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A Short History and Commentary of the Buckingham Township Civic Association

By

Carol Hagen

 

 

     As a long time member and former president of the BTCA, I think it is important for the community to recognize what the organization is about.  The BTCA was registered with the state in 1951 by a group of prominent, far-sighted citizens and was incorporated as a non-profit corporation in 1952 for the following purposes:

 

     From its very beginning members of the BTCA served on Township Boards, Commissions and Committees and on the Board of Supervisors.

 

     Buckingham’s first Zoning Ordinance was adopted in 1951.  At that time two thirds of the Township was being farmed and there were no major subdivisions of land.  Building lots were generally one acre in size in order to accommodate on site wells and septic systems.

 

     An Environmental Movement rapidly became a Land Use issue in the 60’s and 70’s as post World War II development spread from Levittown and the I95 corridor to Buckingham’s doorstep.  The BTCA organized its own committees to study these concerns and to give input to the Township.  A major influence at the time was the publication, in 1969, of Ian McHarg’s DESIGN WITH NATURE.  Mr. McHarg was a land use planner at the University of Pennsylvania, Dept. of Landscape Architecture and Regional Planning.  His concept was that planning for development should be done consistent with protecting natural resources.  In his models resources such as marshes, floodplains, aquifers, steep slopes, forests and woodlands were mapped and building designed outside these areas of protection.  Flatland was a special category as it is easily developed but is also suitable for agriculture.  To quote: “so prime agricultural land will be identified as intolerant to urbanization and constituting a high social value”.  Mr. McHarg’s theories were the forerunner of “performance standard zoning” which we use today.  An extensive study of Buckingham Township was done by his students in 1972.

 

     In 1963 the Buckingham Township Planning Commission undertook a survey and analysis of the Township which included slopes, soils, ground water and drainage.  The study was adopted and published.

 

     Another influence at the time was the publication, in 1972, of THE LIMITS TO GROWTH, a report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind.  This study was an attempt to formulate mathematical models in order to bring into a state of global equilibrium 5 elements:  population, food production, industrialization, pollution and consumption of non-renewable resources.  The loss of land for food production, given increasing population growth, was a serious global concern and still is.

 

     Also at this time, Pennsylvania Supreme Court decisions (Girsh 1970, Surrick 1977 and others) mandated that every municipality zone for a variety of housing types and densities in order to accept a "fair share" of growth.  The Municipalities Planning Code (Act 247), a state law which governs all planning and zoning in Pennsylvania also permitted landowners   to take municipalities to court to “cure” zoning ordinances if not in compliance with these court decisions.  The BTCA worked with the Township to draft a new Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 1974 which designated areas of various development densities as well as agricultural and other resource protection areas.  Before the accompanying zoning ordinance was adopted in 1975 (as a matter of fact within days of the adoption of the Comprehensive Plan) seven landowners filed “cures” with the courts requesting densities of up to 10 units per acre and a mix of housing types.  All of these properties had been designated as agricultural in the new Comprehensive Plan.  As the only Zoning Ordinance in effect at the time was the 1951 one acre zoning the “cures” were upheld by the courts.

 

     Given the pressure for development during this time, the BTCA took very strong stands for the protection of the natural resources of the Township, particularly farmland.  As a service to the Township these resources were mapped:  slopes, forests, floodplains, wetlands and prime agricultural soils.  All of this was embodied in the Zoning Ordinance of 1975.  Recognizing that saving farmland without supporting farm operations is futile, the BTCA founded a farmers’ market which is still operating in Doylestown.  The BTCA also introduced the concept of  Development Rights to enable farmers to realize some of the economic benefits of increased land values without having  to sell the land for development,  The transfer of development rights was also embodied in the 1975 zoning ordinance and continues in current zoning.

 

     Also, in response to pressure to install a public big pipe sewer system, the BTCA introduced the concept of spray irrigation as a way of returning and replenishing ground water rather than running it out of the area in pipes to streams.

 

     During all these years there have been many battles.  There were those in the past and maybe still today who thought the way to plan a community is to sit down with those who would develop it and give them what they want – that way you won’t be taken to court.  The BTCA fought for a public planning process (which Act 247 requires). and community goals and objectives.  Members of the BTCA have run for office and been elected and have served on the Township Boards, Commissions and Committees.  People moving here who have an interest in the community join the BTCA and, if so motivated, move on to public office.  Our members belong to many political parties.  Never has the BTCA endorsed a candidate for office.

 

     We in Buckingham are fortunate, I believe, to have so many officials who have come through the civic route.  These are people who are committed to their community.  Judging from the questions asked on candidate’s night, this community is still concerned with: education, traffic, safety, and development – all goals of the BTCA.

 

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Buckingham Township Civic Association
P.O. Box 211
Buckingham, Pa 18912
(Southeastern Pennsylvania)
Phone: 215-345-5355
E-Mail:
info@buckinghampacivic.org