Northeast Philly neighbors squawk after seeing bulldozed woods

Posted: September 11, 2012

When Joe Brennan returned from vacation last month to his home in the Parkwood section of the Far Northeast, he crossed the huge grassy field out back that he mows even though it is a public recreation area, took the trail to the woods he has wandered through since childhood, stopped abruptly and stared.

The woods were gone. Five acres of trees and trails where Brennan had enjoyed nature for more than 40 years had suddenly vanished.

The bulldozers that destroyed the woods were the only things standing on the bare ground.

Brennan and his neighbors were furious when they found out that David Tours, a local bus company, had bulldozed the woods to expand its parking lot, and that City Councilman Brian O'Neill had long known about these plans but hadn't told community residents or their Parkwood Civic Association.

"We feel this was all done underhanded," Brennan said, standing at the edge of the bulldozed land with neighbors Lisa George and Ray Kampf. All three have lived in Parkwood for more than 40 years.

"For months, we saw people tagging trees, digging some up and moving them," George said. "But whenever we asked Brian O'Neill's office what was going on, they said, 'We're looking into it.' "

"When you hear that from your councilman's office, you're not alarmed," Kampf said.

"But when the bulldozers suddenly come in, you're alarmed," George said. "Turns out, Councilman O'Neill knew all along."

Brennan made a video detailing his heartbreak over losing the decades-old woods, and started a "Stop Construction of Tour Bus Parking Lot" petition that has almost 1,000 online signatures.

On Tuesday, O'Neill told the Daily News he should've kept the Parkwood neighbors informed. "I take full responsibility," he said. "It's my fault."

But, he said, while two acres of the cleared land will be a David Tours bus parking lot, the other three acres will be a cultivated public meadow that can be enjoyed by the same people who loved the former woods.

Based on a 2003 land swap between the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, which owned the land where the woods stood, and the Fairmount Park Commission (now merged into the city's Parks and Recreation Department), the slow-developing deal could be a win-win for the bus company and the neighbors.

David L. Benedict, president and treasurer of David Tours, who bought the expansion property in June, said the neighbors' reaction to the bulldozers "was a shock" because he assumed everyone knew the plan.

"We're building a meadow under the direction of the city Parks and Recreation Department," Benedict said. "We've hired an environmental firm for five years to oversee the plantings and make sure it develops into a full meadow. It's going to be a beautiful meadow."

Benedict said he was working with the Philadelphia Water Department to ensure that "every drop of water on our property will be handled by a very sophisticated underground water treatment system we're building. All of our buses are clean and green.

"We've been in Philadelphia since 1980 and in Parkwood for 12 years. We employ 75 people, half of whom live in the neighborhood. I think that's a plus."

Contact Dan Geringer at geringd@phillynews.com or 215-854-5961. Follow him on Twitter at @DanGeringer.

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