On Thursday, April 7, Kennett Square endured another downpour, but it ended appropriately with a rainbow, noted Mary Hutchins, executive director of Historic Kennett Square.
Hutchins made the observation at the beginning of a workshop in the American Legion building, part of the Kennett region’s economic development strategy and implementation plan. Organizers are hoping that the project will bring a bright and welcome change to the region.
On Feb. 11, Todd Poole of 4Ward Planning and Mark Keener of RBA Group, the consultants, gave a public presentation and overview of plans for the community’s future development. They were hired last year by Historic Kennett Square, the Borough of Kennett Square, Kennett Township, Chester County, Genesis HealthCare and Longwood Gardens to help set the course for Kennett’s growth.
Thursday’s program began with remarks from Paul Redman, executive director of Longwood Gardens – and a huge proponent of advance planning. He said the gardens subscribe to the “measure twice and cut once” philosophy. Changes at Longwood, which is approaching 1.5 million visitors a year, don’t occur without a lot of deliberation, he explained.
Redman said Longwood has “north of 500 employees,” the majority of whom are part-time and seasonal. With an absence of mass transit, Longwood could use more affordable area housing, a need that was echoed at the Feb. 11 gathering.
At Thursday’s meeting, Poole and Keener reminded residents that seven geographic areas had been identified as “susceptible to change:” the State Street corridor; the Cypress Street corridor; Birch Street from Walnut to Broad streets; the area known as Millers Hill, on the eastern border between the borough and the township; the Ways Lane area in Kennett Township; the former NVF property, a nearly 24-acre vacant industrial site in the borough; and the area on the west side of Mill Road in the township.
The bulk of the workshop gave the approximately 100 participants, seated at eight-person tables, the opportunity to share their thoughts with the smaller group on each of the seven areas. A table leader served as recording secretary, jotting down notes on suggested changes and improvements for each of the geographic locations.
At the end of the small-group exercise, Poole solicited an overview from the groups about the targeted areas, eliciting nearly a dozen lively comments.
Kennett Square Borough Councilman Wayne Braffman said his group envisioned Birch Street as a cultural and arts center with 50 percent residential and a themed main street. Architect Dennis Melton suggested that the Creamery building could become the largest banquet hall in the area.
John Haedrich, a member of the Kennett Township Planning Commission, said Millers Hill represented an opportunity to create a lushly landscaped gateway for visitors heading toward the borough from Longwood Gardens.
Kennett Township Supervisor Richard L. Leff said his table felt that Ways Lane needed to become more of a corporate campus with light industrial, and Kennett resident Michael Guttman noted that Cypress Street offered a logical place for a parallel “main street,” a mix of residential and commercial that would encourage filling in the side streets.
But for thinking outside the box, there’s nothing quite like a 10-year-old. Mia Fragale, seated next to her 7-year-old sister, Emilie, and her mother, Monica, offered two creative suggestions. She would like to see a roller-skating rink on the NVF site and a radio or TV station on Millers Hill. “People should go rollerskating,” she added.
Mark Keener, the director of urban design for the RBA Group and one of the organizers, said he did not need to review the documentation that was amassed during the evening to deem the workshop a success.
“You saw a level of animation and engagement,” he said. “That doesn’t always happen, and it bodes well for the project.”
Indeed, many of the conversations continued after the meeting ended, and some even spilled out onto the street.