As chairman of the Open Space Committee in Londonderry Township, I know how hard so very many individuals and organizations are working to preserve the rural character of southern Chester County. However, sometimes it seems that our successes only serve to increase pressure from development, because it is our rural character that makes living here so attractive. And, it is frustrating when people complain to us that we have not protected their dream.
The first thing I hear from new residents is that we have to save the farm that is adjacent to the development (which used to be a farm) that they have just moved into. If only we could! New residents often know very little about the township they have moved to. They can tell you the name of their post office but may not know which township they live in, and they are usually clueless about local zoning regulations. Therein lies the rub, because what they see may not really be what they get.
This morning I read an advertisement in the Daily Local describing a new development and extolling the virtues of our township. The advertisement stated, "Because so much of the township is under minimum 40-acre zoning, most of the existing open land will remain agricultural." The ad left the impression that this new community would forever be "surrounded by horse pastures and farm fields." Actually, we do have 25-acre agricultural zoning, but it only protects one farm near this development.
The advertisement failed to mention what is near this new community. Two more developments will be built on adjacent properties. As for the surrounding "horse pastures and farm fields," they are zoned two acres, and the largest nearby farm is slated for 90 homes.
There is one sizeable farm adjacent to this new development, and our township is proud of the fact that the owners of this farm were among the first to sell an agricultural easement to the county, insuring that this land will forever remain in agricultural use. But, "agricultural use" does not insure open fields and pristine views. Mushroom farming and concentrated animal feed operations are considered "permitted use," and the township can do little to prevent such operations. This we know from experience.
About three years ago an "eased" farm was sold, and the new owner wanted to grow mushrooms. Residents from a new development, which was adjacent to the eased farm, wanted the township to deny the new owner's plan. When the plan was approved, as it had to be, the residents were furious with the township supervisors and the Planning Commission. Only a few recognized that they were uninformed, or miss-informed, when they bought their property.
Most people who move to southern Chester County come to enjoy the beauty of our farmland, our open space, and the lifestyle that goes with it. I wish there was a way to inform them about what they are buying. Some areas will truly be fields and pastures forever, while other fields and pastures will be tomorrow's high-density residential developments. Personally, I am in favor of posting signs on farms with a "warning, this farm is zoned for intensive agriculture, which includes animal feed-lots and mushroom composting operations." But I understand that some poor farmer tried doing this and was ordered to take his sign down. I wonder who wrote that law? Probably the same guy who wrote the advertisement I read!
Henry Detering lives in Cochranville. He is a former Marine and educator in the Octorara School District.