The disease of me

Is putting self over the larger community hurting all of us in the long run?

By Mike McGann, Editor,
The “disease of me.”

When I was a young NBA-beat writer back in the mid-1980s, I remember interviewing Los Angeles Lakers’ head coach Pat Riley and he preached about the need for any good team — and any good community — to see past selfish individual needs to accomplish the greater good.

Community. Most of the time, it’s something folks in Unionville can take a certain amount of pride in.

Unfortunately, though, we’re seeing more and of those seeing self as being vastly more important than the community at large. Whether its the lady in Chadds Ford with a stricken minivan parked for a handful of hours on her neighborhood street waiting for a flatbed — parked legally, mind you — who ended up having her neighbors call to have it towed away because, reportedly, “it bothered them” — or just folks blowing though stop signs, the symptoms locally seem to be more evident of late.

And I won’t even belabor you about how a small handful of folks who ignored science, the greater good of the community, and public safety — not to mention local tax rates — to battle a cell tower near Po-Mar-Lin because it was unsightly.

To be sure, this sort of “me first” thinking is the core issue behind our current economic collapse and the loss of millions of jobs — whether it be greedy corporate raiders gutting companies or greedy union leaders squeezing otherwise healthy businesses out of operation with demands for unreasonable “model contracts.” Both sorts — and this isn’t a political argument, but one of vision and practicality — were more interested in short-term personal gain, than seeing the wider long-term impact.

I’m not sure if this week’s uproar over The Inn at Whitewing Farm qualifies, but it gives me pause.

To be sure, there’s no black and white here. To say that Lance and Sandy Shortt made a lot of mistakes in acquiring the old DeSeta property is probably an understatement, even if you ask Lance himself at this point.

“I was blind,” he said this week. “I wish I had met some lawyers earlier….I was stuck. I was told a lot of stuff that turned out not to be true.”

Unless the guy is one of the best con men I’ve ever met — and I’ve known a lot  — though, it seems pretty clear he screwed up with the best of intentions. Sit in the Hay Barn and listen to him talk about moving heaven and earth to buy the place — and it’s clear Shortt fell in love. It’s understandable, it’s an amazing property.

Of course, thinking that the community would be OK with putting on 30-plus weddings was probably a bad idea. A dozen? Maybe. Folks are used to Longwood Gardens and everything that entails and Willowdale and countless the other events that draw people in from neighboring counties and states.

That having been said, an offer to hold just seven weddings at the site this year, pay a fine and go away seemed like a reasonable solution to a messy situation. Not so for the neighbors, though, all but a handful wearing their “Not In My Back Yard” t-shirts.

And yes, the Shortt’s attorney Ron Agulnick was so obnoxious during Monday night’s Board of Supervisors meeting that I wanted to slap him, and I’m somewhat sympathetic to the Shortt’s plight.

But the numbers don’t lie, here.

Now, taxpayers can look forward to a few fun side effects: increased taxes or slashed to services to cover the costs of the legal battle — and guess what, regardless of the outcome, the township taxpayers lose.

Should the township prevail on its argument, the property value will be clearly diminished, which means lower property values and not only higher taxes for East Marlborough residents, but potentially higher taxes for the entire Unionville-Chadds Ford School District.

Should the Shortt’s prevail, well, (and I think the odds are better than 50-50, based on Pennsylvania land use law) they’ll be able to hold lots and lots of weddings on the site — instead of just seven and going away. And the same legal costs will ensue — with the same tax implications for the township, although at least neighboring towns will be sparred the hit.

This is one of those circumstances where a little forbearance might go a long way. Ordinances are violated all of the time — even by properties in East Marlborough without enforcement or effect. As an example, in Pocopson, we have a noise ordinance prohibiting excessive sound at the property line after certain hours — that number is 50 dB. I can tell you from pulling out my sound pressure meter on my property (on the far side of Pocopson from Longwood, mind you) that Longwood violates that ordinance each and every time they have fireworks (I measured well over 70dB, A weighted).

I could file a complaint — I could bring the matter to the Court of Common Pleas. I would, of course, be an idiot for doing so. Longwood is an essential part of what Unionville is — a burgeoning tourism Mecca. Longwood employs a ton of people, and they ripple through the local economy in a highly positive way. Tourism is the number two industry in Pennsylvania — am I really going to be that stupid and selfish to derail something like that? Complaining about the fireworks would be a bit like treating a zit with a chainsaw.

Which, to me, is a little like what the neighbors are doing with Whitewing. It might be a little annoying — but is the solution better in the long run? I think time will tell it isn’t, either for the immediate neighborhood and certainly for the larger community.

The opportunity was here to see the bigger picture and it was missed. And now, we might all have to pay.

* * *

Belated sad news: the passing of Dorothy Carroll.

Dorothy was one of the gems of Unionville, whether it was her time as a teacher at Unionville Elementary, to her constant presence at Birmingham Friends on election day. She might have been the Democratic County Committee Woman in, to put it charitably, for one of the least Democrat-friendly townships in Chester County — and yet, no one ever seemed to have a bad word to say about her.

Folks might have disagreed with her, but everyone seemed to genuinely like and respect her.

I was lucky enough to get to know her in the last decade — she will be missed.

* * *

Finally, a happy Easter to you and your family.

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  1. Mark Jung says:

    This is a poorly written editorial, even for a local paper. The fact that there have been a couple pro Whitewing pieces here already (right next to the ad for Whitewing) doesn’t lend it any credibility. If there ever was a case for a “greater good” argument, this is it. Why should the entire community make exceptions for the Shortts because they didn’t do even a little bit of homework before making a huge business decision? If we are to allow the Shortts a few harmless weddings, why not start blowing through stop signs as well? The central problem here is trust – we simply do not trust that the Shortts are being completely honest with the community because few of us believe that a scrupulous person would do what they did. Many people do not see this as a naive mistake, particularly from someone who has been in business for 20+ years and when the story has changed at each meeting. Crying poor and then having your hired gun lawyer come and threaten a course of action that will end up in an expensive legal action while arguing that the township should avoid legal expenses doesn’t help either. Unfortunately, the Shortts made a huge mistake and are asking the whole community to effectively help pay for it.

  2. Kristin Hoover says:

    Dorothy Carroll was a good person who tried hard and cared about others. She was firmly committed to equality, fairness and education. Always a solid Democrat, she was involved in local partisan politics when there were few others around. Many people come and go in local politics, but Dorothy was true to her values year after year. It didn’t matter if it was an off-year primary or a Presidential election, she was always doing what she could.

    I remember going to a political meeting at her house while she explained that it was originally an old Meeting House built when the Birmingham Friends Meeting split into two groups many years ago. She pointed out the cemetery in her yard and was aware of the importance of the history and sacrifice that happened on her land during another Sept. 11.

    We can follow Dorothy’s example of living our core values for the simple reason that it is right. Or, we look at every situation for what it means to each of us personally. I really wish Unionville were a more tolerant community. A little “live and let live” (and make a living) philosophy would go a long way. I’m glad that I lived in Dorothy’s world and hope her example lives on.

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