A Seventh Heaven
April 2, 2017
Toll's Sewage Problem
Westtown Planning Commission solicitor Kristin Camp asked Toll consultant Emily Stewart if she was familiar with the township’s comprehensive plan and whether she knew that it called for a connector road between West Pleasant Grove and 926. Stewart said that, yes, she was familiar with the comprehensive plan and that Toll’s proposal was indeed providing a sort of connector road. It was an emperor’s-new-clothes moment. Toll’s sketch plan showed no such road on the screen, but Stewart insisted it was there, pointing out that it was possible to drive from 926 to W. Pleasant Grove using streets shown in the plan. Magellan could, of course, pick his way through the Toll development, but no faster than a duck could walk an actual connector road.
It was hard to watch Toll Brothers in action last Wednesday night at Rustin without recalling Ed Wood. Judging by the performance of their “experts,” it was like Toll was shooting a low budget B movie and rushing it to theaters. Each of the three Toll consultants who presented had extreme difficulty making themselves heard in the auditorium despite having a working microphone. Each looked like they were making their first appearance in front of an audience. Each could not answer most of the questions asked of them. Just as Ed Wood would roll even if a fake wall visibly shook, Toll’s entire edifice shook under the weight of various cross examinations. But they kept on rolling, and judging by their smiles after the meeting, it was clear they were positively thrilled with themselves.
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Taking the stage last was Toll geologist Paul Scott, whose presentation was less than tectonic. Many of the questions he couldn’t answer involved the waste water treament process, and yet he stated in his direct testimony that he was confident that the site could absorb whatever leached from the onsite sewage disposal system. He could not answer simple questions about how well or how the wastewater system would work and what kinds of substances would remain in the effluent after “treatment.” Scott frankly confessed that he didn’t know much about wastewater treatment, but he was confident enough to say that it would work at Crebilly Battlefield. These assurances were given by the paid representative of a corporation which agreed to pay $741,000 in fines to the EPA for water pollution violations at 370 different development sites.
Under Mark Thompson’s cross examination, Scott admitted that his assumptions of what the entire site could accommodate were based on testing done disproportionately in the northwest corner of Crebilly. Thompson then pointed to a wastewater drip field in the backyards of ~ten houses. “Don’t people use their backyards,” he asked? Scott replied that, yes, people would use their backyards but he couldn’t speak to the safety or advisability of letting kids and pets play on a drip irrigation field. Recall that these sewage disposal areas would need to absorb antibiotics, household chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and other hazardous fluids (which cannot be removed from the treatment process) even after a one or two inch rainstorm.
Paid Toll consultant, Jeff Madden, was asked about the infiltration ability of the nine retention basins, all of which lie immediately adjacent to streams, wetlands, or the wastewater drip irrigation system. He could not satisfactorily answer how water would be absorbed in the presence of the hydric soils in the basins. Also unclear was whether unmaintained HOA-owned basins would absorb stormwater as intended, but Madden assured the township that they would work just fine. He then claimed that under normal circumstances the basins would take no more than three days to drain although he couldn’t say for certain. He was challenged to explain how this would impact the mosquito population. Madden of course didn’t know the length of the most common mosquito’s life cycle, which, by the way spans from just four days to as much as a month, depending on temperatures. So Toll could not tell us if the mosquito population would increase and threaten local residents with diseases like West Nile Virus. He also confirmed under cross examination that the stormwater retention basins had factored into the open space reckoning despite being useless for wildlife, recreation, and scenic value.
Written by Ken Hemphill
Among many other questions, Camp then asked Stewart if Toll would provide a forested buffer to the streams. Stewart said Toll would “explore the possibility.” In other words: no. Camp asked if any specimen trees – of which there are many – would be preserved on the property. Toll would generously leave one or two, Stewart said. When asked if Toll would preserve the forested area on West Pleasant Grove and move their proposed access road, Stewart replied that they would consider it but stated that they were allowed to remove 50% of the wooded area per Westtown’s code (a serious failing of Westtown’s SALDO code to be sure). The attorney for Neighbors for Crebilly, LLC, Mark Thompson, asked Stewart how Toll would monitor water quality. She couldn’t say for sure, yet claimed that they would comply with the minimum standards imposed by state law.
Toll Doesn't Want You to Know
Sometimes being the worst at something can immortalize you. Take Ed Wood, for example. He will forever be remembered as the worst Hollywood director ever. His lifetime “Golden Turkey Award” was well deserved: the scripts he wrote were bizarre and God awful; he would only shoot one take per scene regardless of how bad the acting was; he would use stock footage from other movies instead of shooting original material; and continuity and set mistakes were simply ignored. Quality was not something he fretted about. He infamously employed Bela Lugosi (Dracula) in Plan 9 From Outer Space (1959) even though Lugosi had died three years earlier. Wood simply used unused 1956 footage of Lugosi he shot for another unfinished film. It’s no surprise then that many a film critic have dubbed Plan 9 From Outer Space the worst film of all time. But to the very end, Wood was positively thrilled with himself.
The inane plot of Plan 9 from Outer Space involves aliens coming to Earth and raising the dead (with some help from a vampire) to stop humanity from building a doomsday device that could destroy the universe. It’s hard work watching such schlock. It was just as hard watching the Toll Invaders make their case for why the most iconic farm in eastern Chester County should be destroyed for their private profit. Their script was lame, the acting was sub-par, and their sets incomplete and amateurish. We’ll leave it to owners of Toll Houses to judge the quality of their homes, but certainly allowing them to desecrate the hallowed ground at Crebilly Farm would be the worst thing to ever happen to Westtown Township and eastern Chester County. At least an Ed Wood movie could be unintentionally funny. Toll’s plans for our community are just plain scary.
This B movie continues at Westtown School on April 19th at 6pm.
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Like Ed Wood who would shoot the bare minimum to fill up two hours, Toll filled up four hours Wednesday night making it repeatedly clear that they would comply with just with the letter of the law. They would provide the bare minimum setbacks for streams, wetlands, and historic structures, but not an inch more. They would strictly comply with PA DEP’s minimum standards for stormwater and the wastewater treatment disposal. They would cut down as much forest as permissible instead of protecting as much wooded area as possible. They would only save the minimum of open space as required by code, that is, if you want to call that gerrymandered patchwork quilt of monoculture, storm water basins, and drainage fields “open space.” But here’s what Toll isn't saying: Pennsylvania’s environmental regulations are some of the weakest and most permissive in the country, and PA DEP has had its budget slashed almost in half by our pro-polluter state legislature over the last 15 years. In light of that and the influence the Pennsylvania Builders Association has in Harrisburg, be very afraid that Toll is proposing to merely do only the bare minimum. Environmental laws have been gamed in their favor.
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