Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Things are heating up at the courthouse

A fire in the underground parking garage shut down the county courthouse yesterday.

Things might get pretty heated at today's County Council meeting as well.

All of this stems from the push to preserve 213 acres of pristine open space that for decades was the home of the Don Guanella School off Sproul Road in Marple.

Anyone who has spent any time on Route 320 knows it's one of the most heavily traveled routes in the county. There is not a lot of open space left in the center of the county. It's also undeniable that the thought of adding hundreds of new homes, along with retail establishments, restaurants and even a Wegmans, along with all the cars that go along with it, will not help that esthetic all that much.

Nobody, except maybe Bruce Goodman, likes the idea of paving paradise.

Goodman had a deal to buy the parcel from the Archdiocese of Philadelphia for $47 million. But his efforts to build Cardinal Crossing hit several speedbumps, rejected both by the county planners and Marple commissioners. Goodman revised his plan, scaling back the density of the development, and adding open space and field for township youth athletic programs. He still got thumb's down. That's when the archdiocese pulled the plug on their deal. They now are vowing to put the tract back on the market and seek a new buyer. Local groups, such as Save Marple Greenspace, don't want that to happen. They're pushing County Council to place a referendum on the November ballot asking voters if they would support the county floating a bond to buy the tract.

They held a rally outside the courthouse Monday and are expected to make their case to council at this morning's weekly meeting. They may not like what they hear.

Council is not all that thrilled about the idea of a bond issue.

This week they put out a 10-page white paper to dispel the notion that the county has lagged when it comes to acquiring and protecting open space.

But make not mistake. This is going to come down to dollars and cents. Council maintains that a bond issue to buy the Don Guanella tract would translate to a 4 percent tax on property owners every year for 20 years. The activists dispute those figures.

Another argument used to throw cold water on a bond issue to acquire open space is the belief that not everyone in the county would necessarily benefit from it. Again, there are arguments that can be made on both sides of this issue.

Count Glenolden Council President Tom Danzi in the camp opposing a bond issue. He makes the case that many of the inner-ring suburbs in the eastern part of the county are already tapped out when it comes to taxes. His school district, Interboro, just hiked taxes and cut jobs in the budget they adopted a few weeks back.

"As a diverse community we range across the spectrum from young families who are just starting as new home owners to senior citizens who have lived and raised families in the same house over several decades ... To put it frankly, Glenolden residents simply cannot afford any additional taxes."

Like I said, it should be an interesting day at the courthouse, and in county council's meeting.

We'll be there to bring you the updates.

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