Save Marple Greenspace

"To this end, County Council would commit to establishing an Open Space Preservation Fund for future open space acquisitions and improvements in an amount up to $20,000,000 that could be diversely funded by not only County dollars but other federal and state grants along with private conservancy dollars. Delaware County can strategically borrow funds for identified open space acquisition projects that are recommended by its County departments and agencies and the Open Space Task Force." (White Paper, page 5)

“On May 17, 2005, a question was placed on the statewide ballot asking if Pennsylvania should borrow money to renew the Pennsylvania Growing Greener Program (commonly referred to as Growing Greener II). The ballot question passed, with Delaware County having the highest percentage of "yes" votes among all counties in the Commonwealth (79%). From this show of public support, it is apparent that the citizens of Delaware County value open space, outdoor recreation, and the natural environment as a highly important part of their quality of life."


...and in the process takes an important decision away from their constituents

But County Council also has advanced strangely high estimates for what DG forest is worth, not far removed from the inflated amounts offered by developers for the Archdiocesan forest. As we've mentioned before, those big

We also object to the idea that the bond amount HAS to be $100 million, or that if it were, that it would have to be borrowed all at once. The Council’s “white paper” for some reason makes the case that the full amount would be borrowed all at once:

We have several issues with this statement. First, the county has had the ability to “strategically borrow” in the past to save open space, yet we are not aware that they’ve done so. Second, the Delco Planning Department has already recommended the preservation of the Don Guanella site, designating it one of three “preservation hubs” in the county that should be prioritized. Third, conservancy, state, and federal monies are not typically directed into a nonspecific “fund,” but are rather used for specific conservation projects.


Recent Press Coverage:

It has been thoroughly explained by Elaine Schaefer, Save Marple Greenspace, the League of Women Voters, the Trust for Public Land, and others that the referendum merely AUTHORIZES future borrowing. Perhaps $20 million could be borrowed right away to get thousands of new trees in the ground all over the eastern and southern portions of the county. Moreover, the bond doesn’t necessarily have to be $100 million. It could be $75 or $50 million, but it’s important to note that accounting for inflation, $100 million is worth far less than the $100 million proposed by County Council in 1996. The per household costs are much lower as well in real numbers and after adjusting for inflation. Council seems to be channeling Wally Nunn by frightening residents with a 4% tax increase, but the truth is that it would be at most 3% (if not less) and it would only apply to a homeowner’s county tax bill. We again cite the Center for Conservation Finance’s report of the Trust for Public Land: the cost to each homeowner is at most $9 per $25 million borrowed. This number would be lower in mature communities and slightly higher in less dense ones given the difference in home assessments. Considering the historic low interest rates and other factors like Delco’s great credit rating, that per household amount would most likely be even lower. Once the open space is paid off, it will never contribute vehicles to roads, students to schools, stormwater to streams, or pollution to our air.


“Shall debt in an amount not to exceed $100,000, be incurred over a 10 year period for the purpose of financing the regreening of urban, suburban, and riverfront lands and the preservation of open space in Delaware County; acquisition and protection of stream corridors; development of local and County parks, historic and recreational areas; tree planting and municipal and county open space planning; be authorized to be incurred and approved by the electorate?”

final language was added late in the process by the “Local Government Committee.” This strange exclusionary amendment later became law and is now being cited by Council as to why they can’t let voters decide a referendum. Nevertheless, despite what the 1996 law stipulates, counties can and do continue to protect open space by using the Local Government Unit Debt Act. Council must certainly be aware of this so it’s not clear at all to us why they would invoke a suspiciously exclusionary law when other options are available.

It’s mystifying why council would offer up the 1996 result as an indicator of current voter preference when there is a more recent favorable general election precedent from 2005 in which Pennsylvania voters were asked to incur a small tax to renew the “Growing Greener Fund” via a ballot question. Not only did this pass in Delaware County, it received the highest percentage of “yes” votes in the entire state (of 67 counties), a fairly resounding affirmation of open space protection by county voters. Council also didn’t mention that their own “Open Space Report” of 2015 mentioned the results of a county planning department poll conducted in 2012 which found that 80% of county residents favored protecting open space. We must ask, then, why Council feels a referendum would not be approved?

Delaware County has always had a loud voice in the state legislature and this was certainly the case in 1996 when 
Delaware County’s own Joe Loeper was Senate Majority Leader. So it was on Joe Loeper’s watch that an important open space law  – Act 442 of 1967 – was amended with new language that excluded counties from incurring open space bond debt via one particular borrowing mechanism. (You can see the added language of Senate Bill 1320 of 1996 on page 19 here.) Act 442 and earlier versions of the 1996 amended bill did not contain this prohibition, but the

Michael Culp

recreation groups support an open space bond being put to voters.

By Ken Hemphill

Mario Civera, Chairman

Ask County Council to put an open space bond question on this November's ballot.



Council mentioned on Wednesday that they’re also opposed to a referendum because of the tax implications and that they feel it would unfairly burden parts of the county which wouldn’t benefit from it. First, it has been our position from the beginning that any open space bond should benefit the entire county, especially mature municipalities, by providing them with park restoration, street trees, and pocket parks. There must be something for everyone in a countywide bond, and our push for an open space referendum has always mentioned this. Residents in mature townships would be paying a little more in taxes – but less than northern and western townships – to regreen their own communities. They would not be subsidizing open space conservation in other townships. This fact has not been acknowledged by Council (or the media, for that matter). Instead, Council is hitching the referendum to Don Guanella, suggesting that the bond would only be used to protect the 213 acre forest there. We’ve made no secret of our view that some of the bond money be used to create the best park in the county system, and one of the most centrally located. There are no other parks in the system that have the kinds of extensive wooded hiking trails found at DG. We’ve said that maybe $10 million of county bond funds could be leveraged with funds from local, state, private, and perhaps even federal sources. $10 million would represent a serious open space commitment by Council to save this critically important forest.

The three biggest reasons given for why Council won’t let voters decide the fate of the open space bond were that “counties are not allowed to by law,” that a $100 million bond would hammer residents with a crushing tax burden, and that there’s no support for an open space referendum based on the rejection of a 1996 ballot question.  

County Council leans on a technicality to say no to a referendum...

Witten by Ken Hemphill


July 23, 2016

The last forest of eastern Delaware County

Let’s start with 1996. Some very curious things happened that year. As you may recall, there was an open space bond referendum on the April ‘96 primary ballot which failed to pass. Council now cites this as proof that residents don’t want a bond referendum. What we’re not told, though, is that at least one County Council member at the time (Wally Nunn, by his own admission), went around the county speaking against the referendum to community and seniors groups, telling them their taxes would dramatically increase to pay for open space bond debt. As voter turnout is always lighter in a primary election, the senior vote had a significant effect on the outcome of the referendum.

The Darlington Estate

The referendum language from 1996

“At 84.5 acres, the acquisitions of the Mineral Hill and Little Flower properties represent the largest addition to the County’s park system since the acquisition of Rose Tree Park a half century ago.” (DCC White Paper, page 3)

In 1996, Wally Nunn, a County Council member at the time, went around the county speaking against the referendum. But now County Council points to this failed vote as proof it woudn't pass this time around either. A better precedent is the successful 2005 referendum.

When a prior referendum passes with 79% of the vote and we’re told by county leadership that they can’t let voters decide whether to invest in their county, we cannot remain silent. When Delaware County is ranked 17th from the bottom in air quality out of 3,143 counties nationwide, we must speak up. When we sit in traffic caused by the overdevelopment of our county, our elected officials need to hear us. When we see developers give hundreds of thousands each year in campaign donations to our government, we cannot stay mute. The United States is supposed to be a democracy, a representative one at that. If criticism is not welcome by our elected representatives making decisions that affect the health, well being, and quality of life of 560,000 people, then some thought should be given to becoming private citizens again.  Our environment, in the end, is the very thing that supports us and we need all hands on deck to ensure than we're leaving Delaware County better than we found it.

prices necessitate the land being rezoned, which is off the table now. Consequently, the actual wholesale value is much much lower than what Goodman offered. Given the Archdiocese’s seeming indifference to the health, welfare, and quality of life of Delco residents, Council would be well within their rights and supported by substantial precedent across the county to seize the land through eminent domain and form a coalition to pay the appraised value of the land which we believe is not a dollar more than $20 million given the many environmental constraints on the property.

“Nor would it make sound financial sense to simply borrow $100,000,000 and start paying interest (even at historic low rates) until such funds were actually needed for open space acquisition.” (White Paper, page 7)

Colleen Morrone, Vice Chair

From Delco's own "Open Space Report"

John McBlain

David White

Fifteen different environmental, conservation, community, and outdoor 

Finally, a word about some of the statements made about Save Marple Greenspace this past week by Council. We are extremely dismayed that our communications and posts have been characterized as “false narratives” and “diatribes.”  We’re also disheartened that we would be labeled a “special interest group” and that we “may have a financial interest in the bond issue.” It’s not clear why the sincere posts or fair criticisms of our government by a bipartisan group of volunteers would be described in such a way. How ironic also that a group of altruistic, unpaid citizens who have given thousands of combined hours of their time to protect their local environment could be accused of standing to gain financially from a referendum when our county government receives huge campaign contributions from developers.

One straw man argument being bandied about in the media and at meetings is that Save Marple Greenspace has said Delaware County has done nothing for open space. We have said no such thing. We have acknowledged that County Council has participated in protecting open space, but their contributions have been extremely modest, especially compared to what other counties have done. And they’ve not always taken the initiative, either. For example, county government was not one of the early voices advocating for the preservation of the Little Flower tract in Darby. That would have been Nick Micozzie who carried the flag and stopped a BJ’s from being built on those beautiful grounds. Council did eventually come around, but their $300,000 contribution to the purchase of the land represents a relatively small contribution to the overall price of the land. The county’s share of the Mineral Hill acquisition was likewise very small. The white paper also says this:

Sadly, Delaware County Council will not be moving us into the company of every other county in the region by allowing voters to decide on an open space bond referendum. At Wednesday’s Council meeting and in a “white paper” they issued in lieu of attending our bipartisan press conference, several reasons were given why they can’t or won’t put an open space bond question on the ballot, but not one of them represents an actual impediment. So instead of letting voters decide whether or not to provide a sensible open space funding source, they’ve proposed a nebulous alternative in the form of a “$20 million open space preservation fund”:

Of course, we’re grateful that Council had a hand in protecting these acres, and we’re encouraged by County Council’s comments that they favor protecting the Don Guanella forest. But it’s hard to get excited about 84 acres. In fairness, open space preservation efforts by our county have been very modest and don’t represent the commitment to open space protection we’re seeing in other counties. Consider that 50,000 acres have been directly protected by Chester County. Delaware County could be doing much better. The combined 84 acres of Little Flower and Mineral Hill that Council celebrates represents only one tenth of one percent of what Chester County has conserved.    Meanwhile, a 213 acre gem might be allowed to slip through our fingers.

By Ken Hemphill