Tredyffrin Township

TE School District proposes 3.68 percent tax increase in 2015-16 budget

For taxpayers living in Tredyffrin and Easttown Townships, they saw no municipal real estate tax increase in 2014 or 2015. In the Tredyffrin Township 2015 budget presentation, it was announced that real estate tax assessments continue to grow and that the township saw “increased construction of both residential and commercial properties which are a major cause for the increased assessment.” No real estate tax increase in Tredyffrin for 2015 follows a no real estate tax increase in 2014. Similarly, Easttown Township taxpayers received no real estate tax increase for the period.

In neighboring Radnor School District, taxpayers did not receive a real estate tax increase for 2014-15 whereas the taxpayers of TE School District saw their real estate tax bill increase 3.2 percent during the same period. Looking ahead to the 2015-16 budget for the two school districts, Radnor School Board announced this week that they will not seek exceptions and the proposed tax increase will not be greater than the 1.9 percent permitted by Act 1. TE School Board has voted to seek exceptions and the preliminary budget currently in discussion for 2015-16 includes a 3.68 percent tax increase.

During the last four years, TE School District has shown a budget surplus of over $12 million (2013-14: $2.2M, 2012-13: $5M, 2011-12: $3.9M and 2010-11: $1.3M). Although the District benefited from the budget surplus, you would have to go back a decade to 2004-05 to find the last time that there was no real estate tax increase. A review of the District yearly tax increase since the last no-tax year is as follows:

• 2015-16: 3.68% *
• 2014-15: 3.4%
• 2013-14: 1.7%
• 2012-13: 3.3%
• 2011-12: 3.77%
• 2010-11: 2.9%
• 2009-10: 2.95%
• 2008-09: 4.37%
• 2007-08: 3.37%
• 2006-07: 3.90%
• 2005-06: 1.40%
• 2004-05: Zero Tax Increase
* Proposed Increase

Monday, January 6: Tredyffrin BOS Organizational Meeting & Public Hearing for Wayne Glen Conditional Use

Tredyffrin Township’s first Board of Supervisors meeting of the 2015 is tomorrow, January 5, 7 PM at the township building. The organization meeting includes the election of chairman and vice chairman of the BOS.   Although an annual election is held for the board’s leadership roles, typically these positions are held for two years.  Mike Heaberg and Kristen Mayock served in the chair and vice chair positions, respectfully, during 2014 – the election will determine if they continue in their current roles for 2015.

Following the 2015 organizational meeting, is the public hearing for the Arcadia/Wayne Glen conditional use application.  At the corner of Old Eagle School and Walker Roads in the Glenhardie section of the township, Arcadia Tredyffrin, LLC is seeking conditional use approval to construct 108 residential units in the R-1 (Residential) District and approximately 240,000 sq. ft. of non-residential building that is currently in the O (Office) District although in the P (Professional) District at the time of application filing. With recommendation from the township’s planning commissioners, the Wayne Glen project has now moved to the Board of Supervisors for their approval.

If history dictates the future, the Wayne Glen development project will have a crowd of local Glenhardie residents in attendance at the meeting. Unlike the widespread community support that developers have enjoyed with the Chesterbrook redevelopment plans, Wayne Glen has seen its share of spirited debate. The issue for the residents close to the proposed development project is how the developer will manage the stormwater situation, as much of this area is prone to regular flooding.  The Wayne Glen project is located in Tredyffrin Township’s Trout Creek Overlay District and the developers believe that their plan will utilize design techniques that will alleviate the erosion along the stream banks and flooding issues and improve the poor water quality.

In addition to the stormwater issues, some residents have expressed concern about the proximity of the Wayne Glen project to the Valley Meeting House cemetery and the possibility that this could be the burial grounds of early Continental Army soldiers. Arcadia’s owner Joe Duckworth is acutely aware of the historic nature of the property. He has hired a history consultant to work with the engineers and plans to use ground-penetrating radar in the development project. Duckworth has experience with burial grounds at the site of the Constitution Center in Philadelphia and is committed to dealing with any historical remains found at Wayne Glen responsibly.

Tredyffrin Township resident Michelle Kichline appointed Chester County Commissioner

With Republican Ryan Costello’s 6th District Congressional win in the November election, Chester County needed a new County Commissioner to fill his unexpired term.  According to Pennsylvania law, the Chester County Court of Common Pleas had to fill the vacancy with another Republican to finish Costello’s term, which runs through 2015.  The voters will elect a commissioner for a full 4-year term next November.

Michelle Kichline (R), along with five other Republican candidates, John Primus, Leon Spencer, Jr., Maureen Snook, Hudson L. Voltz and County Treasurer Ann Duke interviewed this morning with the judges of Chester County Court of Common Pleas for the Board of Commissioners vacancy. The judges made their selection and I am delighted to report that Michelle Kichline, attorney and former chair of Tredyffrin Township’s Board of Supervisors, is our new Chester County Commissioner!  Costello’s official resignation date is tomorrow December 9 and his Commissioner torch passes to Kichline.

It’s exciting to have a Tredyffrin Township resident represented on the Chester County Board of Commissioners!

Good news for Tredyffrin Township residents — 2015 proposed preliminary budget indicates no tax increase!

This post is follow-up to Tredyffrin Township’s preliminary 2015 budget discussion, at both the Board of Supervisors meeting and the recent budget workshop. At the November 5 supervisors meeting, Township manager Bill Martin presented an overview of the 2014 to date and the 2015 preliminary budget presentation included updates from each of the department heads.

Martin presented a positive financial picture for the township – his forecast indicates that 2014 includes $416K more in general fund operating revenue than anticipated; suggesting that the increase is due to better than expected permit revenue from commercial land development projects. Additionally, the general fund expenditures are expected to be $30K under budget for 2014 – the explanation was that salary and budgetary savings offset the 2014 winter expenses. The budget surplus was $6,265 and when added to the operating results, Martin expects the township to finish out the year with a $450K surplus.

Tredyffrin Township has not raised taxes since 2012 and the preliminary 2015 budget includes no tax increase. While acknowledging the improving economic signs (real estate transfers and permit revenues are up), Martin did temper his remarks with some caution. The 2015 budget, to be approved at the December Board of Supervisors meeting, is still a draft and can be changed. An annual budget workshop was held on November 13 which allowed residents the opportunity to sit down with township manager, staff and supervisors to discuss the proposed budget in greater detail, ask questions, etc.

I was unable to attend the budget workshop; however, Ray Clarke attended and contributes the following details from the November 13 meeting:

First, though, many thanks to Supervisors Heaberg and Wysocki, and staff Bill Martin, Joe DiRocco (especially) and Matt Baumann for their time and for a completely frank and straightforward discussion. Anyone with an interest in Township affairs should make a point to attend this meeting every year.

Operating Budget
– The 2014 surplus will be significantly higher than the $450,000 projected last week, due to additional permit revenue and transfer tax receipts beyond the earlier forecast. (Note that the surplus was not driven by a tax increase).
– In general, changes in state law in 2012 have meant that it is harder for commercial transfers to be structured to avoid the transfer tax
– 2014 permit revenue benefited from one-time large projects particularly at Vanguard. Although this revenue will not recur and other big projects such as Chesterbrook and Wayne Glen are moving at a modest pace, there is a good level of economy-driven construction activity in the Township that will keep residential and commercial permit revenue at a healthy, albeit lower, level in 2015.
– The result, then, with no property tax increase, will give 2015 budgeted revenue – before transfers – down half a million dollars or more to about $17.3 million. Expenses, though, will increase by $0.8 million of contractually driven compensation increases to a budgeted $18.2 million. The gap to be filled from $0.9 million of general fund reserves.
– Since that’s about the likely surplus this year, since there is the newly adopted reserve policy in place, and since reserves are by my estimate as much as $10 million over the target level of 30-35% of general fund expenditures, that does not seem too alarming. However, it’s not sustainable in the long run to fund cost increases from a declining fund balance, I estimate that contractually driven compensation costs will be increasing by half a million dollars a year. The Administration and BOS seem suitably alert to the need to manage this very carefully. In the Township’s favor, too, the current debt repayment schedule will have the township debt free by 2020, which will free up $2 million a year of principal and interest. (TESD, take notice!!)
– An important final point: the Township is now funding the post-employment benefits fund with $25,000 for each new officer. Assuming that and a regular commitment of $500,000 from the operating budget, we are getting closer to recognizing the true cost of employing a police officer for a year. As it is, in 2015 retiree health costs charged to the general fund are forecast to increase 14% to over $900,000.

Capital Budget
– This includes $1 million a year for road repaving. Here, the recent PA Transportation Bill is a huge benefit to the Township. $0.725 million (53%) of this year’s $1.375 million came from Township funds. In 2015, the Township will fund $0.3 million of the $1 million, in 2016 $0.2 million, in 2017 $0.1 million, and in 2018 $0.05 million. A cumulative four year saving to the Township of $1.35 million versus a 50/50 split. Our gas tax dollars at work saving property taxes!
– The 2015 budget includes $130,000 to “oversee/review/bid” a stormwater project in Crabby Creek and $60,000 for one stormwater basin retrofit. I completely agree with an impassioned plea to the meeting from Bill Bellew that it’s time to do more – or actually to do SOMETHING, since there seems to be no firm plan for any shovels in the ground on anything.

In general, it’s time for the Township to take recent surpluses and invest in tangible improvements that residents have asked for, and been promised, for years. Prudent management and fortunate circumstances have put the Township in a good position. Residents need to see some benefit.

Thanks Ray for your comments from the meeting. An interactive meeting between elected officials, township staff and taxpayers is refreshing. Seemingly, no questions were considered ‘off limits’ and thoughtful responses given.  Following up on the use of the budget surplus in the township — can we get the front steps of the township building adequately repaired.  Beyond the appearance, the uneven and cracked steps and walkway pose a safety hazard.

Keep Your Kids Safe – Tredyffrin Township Police Department conducts special meeting for parents Saturday, April 12, 10 AM

The Tredyffrin Township Police Department together with Justice4pakids is sponsoring an important meeting tomorrow at the Tredyffrin Township Building at 10 AM.  If you are a parent, plan on attending the meeting and earn how to better  protect your children from sexual abuse. The guest speaker attorney Elizabeth Pitts is the Associate Director of Investigations for Swarthmore College.  She was a Deputy District Attorney with the Chester County DA’s office for 20 years and supervised the County’s Child Abuse Unit for over a decade.

Justice4pakids is a coalition of advocates, survivors, legal and medical professionals and concerned citizens dedicated to bringing greater awareness regarding sexual abuse in children.  The local group  helps child sex abuse victims and has three main focus areas: improving statute of limitations laws, education through seminars and literature, and comforting victims by putting them in touch with professional organizations.

The purpose of tomorrow’s special seminar is to make families aware that “stranger danger awareness is not enough.”

Keep your kids safe

Tredyffrin Twp: Public Works Director Scott Cannon and Finance Director Tim Klarich are out and it’s only February!

Tredyffrin Board of Supervisors held a special board meeting on February 10 to terminate the employment of Public Works Director Scott Cannon.  Stating several acts of misperformance, including two instances of improper disposal of materials on Township property in addition to procurement procedure violations, the supervisors voted unanimously to dismiss Cannon, without public discussion or comment.

Two weeks to the day after the Public Works Director’s termination, the ominous “discussion of personnel action items” appears on the Board of Supervisors agenda. We learned last night that the township’s Finance Director Tim Klarich is the next one out the door.  Without explanation or discussion, the supervisors unanimously voted to accept the resignation of Klarich.

Although the public wasn’t privy to the details of Cannon’s termination, after only a couple of years in the job, I didn’t have a real sense of the pubic work director.  On the other hand, Tim Klarich was Tredyffrin Township Finance Director for nearly 4 years.  I found his analysis and preparation of the yearly township budget detailed and complete and his monthly financial updates to the board unfailingly thorough.  Two township department heads gone in two weeks, there was an  uneasiness with more questions than answers.

During the public comment period at the end of the meeting, I asked several questions and voice concern about Klarich’s abrupt departure from the township. When I received no response to my question as to when Klarich gave his resignation notice, I then asked ‘when’ his last day was.   Board of Supervisor chair Mike Heaberg referred my questions to the solicitor Vince Donohue, who stated that yesterday (Monday) was his last day. Donohue then stated that because it was a personnel matter, there would be no further information. It was obvious to those in the audience that there was more behind the departure of Cannon and then two weeks later Klarich than was publicly provided. I

Falling under the jurisdiction of ‘legal and personnel matters’, it is highly unlikely that we will ever know the details of Cannon or Klarich recent departures from the township. Less than two months in to the New Year and two department heads are already gone — What’s that saying from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Something is rotten in Denmark”?  Makes you wonder if there is more house cleaning ahead from the Board of Supervisors.

From the T/E School Board meeting also held last night came the unanimous vote to approve the teachers to approve the new 3-year contract.  Ray Clarke attended the TESD meeting and provides the following personal comments:

  • Dr. Waters actually lead the presentation of the TEEA contract.  A surprise since he rarely speaks.  He addressed many of the questions raised on CM, but with only occasional reference to the data on the slides so it was hard to follow, even for an experienced ear.
  • One of the ways that the impact is minimized is that the caps on column movement are lower than numbers assumed in the budget (but wouldn’t we have budgeted “status quo”?), and that difference is taken as “budgetary savings”
  • Also helping the overall budget is that (my estimates) there has been a redistribution of ~50 staff from the top level to the bottom levels through retirements and replacements.  Dr Waters provided total staff by level which will be handy for those wanting to sanity check the calculated impact.  No further “breakage” going forward is assumed in the impact assessment.
  • It sounded as though the one-time bonus was not included in the baseline numbers.
  • Note that the increased teacher contribution to healthcare premiums averages $74,000 per year – $160 per teacher.  We should not lose sight of the fact that taxpayers fund a very generous benefits package!
  • Outside the contract, I thought that the Committee Chairs gave richer summaries of their recent meetings than we have been used to.  Perhaps that’s wishful thinking, but to be encouraged!

Tredyffrin Township Supervisors fire their Public Works Director, Scott Cannon over Environmental Violations

Last Friday, in the midst of the winter storm power outage, I received a curious email from Tredyffrin Township notifying of a special Board of Supervisors meeting for Monday night. There was only one item listed on the special meeting agenda – ‘personnel matter’.

Rather than attend the scheduled T/E School District Finance meeting, I choose the BOS meeting.  Sitting in the back of Keene Hall was Scott Cannon, Public Works Director along with Hillary Mallory, Parks & Recreation Director and Mimi Gleason, former Township Manager.

After the pledge of allegiance and a brief update on the power outage, BOS Chair Mike Heaberg asked for a motion to terminate the employment of Scott Cannon, Director of Public Works.  John DiBuonaventuro made the motion, Mark Freed seconded it and with a unanimous vote of 6-0 the motion passed – Scott Cannon terminated.

Having only worked for the township for a little over 2 years, why was Scott Cannon terminated?  Following the vote to terminate Cannon’s employment, Heaberg read a prepared statement.

The recommendation for Cannon’s termination was from the township manager Bill Martin.  After an investigation, Martin based his recommendation to terminate Cannon on several acts of misperformance including:

  1. Cannon engaged in conduct and directed vendors and subordinates involving two instances of improper disposal of materials on Township property in a manner prohibited by PA environmental law. (The locations are not accessible by the public, have been identified by DEP, and cannot be identified until the investigation is completed).
  2. In the fourth quarter of 2013, Cannon engaged certain contractors to provide goods/services to the Township in violation of the procurement procedures. In every incident of impropriety, the work was performed at a cost that was appropriate.

Heaberg noted that the township’s existing internal controls and procedures revealed the irregularities and Martin learned of the environmental violations on January 24.  Martin immediately notified Heaberg.  Following meetings with Heaberg, Martin, township solicitor Vince Donohue and members of the Personnel Committee, Cannon was put on paid administrative leave on Monday, January 27.  On that same day, the Police Department conducted a personnel investigation and Donohue contacted DEP and reported environmental violations.  The township is committed to providing complete cooperation to the DEP Bureau of Investigation.

The township’s investigation by the Police Department is ongoing but sufficient information was provided to support Martin’s recommendation to terminate Cannon.  As the investigation developed, Martin suspended Cannon without pay effective February 3 and notified him that he would seek approval from BOS tonight to terminate his employment.

As follow-up to the environmental violations, the township has hired Sovereign Consulting to conduct testing of the affected areas with oversight from DEP.  Further investigation is being done by the DEP and the township police are working with the Chester County Detectives. Additional training is being provided to department heads and the township is reviewing policies and commissioning an internal audit.

As I sat there listening to Heaberg’s press release detailing Cannon’s firing, my minded drifted to the Harry Marrone township scandal in 2005.  Remember – Marrone was the township’s Finance Director and over a period of 3 years stole $75,000.  He was caught when it was discovered that he was using Township checks to pay the property taxes on his Jersey Shore house.  The investigation also revealed that a personal leave of absence taken by Marrone actually had him in the midwest in a Federal penitentiary serving time for tax invasion.  At the time Marrone was arrested, he had worked for the township for over 12 years and was 70 years old.  It should be noted that Marrone did make full restitution to the township.

Cannon’s situation is different – for restitution purposes, how do you put a price tag on environmental violations? I suppose if the DEP fined the Township, there could be a basis for a financial settlement between the Township and Cannon.  The Township hired Cannon in November 2011, when Mimi Gleason was township manager – to my knowledge, since her resignation from Tredyffrin Township, she has never attended a BOS meeting, until tonight.  Cannon was not represented at the BOS meeting by an attorney, did not make a public statement, nor did anyone his behalf.

Obviously, the township needs to immediately find another Public Works Director. This could not come at a worse time with severe winter storms, power outages, downed trees, closed roads and the recent sewer break in Valley Forge Park.  It is my understanding, that following Cannon’s suspension (and now termination) Dean Wilkins, Public Works Foreman is acting director of the department.  With the nor easterner and a foot of snow predicted for Thursday, Wilkins and the township’s public works employees have their work cut out for themselves.  I know that Dean and his guys are up for the challenge – thank you in advance from a grateful resident!

Improving Conditions in Tredyffrin Township — Power Returning to Many Households!

What’s the saying, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” – the same could be say about restoring power to Tredyffrin Township and its surrounding areas.  Downed power lines and toppled trees left many roads impassable and neighborhoods with dangerous conditions. Winter Storm Nika is PECO’s second worst in their history in terms of power loss, exceeded only by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.  However, as the third day without power ends for many residents, there are improving conditions to report.

Friday evening, I received a phone call from Tredyffrin Township Police Supt. Giaimo offering some updates:

  • Tredyffrin Township now has a crew of 75 PECO trucks, each with 2 employees, dedicated to our township and focused on completing the restoration of all power to residents.
  • The repairs on the main sewer break at Rts 252 & 23 in Valley Forge National Historic Park are progressing and the township’s Public Works and Engineering Departments are moving quickly to resolve the problem.
  • Tredyffrin Township building is open as a warming and charging station.  Although the website states the building is open until midnight, the township building will be open through the night, Saturday and Sunday, if needed.  Coffee and tea is available.
  • Supt. Giaimo strongly urged residents to check on their elderly neighbors.  If you are without power and need a place to stay, the police have an updated list of available local hotels.  They are also arranging for transportation to West Chester shelters, either by buses or in some cases, the police are driving the residents. Residents are encouraged to utilize the resources available at the township building.
  • Much improvement has been made on the road closures with many re-opened today.

Supt. Giaimo assured me that many in the Police Department “have been working around the clock to keep people as safe as possible”.

I have been in contact with Township Manager Bill Martin.  Just as the police chief, the township manager is also working very long hours but wanted me to know that “the hard work is done by all the staff – public works, police and support staff. They work above and beyond anything I have seen in all my years of public service, they care so much about what they do and the residents.”

The hope is that most of Tredyffrin Township should have their power restored by Saturday night – although it may be Sunday for some of the outlining areas.

People are reporting repair crews have arrived from all over the US –Ohio, Illinois, Alabama, Florida, North and South Carolina, Connecticut, Massachusetts and even crews from Canada!  It was interesting to hear a PECO representative say that they usually don’t receive a high volume complaints in a power outage until about the 72 hour mark but that this time the complaints started at less than 24 hours into the outage.  However, unlike the August storm of Hurricane Sandy, residents are dealing with below-zero temperatures during Winter Storm Nika.

Although I think that PECO could have moved quicker to organize following the power outage and PennDOT did not do its best at handling snow and ice covered roads, I have the highest praise for our home team in Tredyffrin – Supt. Giaimo and the Police Department and Township Manager Bill Martin and his support staff, public works and engineering staff.  In addition, we thank the Berwyn Fire Company Chief Eamon Brazunas and his staff of volunteer fire fighters and Chief Ira Dutter and the volunteers of Paoli Fire Company.   Many of these folks are exhausted having worked long hours, and in many cases leaving their own families and houses with similar power outages to help us – the residents of Tredyffrin – and deserve our appreciation and gratitude!

Preserving History Matters: Watershed Moment for Tredyffrin Township, Chester County

With the recent demolition of the Ann Pugh Farm and as  president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, chair of the Annual Historic House Tour and owner of one of the oldest houses in the township, I feel a responsibility to speak out on the state of historic preservation in Tredyffrin Township .  

After a review of the history  of preservation  in Tredyffrin and the demolition requirements, the following editorial was written and appears in this week’s Main Line Suburban newspaper and and online.  As I say in the article, the people who purchased the 250-year old Ann Pugh house and then immediately demolished it did not break any laws.  There were no ordinances in Tredyffrin Township to protect the 18th century house and there are no ordinances to protect the other 350+ historic properties in this community from a similar fate.

Pugh Road House

Pugh Road Farm House front

Preserving History Matters: Watershed Moment for Tredyffrin Township

Historic buildings play a special role in creating the distinctive character of each community. Historic preservation is about protecting, promoting, and using historic places. It is also about the power of place, places that matter because they help tell the story of our community, of who we are and where we come from. As suburban sprawl and roadside development make more and more places look the same, it becomes important for communities to keep their identities intact.

In January, we mourned the loss of the 18th century Ann Pugh house on Pugh Road in Wayne.  The demolition of this beautifully restored historic treasure illustrates the plight of America’s old homes.  Historic homes are on demolition lists all over America but many of us hoped that it would never happen in Tredyffrin. As president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust, whose mission is to “preserve and protect historic and cultural resources in Tredyffrin Township”, chair of the Annual Historic House Tour and owner of one of the oldest houses in the Township, I feel it is my duty to speak out.

Typically, historic houses that have been badly neglected over the years, and are in such a state of disrepair that they are considered eyesores, are the ones targeted for demolition. However, the Ann Pugh house was neither neglected or in a state of disrepair. The stunning Georgian stone farmhouse on Pugh Road with its manicured landscaping and guest barn, springhouse and swimming pool had been meticulously restored and maintained.  The real estate company described the Ann Pugh Farm as the “quintessential Pennsylvania farmhouse – a Main Line Classic”, a family home with five bedrooms, four bathrooms and five fireplaces.

The 2.2-acre property was sold on December 12, 2013 for $1.4 million; a demolition application followed two weeks later. According to township staff, the demolition application was approved within 48 hours of its submission with no notification to adjourning property owners required.  Aside from the fact that the house demolished was historic, I found the lack of notification to neighbors concerning, especially given its location next to New Eagle Elementary School.

Mindful of private property rights, what can the township do, and what should it do (if anything) through its zoning and land use ordinances to stop the demolition of historic buildings? The issue of historic building regulation, and land use regulations, versus the rights of individual property owners has seen much debate over the years in Tredyffrin with little agreement.

Although preservation issues facing Tredyffrin Township are similar to those faced by other communities, it is interesting that municipalities like Willistown, Lower Merion and Radnor have managed to balance the rights of individual property owners with the protection of historic properties.  For instance, in Lower Merion, a demolition permit for a property on their Historic Resource Inventory list requires the recommendation of their Historic Commission plus approval from the Board of Commissioners.  The demolition process requires similar review in Willistown and Radnor townships. No such requirement for review of demolition applications exists in Tredyffrin Township.  No ordinance protects the demolition of any historic building nor does a demolition permit require the review of any township board or commission or the approval of the Board of Supervisors.

Since its founding by Welsh settlers in 1707, Tredyffrin Township has enjoyed a rich inventory of historic resources. In the 1960’s Tredyffrin Township was the first municipality in Pennsylvania to establish a Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) and they had authority over a Historic Site List of 29 historic properties. Unlike the conventional historic society, the HARB is a regulatory body with the legal authority to recommend approval to the Board of Supervisors for building permit applications that involved the reconstruction, alteration or demolition of these 29 properties.  Some of the historic properties on the list included the one-room Diamond Rock Octagonal School, Old Eagle School, Great Valley Mill, Wharton Esherick Museum, Baptist Church in the Great Valley, Lee & Bradford Quarters (Picket Post Swim Club), Van Leer Cabin next to Conestoga HS, Strafford Train Station)

In 2003, an award-winning Historic Resource Survey, recognized by the Pennsylvania Historic Museum Commission, was completed for the Township. The study provided a detailed inventory of 356 important historic resources in the Township.  A database and Geographical Information System (GIS) were included to link the historic resources to the Township’s existing GIS tax parcel data.

The survey listed and classified historic properties into three categories – Class I, Class II, and Class III.  The recently demolished Ann Pugh house was listed as a Class II property in the Township survey with an additional recommendation for potential listing on the National Register of Historic Places. As an aside, National Historic Register properties are not protected from demolition in Tredyffrin Township. The Federal government recognizes historically and architecturally important properties but leaves their regulation to local municipal government.

After the completion of the Historic Resource Survey in 2003 and the updated Comprehensive Plan and Historic Preservation Plan in 2009, there was discussion about adding historic properties to the list of 29 protected properties. It was determined that the easiest way to add to the list would be to replace the HARB with a Historical Commission which occurred in June 2011.  Unfortunately, a list of protected properties in Tredyffrin Township no longer exists and the protection for the original 29 properties is gone.

Over a decade ago, Tredyffrin Township’s elected officials acknowledged the importance of our historic buildings, hired a consulting company to catalogue, and document them for the Historic Resource Survey. However, other than receiving accolades from Harrisburg … nothing further was done with the survey results.  If the Township had used the Historic Resource Survey as a tool to protect historic properties, the Ann Pugh house would probably still be standing.

Tredyffrin Township is always mentioned when discussing Philadelphia’s Main Line historic suburbs. In fact, the Township has the distinction of the highest number of historic properties of all municipalities in Chester County. Seven years ago, the Township celebrated its first three hundred years of history (Tredyffrin 300), the same year that it received Preserve America designation for “protecting and celebrating its heritage”.

For historic preservationists, the destruction of any historic property is difficult but is compounded when it occurs in your own backyard.  What makes Tredyffrin Township truly unique is its rich architectural heritage:  the old homes and buildings that tell the story of the community’s past, that continue to bring pleasure in the present, and will, if properly cared for, inform and inspire the future.

To be clear, the people who purchased the 250-year old Ann Pugh house and then immediately demolished it did not break any laws.  There were no ordinances in Tredyffrin Township to protect the 18th century house and there are no ordinances to protect the other 350+ historic properties in this community from a similar fate.

For historic preservation to matter, and for our local history to be meaningful, it needs to be supported. A watershed moment for historic preservation in Tredyffrin Township, will the loss of the Ann Pugh house serve as the needed impetus for change.  Or, will it send the message that Tredyffrin Township values individual property rights and development at all costs and allow the destruction of our historic buildings to continue.

We understand that change will occur as the future unfolds, but this does not have to happen at the expense of our community’s historic properties. A community that respects its history respects itself.

Pattye Benson
President, Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust
Chair, Annual Historic House Tour

Ann Pugh Farm … an 18th century Tredyffrin Township historic treasure lost to demolition

Pugh Road House

Demolition of Ann Pugh farmhouse

For historic preservationists, the destruction of any historic property is difficult but is compounded when it occurs in your own backyard.  What makes Tredyffrin Township truly unique is its rich architectural heritage:  the old homes and buildings that tell the story of the community’s past, that continue to bring pleasure in the present, and will, if properly cared for, inform and inspire the future.

In 2003, Tredyffrin Township’s Historic Architectural Review Board (HARB) undertook what would become an extensive award-winning architectural survey, identifying more than 350 historic resources in the township.  As a member of HARB, I was involved in the review and cataloging of the township’s historic buildings for this project.

According to this historic resource survey, the William Pugh Farm (also called Ann Pugh Farm and A. Glass Farm) received a historic survey Class II structure rating.  The primary architectural style was listed as Georgian and identified the structural system as stone with shake roof.  In the report on the Pugh farmhouse, the surveyor comments include, “recommendation for potential individual listing on the National Register of Historic Places”.

The township’s historic survey description of the property states that the original owner, William C. Pugh, made iron augers in his blacksmith shop at this farm in 1873 and is responsible for the road’s name.  A 1980 survey date suggests that the Pugh farmhouse lists a date of 1750 for the first section and 1830 for the later wing.  This date associates with the date stone of the springhouse of 1832 and that of the barn showing 1839 (see photos below).  According to the historic survey records, “the blacksmith shop was extant in 1980 close to the road, but appears to have been demolished.  Pugh’s property was sold by 1883 to A. Glass, who held 20 acres in 1887.  The complex is distinctive as a combined farmstead with a farmer blacksmith shop and barn.”

When completed, Tredyffrin Township’s award-winning historic resource survey received statewide attention with the 2007 Preservation Award from Preservation Pennsylvania.  At the December 2004 Board of Supervisors meeting, former State Representative Carole Rubley presented the Government Initiative Award on behalf of the Commonwealth to Jim Garrison, who was the Chairman of the Historical Architectural Review Board at that time.  In the minutes of that BOS meeting, Rubley stated that the survey “will be a planning tool for preservation practices in the Township. Mrs. Rubley congratulated the HARB for this great honor, and said it made her proud of the Township.”  A longtime supporter of historic preservation in Tredyffrin Township, I don’t know that the demolition of the 18th century Ann Pugh Farm would make her proud.

In 2009, the township staff, representatives of the Planning Commission and HARB and members of the community took on the arduous task of updating the Comprehensive Plan & Historic Preservation Plan. At that time, I was a member of HARB and served on the citizens committee that helped create the revised planning tool.

In the description of purpose for the Historic Preservation Plan, the document states, “…the Township recognizes the importance of its existing historic resources and the role they play in contributing to the Township’s character. The Historic Preservation Plan will assist the Township and its residents in appreciating the importance of preserving and protecting historic resources.”

Given the township’s stated support of historic preservation, then I must believe that something went terribly wrong regarding the Ann Pugh Farm, insofar as there were no red flags raised before granting the demolition permit on this property.  According to Bill Martin, the township manager, the permit was applied for and reviewed by township staff.  In an email he stated, “Unless the home is protected, the code department has no ability to deny or delay these applications.” 

The township has the  historic resource survey book that documents, by street address, the 350+ historic properties, with descriptions and photographs.  When the township staff receives a demolition permit request, it would only take a couple of minutes to check whether the property is included in the historic resource survey.  The property was only purchased last month, how is it possible that a demolition permit can go through the township in less than 30 days?  It’s too late to make a difference for the 18th century Pugh Road house but going forward, something needs to change.

Unless the process changes regarding notification of demolition applications, there’s nothing to keep this from happening over and over. Although I am no longer a member of the Historic Commission, I continue to serve as the president of Tredyffrin Historic Preservation Trust and chair of the Annual Historic House Tour.   I was disheartened to read on that township website that starting in 2014,  the Historic Commission is no longer holding monthly meetings but has instead decreased its meeting schedule to quarterly. And unfortunately, the township no longer has a HARB which may have helped protect this historic property from demolition.

For historic preservation to matter, and for our local history to be meaningful, it needs to be supported.

In 2007, I had the pleasure of co-chairing the township’s Tredyffrin 300 celebration with my friend Judy DiFilippo.  The community came together that year to celebrate our three hundred years of history.  Our history was important when the township was founded in 1707, it was important when we celebrated the 300th year of its founding in 2007, and …  its history and its historic resources should be important to preserve in 2014.   

In the words of early preservationist William Morris, “These old buildings do not belong to us only, they belong to our forefathers and they will belong to our descendants unless we play them false. They are not in any sense our own property to do with as we like with them. We are only trustees for those that come after us.”   

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Remembering the Ann Pugh Farm, circa 1792 with a few photos — a loss of an 18th century historic treasure

Pugh Road Farm House front

  Ann Pugh Farmhouse, circa 1792

Ann Pugh Farm Barn and Swimming Pool

Barn and swimming pool

Barn date stone

Barn date stone

Great room of guest barn

Great room of guest barn

Beautiful 18th c dining room

Beautiful 18th c dining room

Pugh farmhouse kitchen

Pugh farmhouse kitchen

Living room at Ann Pugh farmhouse

Living room at Ann Pugh farmhouse

Ann Pugh farmhouse bedroom

Ann Pugh farmhouse bedroom

 

 

 

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