The trouble was the familiar one: too much power, too little
knowledge. The fault was mine.
“Damage” by Wendell Berry
Friends and citizens,
Tonight the Ferguson Township board of supervisors will have a number of hearings on ordinances and resolutions on domestic hens, a small change for the year’s budget, a possible traffic calming study, and a proposed concept plan for the Pine Hall traditional town development (TTD). I am celebrating the pending chicken ordinance and concerned about the Pine Hall TTD. I’ll spend a little bit of time on chickens and much more on Pine Hall, some on policy and some ruminating on land and legacy. Suffice to say that I’m already grieving.
The chicken ordinance comes after a citizen put it on our plate. After a few months of work, the township staff has put together an ordinance that allows residents in single family dwellings to have up to six hens in their yards. We’ve applied provisions for disposal of chicken manure, structures, setbacks from adjacent properties, and access to the outdoors. There is also a one-time $25 permitting fee. Given that citizens have come to meetings to advocate for the ordinance, it’ll feel good to get it off the ground. But not all items on tonight’s agenda will be to our liking.
Tonight, representatives of Keller Engineering will speak before the board and public on a concept plan revising the Pine Hall Town Center Traditional Town Development Master Plan. It has been under revision for the last few months with input from township staff. I think you might be interested in three things: the developer’s requests for modifications and waivers, revisions to meet the new storm water ordinance, and the fact that this will level dozens of acres of woodland. The last of these is what I’m most worried about.
First, the developer will be asking for modifications on a number of plan aspects that have to do with density, roadway connectivity, commercial development, and parking. Some of these requests are important. For example, how much parking space would the commercial area need to be viable commercial district? But is this commercial parking necessarily laid out on the flat? Under a new urban paradigm, do we build up or build out?
[UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the development includes a request for more student housing. Has anyone been paying attention to the rancor over the proposed Boxes…err…Cottages development?]
Second, the public should note that Keller and the developer will also have to do significant changes to the original plan’s storm water management. Our board recently adopted a new and more environmentally protective stormwater ordinance. The storm water management, though, is unrealized on the concept plan itself. We have assurances that this includes the use of stormwater rate control and capture/recharge functions and of proposed stormwater best management practices on the western part of the TTD, and upgrades to facilities that were previously designed and approved for the eastern watershed. The plan still has a riparian buffer on the western half of the site and a set-aside for an area with Nolin soils. These are things to be tentatively glad about. But this plan worries me.
Third, the Pine Hall TTD is slated to level dozens of acres of woodland. Every day, people run, walk, and mountain bike in a wonderful rat maze of twisting trails covered in roots and fallen logs. People with dogs go for a leisurely stroll. Trail runners pick different paths around the paths, paths that look like a toddler’s drawing when they’re mapped. For years, mountain bikers in the area have met on Tuesday nights to pursue one another around a four-mile course keeping their eyes on the churning wheel ahead of them and their legs turning pedals even as they dive into sharp loamy corners. Other times you’ll find young couples taking their first mountain bike rides there. My son surmounted his first fallen log in those woods. There are features, like this one below, that take practice and concentration. I, myself, have learned to ride the length of logs there.
Part of who I am, who many of us are, is in some part because of this place. We are made of the effort of launching a fallen oak log and the sound of chipmunks running away at that moment. But it’s not just recreation.
It’s about the systems that support us and the lives of the creatures we inhabit this world with. That woodlot holds and purifies water better than any storm basin in the world can. The thousands of hardwoods, fiddleheads and store thousands upon thousands of tons of carbon. The stormwater basins, grass, and few dozen cultivated trees will store some fraction of that. The plant life there does another small service for us by providing us with oxygen. It’s a way station for migrating song birds and a home to barred owls. Just last week I came upon a fawn and her doe who bounded through brush, their white tails clear as day as they escaped.
The hungry hydra of “development” just chews and chews and chews. As Wendell Berry has written, what took decades to grow will disappear with the quick action of a few bulldozers. Even at this small scale, one can see the dangers of an ever-growing economy, no matter how well managed. Management doesn’t work when we say “yes” to too much. Eventually, it eats up what supports us. Our peace of mind. Beauty. Health.
I have no clear trajectory for tonight’s meeting. By role I have to ask questions and that I will. By heart I have to witness and persist in conserving all the land that I can. By conscience I have to say that I am afraid and sad for what may come to be. Here could come another piece of woodland turned into another set of sprawling cookie cutter development, another monoculture plot of “development” that dulls the senses, limits the imagination, and steals the homes of how many more creatures…my friends and I included? The Pine Hall woodlot has been our home for many hundreds of hours.
As Wendell Berry wrote in “Damage,” “the trouble is a familiar one: too much power, too little knowledge.” I’d add to that too little love for what holds us all together. Will the fault be mine? I hope not. As I’ve written before,
What we stand for, we literally stand on. The medium beneath our feet is the message of our lives. That to which we attend with our time and our hands is what we tell the world we seek.
I will take root more deeply here. How I live here is my legacy. My legacy is this place.