, and perhaps most crucially, New Garden Township must continue to be a strong voice at the drawing table for White Clay Point, the proposed 200-acre project that will include both residential and commercial components on the north and south sides of Route 41, including more than 300 residential units and a town center that is projected to dedicate more than 200,000 square feet to commercial development, including a 65,000 square-foot retail food store.
While this newspaper encourages the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors to back away from further development along Route 41 – at least for now -- we also encourage those New Garden residents who are opposed to these ideas to share their opinions at the next public hearing on May 16 at the Township Building.
The nightmare vision for New Garden, as illustrated at the beginning of this editorial, is merely an imagined one. And yet, it is a peek into the looking glass of a future that if allowed to roam freely under the name of progress, could wreak irreparable damage to a municipality whose elected officials in 2022 chose not to tackle their responsibilities one initiative at a time.