Guest Column: In Media, time to focus on "Everyone's Backyard"
This guest column from Keep Media Green was published in the Delaware County Daily Times on May 7, 2019. Read it on the Daily Times site or below.
When Abbie Wysor, a long-time Media resident, delivered more than 550 petition signatures from fellow residents to Media Borough Council at their April meeting, a standing-room-only crowd erupted into thunderous applause. The petition, signed by residents from every neighborhood in Media, called on borough council to rezone the 12-acre Broomall’s tract, located immediately adjacent to Glen Providence Park in western Media, from Residential to Recreational (technically MERC - Municipal, Educational, Recreational and Community).
Why had so many passionate residents packed the borough council meeting and why had hundreds of residents from every part of Media signed a petition to rezone a tract of land on the western edge of town?
The simple answer is that most residents in Media are adamantly opposed to any housing development destroying the last significant tract of unprotected, open, green space in the borough. Rezoning the Broomall’s tract from Residential, which allows for housing development, to Recreational, which would allow for current use as a private recreational facility but not for housing development, is the first line of defense.
The residents’ fear of a housing development on the Broomall’s tract is not based on conjecture. The threat manifested on December 7, 2017, when an attorney for Broomall’s Lake Country Club (BLCC), the non-profit, tax-exempt organization that owns the 12 acres, submitted a plan to the Media Zoning Hearing Board to construct 16 single-family twin houses on the tract.
Fortunately, Media Borough Council was prescient and passed an ordinance that instructed their borough solicitor to prepare legislation to rezone the Broomall’s tract from Residential to Recreational (MERC). Under Pennsylvania’s pending ordinance doctrine, the council’s action in September 2017 temporarily changed the tract’s zoning from Residential to Recreational (MERC), thereby prohibiting any housing construction.
The Country Club’s leaders, in response to council’s action to rezone the tract, entered into talks with borough council in the winter of 2018. The two sides engaged in a series of discussions about how to preserve the tract’s open space while also ensuring the financial viability of Broomall’s Lake Country Club. One option that was explored was the purchase of a “conservation easement” by the borough. A conversation easement would have resulted in the borough paying the club a negotiated amount of money in exchange for a legal agreement to preserve the land as open, green space. This represented a “win-win” solution for the club, the borough and residents.
However, on May 9, 2018, the leaders of Broomall’s Lake Country Club ended negotiations and surprised borough council by filing a lawsuit in federal court claiming the borough’s MERC ordinance violated their constitutional rights.
The country club’s litigation strategy seemed to backfire on December 10, 2018, when Judge Harvey Bartle III of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania dismissed all counts in the legal complaint that the club had filed against Media Borough Council and individual council members. Judge Bartle’s ruling was a decisive legal victory for Media Borough.
In the aftermath of Judge Bartle’s decision, the path seemed cleared for rezoning the Broomall’s tract. However, Media’s open space advocates were shocked – and dismayed – when borough council President Brian Hall announced at the January 2019 council meeting that a deal had been cut with the country club. The terms of the deal called for borough council to rescind the MERC ordinance in exchange for a binding agreement that the club would not appeal Judge Bartle’s decision in federal court or litigate the matter in state court. Following a truncated public discussion, the members of borough council voted unanimously to rescind the MERC ordinance. Once that motion passed, the Broomall’s tract was once again zoned as residential and the way was opened for housing development.
Shortly after borough council rescinded the MERC ordinance, the country club withdrew its housing plan from consideration by the Media Zoning Hearing Board. While this may reassure some, it is actually a tactical advantage for housing development because the original plan to build had been submitted under the restriction of the MERC zoning ordinance. Any future plan to build will be considered under a residential zoning designation. The threat of a housing development on the Broomall’s tract is greater now than at any time since September of 2017.
After engaging an attorney to review the borough’s legal stipulation with the country club and determining there was no prohibition on council passing a new MERC ordinance in the future, Media’s open space advocates decided to form Keep Media Green, a new non-profit organization. Then, we launched a petition drive calling on borough council to rezone the Broomall’s tract from residential to recreation (MERC).
After council received the petition with 550 signatures and heard from more than a dozen supporters of Keep Media Green, Councilperson Peter Williamson presented a proposal at the April Council meeting to hire a land-use professional to facilitate a public process for creating an Open Space Plan for Media. His motion passed with unanimous approval by council. In response to a question from the audience, Councilperson Williamson stated that the status of the Broomall’s tract would definitely be considered during the open space planning meetings and that the public would be invited to participate in the process.
Keep Media Green is supporting council’s initiative for creating an Open Space Plan and has invited Councilperson Williamson to present at our May 14 meeting.
Those of us who gathered signatures for the Keep Media Green petition repeatedly heard Media residents express concerns that the pace and scale of development in “Everyone’s Hometown” is changing the character of our small town. Specifically, residents want their elected officials to be boldly proactive in stopping any housing development on the 12-acre Broomall’s tract immediately adjacent to Glen Providence Park. They recognize that the park and Broomall’s tract form a 45-acre green space that must be preserved. For the people of Everyone’s Hometown, the western woods of Media are “Everyone’s Backyard.”
Terry Rumsey and Robin Lasersohn are co-coordinators of Keep Media Green.