On February 7, 2022, we learned about a proposal submitted by the Square Roots Collective, seeking the blessing of Kennett Borough Council to submit an application on behalf of the Borough for a $460,000 grant from the state to begin to build the “Red Clay Park”, apparently with a $300,000 “match” from Square Roots. The motion passed without any discussion at the Borough Council meeting 2 days later. Here are links to theproposed resolution and the grant summary, with the conceptual drawing of the overall plan provided below.
The short notice, the lack of detail available to the public, and the format of the Borough Council Meeting itself precluded any meaningful debate on the merits of the proposal. Our goal is to host a more detailed discussion here at OpenKennett over the coming weeks, to give the parties involved the opportunity to make their case, and to make sure that the public actually has a chance to provide input.
Our review of the available materials have raised a number of important questions and concerns.
Square Roots appeared to spare few superlatives in promoting their project
“ The Borough is proposing a transformative urban green space, trail and ecological restoration project in the heart of the community. Currently called “Red Clay Park”, the project re-centers what has been a leftover, forgotten “backyard” space into a key community green space within Kennett Square, as well as creating a new jewel on the overall Greenway.”
The project description is peppered with many other claims that appear to be similarly broad. How do these many broad claims and grand aspirations stand up to closer scrutiny?
We find that the proposal’s liberal use of superlatives is in striking contrast to actual details regarding the scope and costs for the overall project, details needed to evaluate its feasibility. Kyle Coleman (Kennett Borough Manager) has reported that no other details were provided to the public. Christina Norland (Director of the Kennett Trails Alliance) has yet to respond to requests for more information. Likewise, key agencies likely considered to be “community partners” appear not to have been provided with more details. We are left to guess about the true scope. Our preliminary analysis suggests that the proposal is part of a larger project that may require not only the $460,000 requested here, but potentially 2-4 times more. Will the Borough be on the hook if future grants are unsuccessful?
Details about the more than $300,000 promised by Square Roots are unclear. Will these funds only be provided to cover cost over-runs, as is the case for a similar "match" claimed for Birch Street improvements? And would a similar "match" be provided for future phases?
There is also no discussion of the overall timeline for the entire project…6 years? 10 years? 15 years. Will we be left with a half-finished path for the next 5-10 years?
Based on other sections of the proposed Kennett Greenway, the project appears likely to center on an 8-10’ wide path. This choice significantly increases the cost, timelines and environmental impact. No data or analyses were provided regarding the likely bicycle or pedestrian traffic that would justify this choice. We know of other connections that may be more efficient and significantly less costly, some of which were identified in the 2018 Active Transportation Plan but never followed up. Why do need such a wide path?
The proposal appears to unnecessarily postpone important work that could begin immediately to mitigate the frequent flooding that threatens the Kennett YMCA's community pool as well as houses and businesses downstream. In addition, new wider paved paths appear likely to increase flooding, Why not take steps to limit flooding first?
Given that a proposal drawing on $1-2M of grant funding will effectively siphon future grant dollars from other local non-profits, how did this become a priority?
It is unclear why the proposal was rushed through. If there is in fact no need to begin this project now, why not propose instead a feasibility study phase to lay out different options and solicit greater community input, perhaps resulting in a project at less cost?
While public-private partnerships can be very valuable, it does not appear that the Borough has considered what other interests might drive a business like Square Roots to lobby so vigorously for a project such as this. How could this benefit Square Roots, its owners, and its affiliated businesses?
We understand there may be reasonable answers to many - perhaps all - of these questions, risking criticism that we are irresponsible in raising concerns that later prove to be unjustified. But this criticism is wholly without merit - even the most diligent citizen was afforded barely 48 hours to respond to this proposal before it was summarily passed, and our requests for information have proven fruitless or have been simply ignored. And should any of these concerns prove to be justified, new questions can - and must - be asked about how a project, potentially costing millions of dollars, was approved with virtually no public discussion or public input, based on a 2 page proposal that included no data on likely impact, and without a clear scope, budget, or timeline for the overall project.
Over the coming weeks, we will address each of these questions in detail, and will give the parties involved time to provide data to counter specific claims before these are published on OpenKennett. We hope that you will follow the discussion.