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OP-ED: Last year to this year – a parallel universe

I feel like I just entered a parallel universe. One that seems to be diametrically opposite to the one I lived in a year ago.
I seem to remember a very large meeting at Solebury Township Building where people were lined up outside the meeting room and all the way down the stairs and out the building.
Was it really over a year ago? Was it a dream? This was in response to an invitation from the supervisors to weigh in on ideas for the development of the TNC (Traditional Neighborhood Commercial) district at Logan Square.
The vast majority of those folks were there to shout their disapproval, and ask the township to reconsider their ideas. “This is not what we want in Solebury.” “Who wants more empty stores?” “How can we accommodate a large number of apartments and homes?” “What will happen to our pristine watershed?” “Who the heck wants a clock tower?” “And we don’t want anything that looks like Warrington or Warminster along their major routes like 611.”
The supervisors arranged for the school auditorium for the next meeting so that everyone could have their say – mostly again negative but also with some positive suggestions.
Everyone (nearly) yearned for more open space, the protection of our watersheds and aquifers, and the reduction of traffic on 202. The supervisors listened and backed away from the strategy, taking time to consult, deliberate and wait.
At the end of last year interest in the TNC area began to ramp up. Developers started to make enquiries and sketch proposals were developed and intimated to the township. Some were more developed and one has made it to application stage – including the old Cartwheel site, now proposed as two buildings – a senior care and retail/urgent care facility.
Others were discussed and interest for properties increased including that for the flea market. This, of course, is appropriate as one of the purposes of the TNC is to “offer diverse economic activity, employment opportunities and commercial services.”
However, the TNC was also established to “protect, conserve and enhance the quality of Solebury waterways and groundwater supplies,” “link development intensity with the provision of water conservation measures and sustainable design techniques,” and “maintain the free flow of traffic/promote vehicular and pedestrian safety and access management.” This is also reiterated and emphasized in our comprehensive plan within which, sustainability is a key theme.
The opportunity for the township to purchase the property then arose and discussions started with the owner. This property sits along Route 202 at the heart of the TNC and abuts the Aquetong Creek, a coveted High Quality-Cold Water Fishery.
An agreement was reached after appraisals and environmental due diligence was completed. That is where we currently stand. Using open space monies, approved through the referendum of last year, restricts use to the preservation of environmentally sensitive areas and open space for agricultural and conservation easements, active and passive recreation, and cultural purposes such as a museum for example.
The opportunity taken by the township is designed to provide more transparency and control in achieving the goals of the TNC. We now plan to consult with the community through a deliberate and professional process to thrash out ideas for its use.
It is envisioned that this may take a while – perhaps a couple of years – before a viable strategy is developed. In the meantime we will enhance the 202 frontage, make the space open to the public for walking and continue to develop the trail on 202 as part of the entire trail concept through Solebury to the river.
We want to continue this process in as transparent a way as possible and we are open to positive ideas from all parts of the community.
John Francis, Supervisor
Solebury Township