Letters of Opposition

Borough Councilor Opposing HB2224

October 15, 2012

Dear Senators,

HB2224 is the result of a lawsuit that did not go the way a political subdivision and its developer wanted it to go.  We all know that by now.  Is it worth putting your reputation on the line to aid in a local dispute over a 50-acre park?

As a result of opposition to HB2224, attempts have been made to amend this fatally-flawed bill, but that muddies it up even worse.

By passing this bill, you WILL be putting at risk many other public assets all across the state for the sake of one little 50-acre park.  Are you really willing to do that?  Representative Cutler states, “The number of properties impacted would likely be very small.”, but has he researched that?  No, he has not.  How many pocket parks are in your community?  How many of those were acquired by purchase (even for $1.00) or condemnation in the 1700’s, 1800’s, and early 1900’s?  Now think about the number of properties that may be impacted by HB2224.  Would you still say just a “very small” number?

Kill this bill.  It will create more problems than it solves.

It will be interesting to see how hard the municipality’s and developer’s lobbyists work to change the DDPA once the local issue is resolved.  More than likely, there will be no interest at all, because the intent behind this bill is not to clarify the DDPA but rather to prevent much-needed court review in a municipality’s attempt to cash in on a dedicated public park.

Again, I ask you to do the right thing.  Vote “NO” to HB2224.

Very Truly Yours,

Ann M. Feldman

Council, Downingtown Borough

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Dear Representative Cutler,

Earlier this week I became aware of the attached memorandum of January 30, 2012, and HB2224 to amend the Donated and Dedicated Property Act. I respectfully request your consideration of the following comments and information from three separate perspectives on which I am qualified to speak: That of an elected official; a business owner; and a citizen.

Even though HB2224 has already made it through the House, it is important that you realize the enormity of what you have put in motion. Since the Senate has not yet voted on HB2224, I’m cc’ing them on this email in the hope that their votes will not be made blindly or frivolously, but only after consideration of the serious impact this bill will have on valuable parkland, farmland, and other public lands.

Also attached is the Fiscal Note from the House Committee on Appropriations. I’ve included it here, because it is a gross misstatement of HB2224’s intent. In addition, if this bill becomes law, it will have an enormous fiscal impact from the legal challenges that are sure to follow in its wake.

As an elected official, I welcome clear and concise language that guides and supports the decisions I make on behalf of the citizens whom I represent. HB2224 does clarify certain language; however, the benefits appear to be very one-sided. The benefactors of this bill are the municipalities and others (such as developers), and their gain could easily be at the expense of the citizens. Your proposed changes may assist municipalities in disposing of abandoned, blighted, unused and unusable properties, but it also puts well-used, valuable parks and other public lands at risk of being sold to the highest bidder.

If there is a need to clarify the language of the Donated and Dedicated Property Act, naturally the result should support and strengthen the intent of the Act and should not conflict with it or the Pennsylvania Constitution. It should protect the public natural assets, not devise a way to remove that protection. The language provided in this bill does not support the intent of the Act, it contradicts the Pennsylvania Constitution, and it severely limits the rights of the people.

My oath of office – your oath of office – is to uphold the Pennsylvania Constitution, Your bill takes the municipality out of their role as trustee of land held for the public’s benefit and puts them in the role of the owner wielding complete and unchallengable authority to dispose of public land as they see fit. Clearly, that is incorrect and incompatible with our well-defined role as trustees of public natural resources and with upholding the Constitution itself..

The Donated or Dedicated Property Act is intended to protect and preserve public natural resources so that they cannot be arbitrarily disposed of by short-sighted, cash-strapped local governments. Once the offer of dedication has been made by the municipality, and it has been accepted by the public, the method by which the municipality initially acquired the property is irrelevant. To illustrate this concept, whether a parent acquires children by adoption, naturally, surrogate, or all of those methods, it is irrelevant once the children belong to the parent. The decision to take a child from his/her parent does not depend at all on the method by which the child was originally acquired. The decision rests with the Courts to make a judgment in the child’s best interest.

The changes being proposed in this bill are in direct contradiction to Sections 26 and 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t put the text of the Constitution here, because ordinarily I would assume that you know it well. However, a refresher seems to be in order.

Section 26. No Discrimination by Commonwealth or Political Subdivisions.
Neither the Commonwealth nor any political subdivision thereof shall deny to any person the enjoyment of any civil right*, nor discriminate against any person in the exercise of any civil right.

Section 27. Natural Resources and the Public Estate
The people have a right to *clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people. (note that there is no caveat providing, “unless the cash-strapped trustee wants to sell it”)

This will open the door for local officials to abuse their authority and sell public land without any oversight. There is no balance. No way of holding the officials accountable to the people and not the bottom line or outside interests. As a result, it’s only natural that “cash-strapped” municipalities will sell land that should be held in trust for all the people and generations yet to come. This most definitely will result in legal challenges, which in turn will generate a significant financial burden on the taxpayers.

As a business owner, I stand to profit from the increase in people either visiting or living on a previously undeveloped parcel of land, park, or open space. More people usually means more sales, at least initially. If I were an unscrupulous business owner, I would undoubtedly try to entice and/or pressure a municipality into selling me their prime real estate (parks are generally in very desirable locations). What’s more, chances are that I wouldn’t live in the town, so I would reap the benefits of an increased customer base with no impact to my quality of life. This proposed legislation is a business owner’s dream come true, as long as the business owner does not reside near the area of impact.

As an individual citizen, the passage of this bill would render me without standing and helpless in the event my municipality sold a public park for the sake of “economic development” or to balance the budget. My family’s quality of life, health, and welfare would be negatively impacted by the people who swore to represent me and my family.

The devastation to our public lands will be far-reaching and permanent, along with eroding the foundation of our Constitution – the peoples’ rights — and rendering the Donated and Dedicated Property Act impotent.

There is one other area that has not been explored in this email, and that is what effect will HB2224 have on farmland? The PA Farmland Preservation Association has established conservation easements to preserve farmland in PA. This bill appears to weaken and undermine the security of a conservation easement. You represent the Lancaster area, so you are well aware of the serious concerns farm owners have about retaining their land. You mention Erie and a Borough brownfield in your Memorandum, but you neglect to address the impact this bill would have on farmland. If my understanding of the process is correct, this change to the DDPA will allow municipalities to sell farmland that was entrusted to their safekeeping.

You mention a brownfield in a particular borough, and it’s likely you’re talking about Kardon Park. This park, as with Valley Forge National Park, was the site of dumping in the past. The entire 50+ acres of Kardon Park have been used as a park for over 30 years, and DEP has consistently held – even testifying under oath at the Orphans’ Court hearings – that the entire park is safe to use as a passive park. It was capped in areas, seeded, and has been and continues to be used consistently. The use continues in spite of the Borough’s blatant misrepresentations and deliberate neglect of the park, both of which began once the Courts were involved.

If this bill is passed, the people will lose Kardon Park forever. As an elected official and president of Friends of Kardon Park, I can assure you that the majority of the people want to keep Kardon Park as park, even if four or five members of Council want to sell it for financial gain. Kardon Park belongs to the people. The people showed tangible evidence of that sentiment when a 2009 petition to stop Council from rezoning the park had an unheard-of 20% return rate (5% is considered extremely successful). Out of the hundreds of petitions, only two respondents wanted the park to be sold to developers – one was anonymous and one was a Borough employee. The people spoke out again when they elected me to Borough Council — it was a referendum of sorts.

Have you ever seen Kardon Park? Please take a tour before HB2224 comes to a final vote and see what you have just designated as an “underutilized asset that was purchased for a purpose that no longer makes sense.” You have played a key role in dealing the death blow to a valued public park that this (and the previous) council falsely claim to be a “dump” and a brownfield. See it for yourself. Most likely this email will be blocked if I send a link, so I suggest you google “kardon park youtube”, and spend a few moments enjoying the natural, scenic, and esthetic value of Kardon Park. The brownfield you’ve heard about from Borough officials and/or the developers is safely buried beneath a surprisingly lovely park that, up until recently, had been cared for and properly held in trust for the public.

Consider who approached you about sponsoring this bill and what the motive may be. Are you being used to aid unscrupulous officials and their developers by providing a way for them to circumvent our Court system in order to reap financial gain from the precious natural resources that belong to the people? Are you putting your reputation and political future on the line for someone else’s agenda? When a park is sold and developed, it’s gone forever. When one’s integrity is compromised, the damage is often irreparable.

The municipalities did not vote for you. The developers and special interest groups did not vote for you. Yet, they push relentlessly for you to serve their interests, and this bill is obviously written to that end. The people voted for you, because they trusted that you would represent them and uphold the Constitution. This bill thoroughly and unequivocally failed the people. Guard your reputation and legacy, and do what’s right — one vote at a time. If not now, then from now on.

Most Sincerely Yours,

Ann M. Feldman
Councilor, Downingtown Borough
President, Friends of Kardon Park, Inc.
Vice President, Exodus Home School, Inc.
Owner, The Artful Stitch
610-518-0964

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