In Kennett Twp., catch-up on trails, open space

If you were going to issue a land-preservation grade for two townships – Kennett and East Bradford, both of which possess a similar size and population and impose the same 0.25 percent open-space tax – East Bradford would earn an “A” and Kennett would flunk.

Michael Guttman, the grant program coordinator for Kennett Township, provides an overview of the township's plan to add trails and open space.

Michael Guttman, the grant program coordinator for Kennett Township, provides an overview of the township's plan to add trails and open space.

But the Kennett Township supervisors said they are eager to reverse that failing grade, an effort that occupied the bulk of a three-hour work session on Wednesday, Aug. 5.

Michael Guttman, the township’s new grant program coordinator, led the presentation, which sparked some lively debate and numerous questions from the dozen residents in attendance. Guttman’s focus was a multi-modal grant for which the township recently applied.

Guttman pointed out that East Bradford, which comprises 15.1 square miles and 9,942 residents, has used grants to help preserve more than 50 percent of the township. Kennett, which has 15.6 square miles and a population of 7,565 and has not regularly availed itself of grant opportunities; as a result, it has preserved about 20 percent of the township as open space.

Kennett is eager to capitalize on the myriad benefits of open space, Guttman said. One study calculated that households save nearly $400 a year on recreation costs when open space is available while another said that open space has added $16.3 billion to the value of southeastern Pennsylvania housing stock, he said, adding that he met with East Bradford officials, who shared advice.

Guttman said if the township, which has about $3 million in its open space account, received the full amount of the grant, it would get about $3 million for an approximately $4.5 million project that would connect the township with the borough through six miles of trails. He said a decision on the grant application is expected in November.

The township now has a plan that will result in preservation of 30 percent of township land in the next decade, Guttman said. The effort, anchored by the Red Clay Greenway Trail Program, would “create a contiguous ‘hike and bike’ trail backbone along a preserved open space corridor looping around the township and borough,” he said. The backbone would connect to a number of spur trails in various subdivisions as well as other networks in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and Maryland, he said.

He stressed that applying for the grant does not guarantee receiving it, but he estimated the township’s chances at about 80 percent. The fact that the project includes open space and trails as well as partners, including The Land Conservancy (TLC) of Southern Chester County, Kennett Square Borough, the Kennett Area Parks and Recreation Board, the Kennett Track Alliance and Michael Pia Jr., who is developing Magnolia Place in the borough, also increases its attractiveness to funders.

Guttman said other grants could be used to pay the remaining costs. “I’m always looking for new grants,” he said.

In an effort to put the cost of obtaining six miles of trail in perspective, Guttman said the same amount of money would fund one mile of a two-lane road or four miles of sidewalk.

To view Guttman’s presentation, click here.

In other business, Supervisors’ Chairman Scudder G. Stevens presented a $40,000 check — the township's second-quarter library payment — to Rosa Quintana, a township resident who serves on the Kennett Library Board. Despite recent friction between the township and the board, Stevens said the township remains committed to assisting the library, which is a valuable resource used by township residents.

The supervisors also voted to appoint Michael O’Brien as a part-time recording secretary at a rate of $25 an hour. Previously those duties had been performed by Township Manager Lisa M. Moore, who acknowledged that the task had become increasingly challenging since she is often presenting material at meetings, giving her two responsibilities at the same times.

Finally, the township signed an engagement letter for the attorneys assigned by its insurance carrier to represent the municipality in its defense of a recent lawsuit.

Michael Hammon sued the township on July 22, accusing the supervisors of violating the Sunshine Act by entering into an agreement on May 7 with former Police Chief Albert J. McCarthy, a pact that could cost township taxpayers “well in excess of $45,000.”

In a press release earlier this week, attorney Mark A. Sereni said the suit sought to force township officials to comply with the Sunshine Act by conducting a public meeting and inviting residents’ comments on the agreement with McCarthy. “We have accomplished that objective,” the release said, referencing a July 29 meeting held to discuss the McCarthy agreement, which has been posted on the township’s website.

The release said the litigation also seeks to “prohibit Kennett Township and its supervisors from ever again agreeing to the kind of secrecy provision in public contracts that our lawsuit focuses upon – specifically a provision that would prohibit Kennett Township from disclosing the very existence of a public contract.” It requests the township enter into a court-approved consent decree to that effect, the release said.

Asked for comment, Kennett Township solicitor David J. Sander declined, explaining that he was not going to litigate the case in the media.

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