Thursday, September 20, 2012

Addressing Apple Tree Alley concerns: Letter from a Duncannon resident

September 12, 2012

At the Apple Tree Alley Meeting on September 11, 2012 Jack Conrad, the Borough Council member spearheading the Apple Tree Alley Project, announced that at a recent meeting with DCNR they would be willing to give Duncannon a grant for the matching funds. The minimal cost of the project therefore would be only $2 ‐ $5,000 to cover the costs of grant applications and changes to the master plan to suit us.

Therefore the referendum is no longer totally accurate because of recent developments. However, the Duncannon Borough council still wants the community’s input in order to help make the final decision on the project. So please vote on Election Day in November on the referendum. Registered voters who qualify to vote on the referendum are Duncannon Borough Residents. You can register to vote for this election up until October 9th.

To all concerned,

Thank you to everyone who attended the Apple Tree Alley Meeting. Whether you are for or against the project it was good to see so many Duncannon residents coming together to express interest in community related issues.

I'd like to address some of your concerns about the following issues that I noted from the Apple Tree Alley meeting on September 11, 2012:

Wouldn't the money be better spent somewhere else? Possibly but the "free" money isn't available for any purpose other than Apple Tree Alley. Funds used on any other project would have to come directly from the borough's own coffers and would not be subsidized in any way.

But the money isn't “Free”. True. The borough has to make a small investment of 2 to 5 thousand dollars for planning and project review but by doing so it stands to gain a return of 1 hundred fold. Risk is present in nearly every investment but you need to weigh the minimal risks against the significant gains. This aspect of the project should almost be a complete non‐issue due to the enormous return gained from such a small initial investment.

We need to be fiscally responsible; I don't want to take the money. This is truly a noble sentiment and it's reassuring to know that good people have such sensible concerns. The government has been known to occasionally waste money on things like 6 HUNDRED dollar hammers and 400 MILLION dollar "Bridges to Nowhere" but this project is far from wasteful. This project will benefit the small, ailing town of Duncannon and attempt to restore community pride in an otherwise lackluster area. If
Duncannon Borough doesn't accept this grant the funds will still be spent. You are not saving taxpayer money by declining the grant, you are merely diverting the funds to a different, potentially less deserving, project. If you can personally do without help from the government, that's great but please don't deprive your community of a rare chance to help improve itself.

I don't want criminals or shady characters behind my house. In its current state, the only people who tend to use Apple Tree Alley are the people who NEED to use it or the people who might abuse it. Very few people WANT to go there, it just isn't very appealing. By beautifying the area you will attract more of the good people from the community who have an interest in preserving, protecting and enhancing it. As it is now, a criminal would be more likely to exploit the cover provided by the "disarray" of the alley, but by opening the area and increasing visibility you diminish the potential for criminal activity.

Safety. Some people seem to believe that allowing bikes, pedestrians, cars, skateboards, scooters and everyone else to use the same area is a sure fire way to guarantee mayhem. But you have to look at the alternative. If people aren't biking, walking, driving, skateboarding and scooting along the less used Apple Tree Alley, where will they be? On the primary thoroughfares of Main and High streets where the volume of traffic significantly increases the danger to all involved. Is renovating Apple Tree Alley a perfect solution guaranteeing safety for everyone at all times? No, but it is definitely better than the current alternative and certainly a step in the right direction. The only way to guarantee "Zero Incident Safety" is by taking zero action and that, as most people agree, will only lead to the further decline of Duncannon.

I don't see prosperity forthcoming. While hikers certainly come from far and wide to hike the Appalachian Trail, I don't believe people will be traversing the globe simply to stop off in Duncannon to view the magnificent Apple Tree Alley; but I do believe it will contribute to Duncannon's economic growth. Many people go "through" Duncannon to access the local natural resources but very few of them actually stop in town because they haven't seen or heard that there's anything there for them. Many of the people who hike through town will share their experiences with the world and publish them via media such as television, radio, books, magazines, blogs, and even letters to home. By showing these hikers and the world the good side of Duncannon, they in‐turn encourage other visitors to come and enjoy the area. Just like painting your shutters or planting a flower won't bring the world to your doorstep, it's still a positive step forward. This project is also a small deliberate step in the right direction.

Catch22. How can I vote for the project when I don't know all of the details and I can't know all of the details unless I vote for the project? It's true that we can't know every aspect of the project until we study it in more detail and get feedback from the community but we still know the general intent of the project. The vote is simply to say whether or not you believe the project has some merit and deserves further investigation at a minimal expense.

Encroachment. After a preliminary survey, it has been found that some residents have built private structures on public land. Whether this project succeeds or not, it won't change the fact that some properties have overstepped their bounds. If borough council desired, it could potentially request that these encroachments be remedied (removed) or could otherwise force expensive legal litigation. Fortunately Duncannon Borough Council members are wise enough to avoid such pitfalls and they are determined to work with all parties involved.

Access. The Borough Council members have promised that the Apple Tree Alley project will not cut off anyone's access to their property and that in some cases it may actually enhance it. They have also reassured us that at no point in time will the use of "eminent domain" be considered.

Maintenance. Sure, maybe they'll build it for free now but who is going to take care of it later? This is like winning a brand new car and then asking who will pay to change the oil? You, the community, will have to maintain Apple Tree Alley. Much like owning a car, the minimal cost of upkeep outweighs the many benefits. A volunteer group might take responsibility; residents might take personal pride in their new "back yard", the borough might have to expend its own resources or it could be any combination thereof. Either way, you shouldn't turn down a free car or a low cost park just because someone will have to perform minor maintenance. And if maintenance proves too costly, the worst that will happen is that the alley will revert to its former unkempt state.

Vehicular traffic. Some people seemed upset that the improvements made to Apple Tree Alley would increase traffic and the associated concerns would not be addressed. Others believe the route could be enhanced to allow more traffic for better flow through town. And still another group was worried about parking. These are all legitimate concerns and would be best addressed by the engineers who would plan the project. Perhaps 4‐way stop signs at every intersection would deter high‐speed through traffic. Perhaps key areas could be enhanced to alleviate traffic during emergencies or special events such as the town‐wide yard sale. Perhaps wider areas of the alley could serve double duty as parking and recreation areas. These are all problems that engineers are trained and paid to solve which is why we are asking you to vote "yes" so we can proceed to the next step and get their input.

Project Segmentation. This is a double edged sword which cuts both ways. On the one hand we don't want to spend a great deal of money on one large cohesive yet disruptive project while on the other hand we don't want to disperse our efforts in such a way as to diminish the overall vision. Both are valid concerns but neither one is reason enough to abandon the project in its entirety. Both approaches have their ups and downs. I'm sure the Duncannon Borough council members will do their best to find an acceptable balance and do what they expect to work best within the community. Your continued input on these matters will help guide them in their decision making process.

Sean O’Shell
Duncannon Resident and DATC Vice‐President

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