Northeast Times

Grassroots protest

— In Park­wood Man­or, neigh­bors de­cry the loss of woods be­hind their homes to a park­ing lot. But a tour bus op­er­at­or says he did everything 'by the book.'

Joe Bren­nan, a res­id­ent on Chilton Road, shows the area in the woods be­hind his house, which is be­ing torn down to ex­pand a charter bus buisi­ness in Park­wood. Bren­nan says that he, along with his neigh­bors, has con­tac­ted loc­al rep­res­ent­at­ives to get an­sweres, but no one will re­spond to them, Thursday, Au­gust 16, 2012, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Start­Frag­ment

The im­ages on Park­wood res­id­ent Joe Bren­nan’s pol­ished home video might in­duce a sen­ti­ment­al tear — even from the most ar­dent in­dus­tri­al­ist.

A fluffy brown bunny rab­bit nibbles on a dan­deli­on as it peeks through tall blades of grass; a crys­tal clear brook trickles over silky smooth stones; and an iri­des­cent dragon­fly perches atop a fallen twig.

All of that wooded splendor and more lay just a few hun­dred yards be­hind Bren­nan’s back porch. Yet, he and many of his neigh­bors be­lieve it could all be des­troyed if a loc­al tour bus com­pany ex­pands its park­ing lot in­to a par­cel of un­developed brush and woods formerly owned by the city.

Early this month, Bren­nan pro­duced his pro­fes­sion­al-look­ing video about this per­ceived in­va­sion of park­land and pos­ted it on You­Tube. Since then, the six-minute film has garnered more than 3,300 views and launched a grass­roots cam­paign to stop Dav­id Tours from pav­ing over what neigh­bors call the “Park­wood Man­or Woods.”

Prob­lem is, the land isn’t pub­lic prop­erty any­more and was ear­marked for in­dus­tri­al de­vel­op­ment more than nine years ago, al­though Bren­nan and dozens of his neigh­bors say they were kept in the dark about its fu­ture un­til two bull­dozers showed up in early Au­gust to clear out trees and un­der­brush.

“I re­turned from va­ca­tion to find out [the fo­liage] was all ripped out. I took a look at it and was ap­palled,” Bren­nan said. “I cre­ated the video to show how pas­sion­ately I feel about this area, and on top of that, to show the people what’s go­ing on in their neigh­bor­hood since they’re not aware of it and can­not see it from [bey­ond] im­me­di­ate dis­tance.”

Around the same time, some­body set fire to the two bull­dozers, ren­der­ing them in­op­er­able for weeks. Au­thor­it­ies have ruled the Aug. 3 blaze ar­son. They have made no ar­rests and named no sus­pects.

Ac­cord­ing to neigh­bors, work re­sumed on the site last week.

The 2.94-acre par­cel in ques­tion, at 14003 McN­ulty Road, is part of the By­berry East In­dus­tri­al Park and situ­ated be­hind the ex­ist­ing Dav­id Tours headquar­ters. The bus com­pany bought the ad­di­tion­al land from the Phil­adelphia In­dus­tri­al De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion on June 11 for $120,000, ac­cord­ing to prop­erty tax re­cords.

The sale cul­min­ated a dec­ade-long pro­cess that in­volved a land swap between PIDC and the city’s former Fair­mount Park Com­mis­sion, a series of pub­lic hear­ings and ex­tens­ive en­vir­on­ment­al stud­ies by the Phil­adelphia Wa­ter De­part­ment.

“We did everything by the book. It just took a long time,” said Dav­id Be­ne­dict, own­er of Dav­id Tours.

Be­ne­dict foun­ded the bus com­pany in 1980. It now has 75 em­ploy­ees and parks about 50 buses on McN­ulty Road, the own­er said. The com­pany bought its cur­rent headquar­ters in 2000.

PIDC — a non-profit joint ven­ture of the City of Phil­adelphia and the Great­er Phil­adelphia Cham­ber of Com­merce — cre­ated the in­dus­tri­al park in the 1980s on land formerly oc­cu­pied by a state men­tal in­sti­tu­tion and a city pris­on farm. The ori­gin­al plan in­cluded an agree­ment with neigh­bors es­tab­lish­ing a 300-foot buf­fer zone from the nearest res­id­en­tial prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing those along Wyn­dom and Chilton roads, where Bren­nan and many oth­er op­pon­ents of the bus com­pany ex­pan­sion live.

Ori­gin­ally, the Fair­mount Park Com­mis­sion took pos­ses­sion of the buf­fer area and chose to main­tain it as “pass­ive” green space, al­low­ing trees and brush to grow nat­ur­ally without trim­ming or oth­er in­ter­ven­tion.

In time, however, neigh­bors began to use the buf­fer zone and ad­ja­cent, un­developed in­dus­tri­al prop­erty as a re­cre­ation area. They routinely mowed a large field and walk­ing paths through the acres of un­der­brush and trees.

Bren­nan, 44, de­scribes in his video how he and oth­er neigh­bor­hood kids years ago built “tree forts” and carved their names on the trees, and how they caught cray­fish in a nearby stream, known as Black Lake Run.

“The Park­wood woods have al­ways stayed con­stant and have im­proved,” he said in the film. “We main­tain the field be­hind our houses. We even main­tain the paths through the brush so people can walk their dogs and en­joy the nat­ur­al sights.”

That was the status quo even through 2010, when the com­mis­sion, an in­de­pend­ent pub­lic agency, dis­solved and the city ad­min­is­tra­tion ab­sorbed its func­tions un­der the newly formed De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation, in­clud­ing over­sight of all city-owned parks.

Mean­while, the By­berry East In­dus­tri­al Park changed drastic­ally. Over the years, PIDC sold off most of the in­dus­tri­al land to busi­nesses, but found it­self stuck with a few par­cels deemed by pro­spect­ive buy­ers as less de­sir­able be­cause of their odd con­fig­ur­a­tions or poor street ac­cess.

The lot at 14003 McN­ulty Road was one of those un­wanted par­cels.

About a dec­ade ago, Be­ne­dict told PIDC he wanted to ex­pand his bus com­pany. The agency offered to sell him an un­developed in­dus­tri­al par­cel to the east of the bus com­pany, but that site slopes in­to Black Lake Run, which in turn flows in­to Poquess­ing Creek.

Be­ne­dict pre­ferred the 14003 lot, con­di­tion­al upon some modi­fic­a­tions to its ir­reg­u­lar shape.

“[Be­ne­dict] wanted to see if we could square his lot off in­to a rect­an­gu­lar shape, so we met with Fair­mount Park [Com­mis­sion]. We said we had some prop­erty in the area and asked if they would en­ter­tain a swap,” said Tom Dalfo, vice pres­id­ent for real es­tate ser­vices of PIDC.

In the end, PIDC gave 3.24 acres to the park sys­tem, in­clud­ing the slope and nat­ur­al wa­ter­way. PIDC got 1.21 acres of park­land that it ul­ti­mately con­sol­id­ated with the ex­ist­ing in­dus­tri­al land and sold to Be­ne­dict’s com­pany.

“We nev­er, ever get in­volved in ne­go­ti­ations with land swaps where we don’t end up on the plus side,” said Barry Bessler, the chief of staff for parks and fa­cil­it­ies at the city’s De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation.

The City Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, the Fair­mont Park Com­mis­sion and City Coun­cil all held pub­lic hear­ings about the swap in 2003 and ap­proved it, ac­cord­ing to Coun­cil­man Bri­an O’Neill, whose dis­trict in­cludes the in­dus­tri­al park and the neigh­bor­hood.

Ac­cord­ing to Rob Arm­strong, the pre­ser­va­tion and cap­it­al pro­jects man­ager for the De­part­ment of Parks and Re­cre­ation, the city will use the former in­dus­tri­al prop­erty to build a trail that will con­nect sev­er­al pub­lic parks and re­cre­ation fa­cil­it­ies in the area.

By this time next year, con­struc­tion should be un­der way on a 12-foot-wide paved multi-use trail con­nect­ing the newly ac­quired park­land with the city-owned Jun­od Play­ground; the 32-acre, city-owned Poquess­ing Creek Park; and the 275-acre Ben­jamin Rush State Park. It will be open to hikers, jog­gers, bi­cyc­lists and eques­tri­ans and will cost about $600,000 to build, Arm­strong said.

As part of Be­ne­dict’s deal, he has agreed to in­stall a wa­ter re­ten­tion and fil­tra­tion basin be­low the new park­ing lot and has hired an en­vir­on­ment­al firm to cre­ate and main­tain wet­lands ad­ja­cent to the tour bus lot. The com­pany will also pay for cre­ation of a four- to six-foot high berm at the rear of the new park­ing area to shield it from view.

Mean­while, the Dav­id Tours ex­pan­sion will not in­fringe upon the 300-foot buf­fer and will be about 400 feet from the nearest homes, PIDC’s Dalfo said. Be­ne­dict told res­id­ents at a pub­lic meet­ing yes­ter­day that the lot will be about 600 feet from the nearest homes.

However, by all ac­counts, the lot will bring the buses closer to homes than ever be­fore. And that has neigh­bors wor­ried.

Be­ne­dict says the new park­ing lot will be able to ac­com­mod­ate about 60 buses and will al­low him to re­lieve con­ges­tion around the main­ten­ance fa­cil­ity on his ex­ist­ing lot. He said he gen­er­ally adds a few buses and sev­er­al em­ploy­ees to his op­er­a­tion each year.

“If this goes through, what hap­pens next? Are they go­ing to take an­oth­er one hun­dred feet and be right up to our back­yards?” said neigh­bor Ray Kampf.

Bren­nan’s video item­izes many of the neigh­bors’ con­cerns. They’re wor­ried that the buses will leak fuel, oil or oth­er flu­ids in­to the soil and nearby streams. The buses may bring more dies­el ex­haust and noise pol­lu­tion to the air, too.

The film­maker also warned of, “the pos­sible van­dal­ism that’s go­ing to come to our neigh­bor­hood.”

Con­sid­er­ing the bull­dozer fire and oth­er less­er acts of van­dal­ism re­cently, Be­ne­dict also has heightened con­cerns about se­cur­ity.

“It’s our re­spons­ib­il­ity to pro­tect the buses from any kind of ter­ror­ist­ic threat,” he said.

He doesn’t think the re­cent van­dal­ism was mere co­in­cid­ence, blam­ing it on “a few se­lect people who are try­ing to take it upon them­selves to see that the pro­ject doesn’t move for­ward.”

Bren­nan, Kampf and oth­er neigh­bors like Lisa George and Jack Ma­son say they know little about the van­dal­ism, but they con­tin­ue to op­pose the bus com­pany’s ex­pan­sion through le­git­im­ate means. George au­thored an on­line pe­ti­tion that had at­trac­ted 790 di­git­al sig­na­tures as of Fri­day.

About 80 neigh­bor­hood res­id­ents met with the tour bus op­er­at­or and city of­fi­cials yes­ter­day af­ter­noon to learn more about the pro­ject and call for re­con­sid­er­a­tion, al­though all gov­ern­ment ap­provals and re­quire­ments have already been met.

Be­ne­dict offered to dis­cuss pos­sible modi­fic­a­tions of the wet­lands plan and oth­er land­scape changes. But com­munity sen­ti­ment re­mained largely op­posed to the en­tire ex­pan­sion pro­ject.

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

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