October 21-27, 2004
Protect and Preserve
In an effort to ensure that Philadelphia residents and visitors have plenty of green, open space to enjoy in the future, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education (SCEE) is working to formally preserve a 500-acre parcel that would have developers salivating.
The Roxborough land, known as SCEE's core holding, is bound by Spring Lane, Hagy's Mill Road, Port Royal Avenue and the Schuylkill River
Bike Trail near the Montgomery County border. Although the center’s board of trustees opposes development on that property, there is currently nothing in place to prevent it -- a fact that has caused a recent drive to protect that land.
Though there’s no imminent threat of losing the area to condos, SCEE officials are working to have the property legally designated as off-limits to sprawl. That’s part of the center’s master plan, implemented in 1999, to restore natural habitats and improve infrastructure there.
"Contrary to popular belief, the holdings of the center have no restrictions placed on them," said John Howard, co-chair of the center’s real estate committee. "Before now, the land could have been developed as single-family housing instead of being a permanent sanctuary for plants and wildlife."
SCEE does, however, intend to sell a 22-acre plot near Eva Street and Port Royal Avenue. It was donated by Eleanor Houston Smith, a longtime supporter of many national conservation organizations. Profits from the sale will be used to bolster the center’s endowment. (Benefactors have often given SCEE more land than they needed to protect so smaller, inconsequential parcels can be sold off in fundraising efforts.) They intend to require that any purchaser with development plans set aside a portion of the land to open space and develop in an environmentally sound way.
Despite those conditions, the Roxborough Green Space Project has issued a position paper opposing such land sales. With development proposals for that tract due back on Nov. 12, the organization worries that more housing in the area is inevitable.
"It will forever change the neighborhood," reads the position paper, which goes on to say the center needs to restructure its financial processes rather than sell land as a quick fix.
Founded in 1965, SCEE has 6 miles of hiking trails, an art gallery, a bookstore and an education building which contains laboratories, classrooms, a natural history and environmental science library and an interactive discovery center. It also houses the Green Woods Charter School, a K-8 with emphasis on the environment.
"Should, for some reason, the center no longer exist," says SCEE Executive Director Tracy Kay, "we would like to know that the core property is still here and safe."