Community Issues Regarding Artificial Turf Field at Delaware Valley Friends School . . . Will meeting on Wednesday help to resolve?

Since I began Community Matters, I have had several Valley Hills neighborhood members write to me about the new artificial turf field at Delaware Valley Friends School, and associated community issues as a result of the field’s construction. This Paoli neighborhood is located in the East Central Avenue area in close proximity to the Friends School and some of the residents have had specific issues since the installation of the turf field, including lighting, generator noise, increased traffic, buffer intrusion, etc.

At last night’s Board of Supervisors meeting, under the ‘new matters from citizens’ section, the issue of the turf field resurfaced along with specific questions.  There was also an announcement of an upcoming meeting at Delaware Valley Friends School (DVS) this Wednesday at 7 PM between DVS representatives and the neighbors.

I have tried to piece together some of the background on the turf field project and the open issues and ongoing concerns of the neighbors.  At the supervisors meeting, Steve Ross, a Valley Hills resident, asked the board why an $800,000 turf field did not require a building permit.  Mimi Gleason explained that because the school was changing an existing field in to turf field (rather than creating a new field) the project was not a land development project, regardless of the cost.  However, the project did require a grading permit; Mr. Ross has asked to see a copy of that permit.

Here is some of the history of the project as I understand it.  The early discussion on the turf field began in the late summer of 2008.  I should mention that up until this point, the local neighbors had enjoyed an open and friendly relationship with DVS and the residents and their children were welcome to use the existing school playing fields if they were not being used. (Now there are large, rather unwelcoming signs indicating the field is for use by DVS and Tredyffrin Easttown Youth Soccer Association (TEYSA) only).  In late summer, TEYSA in a partnership agreement with DVS developed the project.  Although it appears that DVS still owns the field, TEYSA has a ‘sports easement’ to use it (I am not entirely clear about the meaning of this term).  It is my understanding that TEYSA paid for the turf field through fundraising efforts. I am unclear whether TEYSA fully funded the project or if there was financial contribution from DVS. 

Many of the Valley Hills neighbors feel that the problems began at DVS (with the turf field) as a result of not being included in the process and discussion.  Having previously shared a good relationship with the school and its administrators, I think that the neighbors feel they were a bit blind-sighted and not kept in the loop.  It is interesting to note that the township has maintained because the usage of the field was not changed, a building permit was not required. Without a building permit, there would not be a legal requirement to notify the neighbors.  However, neighbors claim that the blueprints are very clear about building in water containment tanks since water does not perk the same into turf as it does into soil  But without a building permit, there were not inspections – therefore leaving the local residents to accept the word of DVS that the turf field was indeed constructed as planned. The turf field was built into the buffer and no variance was filed with the township.  Was a variance required and if so, was it the responsibility of DVS or TEYSA?

The strained relationship with DVS and its neighbors started when the buffer of mature trees were taken down.  Although DVS apparently claims that there were not aware that the contractor would remove so many trees, the blueprints actually tell a different story.  The neighbors witnessed the aftermath of the tree removal vs. being advised and included in the process prior to the removal of the trees.  I maintain that you can never give the community ‘too much information’; rather it’s when they are left questioning that the problems occur.

Fast forward to May 2010 and how does Delaware Valley Friends School’s artificial turf field continue to impact the neighbors in and around East Central Ave?  The once passive recreational area, that the school and neighbors enjoyed, has dramatically changed.  The character of the neighborhood and the open space has transformed in to a very commercial, noisy setting with the construction of the turf field, its lighting, increased traffic and noise issues.  Specifically, the lights and the artificial turf have increased the use of the field from very occasional evening and Saturday use to every evening and all day Saturday and Sunday use.  The neighbors have no relief from the increased traffic on East Central Avenue.  Cars start coming in at 5 PM weekdays, 8 AM on Saturday and Sunday mornings and stay until well after dark.  With or without the lights on the field, people stay until after dark using car headlights to extend their time on the field.  This is certainly a problem and one that needs further discussion between DFS, TEYSA and the residents.

Although one can not go back and plant mature trees that were removed for the project, can the neighbors negotiate the re-planting of some trees and vegetation to help create a new buffer zone around the field?  This might improve the open sound and lighting issues. The new turf field was built in to the buffer zone so it will require some creative landscaping ideas.  Working together with the community, perhaps a solution could be found.

Is TEYSA required to conform to the township’s standard at this site as in other township fields?  Or, because the field is privately owned by DVS, are they exempt from any restrictions? I would encourage neighbors to attend Wednesday night’s meeting at DVS.  The turf field is now a reality, but there needs to be a way for the field and its users to peacefully exist in the community.   It is hoped that this meeting may bring thoughtful discussion and compromise from both sides. The field lighting and usage, in addition to the impact of the field on the Valley Hills community, needs to be fully understood. This situation begs for resolution for the affected local residents.

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  1. I attended a BOS meeting a while back and I remember some neighbors of Delaware Valley Friends voicing their concerns about the noise and safety of the generators. The generators being left running and unsecured. Folks were afraid that the kids using the field might get hurt. One guy stated that a soccer ball rolled right under a generator and a kid had to put his hands under the generator in order to retrieve it… I hope these issues have been resolved.

    Can we get an update on the grading permit? Were there stormwater or impervious surface issues that needed to be dealt with? (Or are these not applicable because this project was not considered land development.) Artifical turf is considered an impervious surface and is associated with environmental costs such as reduced infiltration of rainfall runoff and heating effects (as opposed to the natural cooling effects of natural grass). Concerns have also been raised about the potential for toxic chemicals in artificial turf to contaminate stormwater.

    I imagine the traffic, noise and lighting problems along West and East Central Aves will only get worse due to that Town Center District zoning designation. And don’t a lot of people use Central Avenue as an alternative to Lancaster Avenue? When I first moved to Mt. Pleasant, my neighbors showed me how to get all the way to Paoli without having to deal with the stoplights on Lancaster…

    ***We really need to consider our neighbors when we cut down those buffer trees!!!

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    chet Reply:

    Like the same consideration given to neighbors who lost “buffer trees” in favor of sidewalks.

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  2. Question: is it true that artificial turf is considered impervious? The most modern incarnations fo field turf have sophisticated drainage and run off systems built underneath. Does anyone know anything more about this?

    If the township doesn’t consider it a land development plan, don’t they still have some jurisdiction over how this property can be used.. zoning? Even though it is private? I wonder if it still conforms to the school usage, but the neigbors were used to a more bucolic neighborhood until the facility changed.. What would a discussion have meant to the project. probably not much. Do the neighbors think they could have gotten the school to limit usage? The economics of it wouldn’t work. Just some thoughts..

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  3. Another example of what happens when public property is sold to private owners….this was Paoli Elementary and the entire site was owned by TESD…until the turf came in, I mistakenly thought that the district still owned the fields…who owns the fields at Woodlynde?

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  4. Township reader, Republican Chet here. Do you then, propose that the government should own all the property everywhere? Or not sale property they, the government, doesn’t need? They will probably get to that eventually.

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  5. My understanding is that the DVS turf is the same system used at Teamer at CHS.

    Does anyone know what permits TESD required?

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  6. I grew up on E Central Ave, in the days that the old Paoli Elementary sat vacant. As I recall, weren’t the fields there turned into a township park?

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    Township Reader Reply:

    That’s what I thought? That’s why I asked about Woodlynde? I thought the buildings were sold (Strafford and Paoli) but the land was township park land? Can someone clarify?

    Oh Chet — find a new soapbox please. The point I made about public land being sold is that this community sold two buildings/sites that the master plan of our region (for schools) had determined that a school was appropriatedly sited there. No houses burned down — no major changes in demographics except that the population aged (temporarily)….but they sold off the land that was clearly of value as school property and community based activities. So no — I don’t think government land that was likely never even purchased in the beginning (I’m assuming the land was deeded as the land in chesterbrook that belongs to TESD was deeded) as part of the land planning.
    Selling municipal lands like that is short-sighted and greedy. And if anyone that lived in this community in the 70s when they did it had EVER lived anyplace but here, they would have recognized the natural population changes that take place. But here — land of the “NO WAY WE CHANGE” didn’t have any foresight at all….and sold off properties that were uniquely situated throughout the community for $500K each….”that was a lot of money then” not withstanding…..

    And Chet — read through the proposal — I don’t propose that government “own all the property everywhere” — just that property that is part of land planning and owned by the community should be evaluated for alternative community uses before it is sold. TESD owned Berwyn Elementary land and did a deal with Easttown to accomodate the library development — they didn’t sell land to an office developer. (Which is why I think the choice to move to West Valley was so poorly considered — buying land that has no field or educational value or “location-location-location.”

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    Disillusioned in Tredyffrin Reply:

    I’ve been told that the TESD owned the Valley Hills Park & the township leased it from them… this went on after Paoli ES was sold to a business. The township con’t to lease it until after DVFS bought the property. The lease con’t until a couple of years ago… interestingly about the same time TEYSA & DVFS began their relationship. Coinincedence? It was all very strange… one day the sign was there, the next day it wasn’t. Moral of the story… if you live near a township park, don’t assume it will always be there… TEYSA just might need a new turf field & some private school will partner with them.

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    Pattye Benson Reply:

    That is really interesting — so there was a Valley Hills Park. To I understand this correctly — the township leased the land from TESD? Does the township lease any other space from TESD?

  7. will step lower on soapbox.. by the way, that comment adds nothing to discussion.

    maybe it was a bad decision to sell DVF, but it was done, and maybe at the time it was thought to be a good sell, and if there are no zoning laws broken, and no other violations of land planning/development provisions then I guess it is tough? Maybe we can blame it on LOK? Or President Bush.
    Or, if there were breaches in proper protocol in redoing the field then get after them. My assumption is that there were none, but I will actually be openminded enough to wait and let the “investigation” proceed. Minimally, I am sure new awareness will arise from this to protect neighborhoods from this calamity in the future. Thanks

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