EXTON, PA — Uwchlan Township residents David Fertell and Matt Hanes on Wednesday offered testimony before the Pennsylvania House Local Government Committee regarding legislation that would allow municipalities to evaluate the impact that development projects have on local communities.
The public hearing, held in Allentown, was requested by state Rep. Michael Schlossberg, D-Lehigh, who is the prime sponsor of H.B. 782. State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, is one of the bill’s 10 listed cosponsors.
H.B. 782 would amend Pennsylvania’s Municipalities Planning Code to:
- Require mega-development developers to provide a detailed analysis of the impacts of development, including the real cost on traffic, future infrastructure costs, emergency management services, sewer, storm water, damage to agricultural lands, parks, and open space, impact on neighborhoods, natural resources, and wildlife, and harm to neighboring properties.
- Allow the host municipality to use this analysis to consider conditions that address the impacts and costs of the development and give neighboring municipalities the opportunity to have their concerns addressed.
This legislation could have a direct impact on a proposed development project in Uwchlan Township, where residents have pushed back against the proposed sale and development of Lionville Station Farm, owned by the by the Downingtown Area School District, to Audubon Land Development.
In his testimony, Fertell raised the issue of irreversible outcomes due to a planning framework that emphasizes proximity and not regional impact, leaving officials in affected municipalities who are responsible for the health and safety of their own communities with no jurisdictional authority, and antiquated ordinance language and concepts that are outpaced by real world developments.
“The scale is such that you can lay the entire Empire State Building on its side within the building and still have room for a few more traditional-sized warehouses. But these aren’t skyscrapers. They are land devastators and open-space decimators that leave communities scarred,” said Fertell. “Just like scars, both mental and physical, once the damage is done, the effects live on in perpetuity. Open space doesn’t reopen. Traffic doesn’t abate. Silent VOCs that wind their way unfiltered into our water supply don’t self-mitigate. And none of these damaging effects stop at a township’s border. These effects are far-reaching and by any definition have ‘regional significance.'”
Hanes, a neighbor of Fertell’s, echoed his sentiments. “I didn’t realize how little say the community really has before this issue started,” Hanes said. “So many people feel helpless and like they don’t have a say. … I feel this bill would help that, especially in our situation, where three townships come together, and two are very concerned about the impact, because they are so close.”
Uwchlan Township Supervisor Bill Miller, unable to attend the hearing in person, submitted written testimony to the committee as to how this proposed legislation would help provide municipalities with the tools and resources they need to evaluate and respond to proposed developments of regional significance and impact.
“What is needed in this revision to the Municipal Planning Code is to give the residents of surrounding municipalities a voice and representation in the process and give the host municipality a legal rationale for considering the impacts of large developments on the surrounding neighbors,” Miller wrote. “The host municipality should not have to cede authority or responsibility, but we should have to consider the rights and burdens of development on the residents of our neighboring communities, and those residents should have the right to be represented in the process by their own elected officials.”
“Large developments have large impacts, which don’t recognize or respect township borders. We have to have a flexible, fair approach that allows for the entire affected community to have representation during the review of these large, regionally significant plans,” Miller said.
Friel Otten, who was at Wednesday’s hearing, applauded the efforts of those in her community who have led the charge in this uphill battle against the corporations pushing for the development.
“I get really emotional when we talk about this because I am so proud of our community, and I want to protect it. I know just how hard it can be to take days off of work and share your time and effort to push back and unlock the doors for the people so they can have a voice in these conversations.” said Otten, referencing her own path to the legislature.
“None of us wanted to spend our time fighting against these multi-billion-dollar developers to save the quality of life we have invested in for our families. And I don’t think we put enough value on those who give of their time, talent and treasure to protect our little sliver of southeastern Pennsylvania.”