Parkwood residents have enjoyed the woods behind their homes as a place to walk their dogs or play with their kids. When the neighbors began seeing orange ribbon tagged to the trees over the summer, they wondered what was happening. It wasn’t until bulldozers cleared the land in early August that they realized they were losing their woods.
Joe Brennan, Lisa George and Ray Kampf, who have lived in Parkwood for more than 40 years, quickly united to save what was left of their woods.
Brennan made a video of the construction and documented the beauty of the woods behind his home located on Chilton Road. He captured deer, rabbits and the babbling creek nearby, as well as list the concerns of the community. After Brennan uploaded the video to YouTube, it received more than a thousand views.
“I didn’t have enough information to say much other than this is what’s going on, this is the beauty of this place and here is what it looks like now,” Brennan said. He has since removed the video. “I can’t say my video was 100 percent accurate, so it wouldn’t be fair to keep it up.”
George also started a petition on Change.org which 1,000 people signed in addition to a paper petition. “I think the people in the end do have a voice and they just need to recognize they are in charge and utilize their rights,” she said. “If you’re not heard, you’re not going to make a change.”
Kampf said he tried contacting Councilman Brian O’Neill, R-10th, several times to alert him of what was happening. “Every time I called, they told me it was the first time they ever heard about it and that they would look into it,” he said.
Kampf decided to call David Benedict, the owner of David Tours and Travel on McNulty Road, because the cleared land was attached to the bus company. What Kampf found out shocked him.
Benedict told Kampf he had bought the land to put in a parking lot and was working with O’Neill for nine years on the project. Kampf also found out Benedict was turning the rest of the land into a meadow.
Out of the six acres of land cleared, only 2.5 acres would be used for the parking lot and the rest would be cultivated for a meadow, Benedict explained. He said hired an environmental firm to ensure the meadow matures and to oversee the growth for five years. The Department of Parks and Recreation will also be building trails to connect the meadow to Benjamin Rush State Park.
“I am going to work with the community as a neighbor,” Benedict said. “We’re with the residents to accommodate their needs. I have never had a complaint from a neighbor and that isn’t going to change.”
Residents were given the opportunity to voice their concerns during a meeting with Benedict about the runoff water from the parking lot contaminating the surrounding creeks. However, Benedict assured them that he had partnered with the Water Department and engineer Theodore Koven at Springtown Consulting to create a very extensive retention and filtering system to gather all the runoff water into underground tanks.
He also told the residents that trees would be planted around the parking lot to provide a visual barrier between their homes and the lot’s buses and fences.
When residents said they were worried about smelling diesel exhaust from their homes, Benedict explained that his new buses run on green technology and have filters to burn off the pollution.
“The residents are not going to see or smell anything more than they do now,” Benedict said.
Kampf considers the project a work in progress and foresees future meetings with Benedict.
Brennan said he is still concerned about possible noise from the lot. “I can hear them now where they are between their engines and the backing up,” he said, making the beeping noise he has heard from his home. “Now they’re going to be even closer. Will they have to back up all the time?”
Kampf, Brennan and George said they remain hopeful that the result will be positive to both their community and David Tours and Travel. The additional room for more buses could potentially lead to more jobs for their neighborhood.
Even with the possibility of new jobs, Benedict said residents’ anger stemmed from the lack of information. During a community meeting, O’Neill took responsibility for not communicating the project to the residents, Brennan said. However, O’Neill’s office did not return messages for a comment on this story.
“The biggest thing that bothers us the most to this day is the disrespect that we are given by our councilman,” Brennan said. “Would Brian O’Neill notify his community if a bus parking lot was going to be built behind his house? I bet he would fight against it. I bet he would create a video. I bet he would have his whole community stand up for it. So why weren’t we called?”
Jessica Lopez and Lucia Volpe are students reporting for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, the publication of Temple University’s Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.