The risks of building townhouses in Harston Woods

Posted 7/20/23

A 4.9 acre parcel of woods – Harston Woods at 380 Haws Lane – is at risk.

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The risks of building townhouses in Harston Woods


There is a 4.9 acre parcel of woods – Harston Woods at 380 Haws Lane – that is at risk. A developer is trying to build 16 high-end townhouses on half of the small site. People who believe in the value of green space and long to see the stand of 100+ year old trees become a pocket park fear the worst. As Springfield Open Space president Alexandra Klinger says, “At the sound of the first chainsaw, the nesting great horned owls, scarlet tanagers, etc. will be long gone.”

Springfield has parking lots and vacant commercial land all over the township where the developer can build townhouses. Why is the township bending over backward to help the developer ruin Harston Woods?

Here is what Springfield Township will lose if the development is approved: Two ecologically significant vernal pools. Vernal pools are shallow wetlands that are rapidly disappearing in the United States. They are so important to Pennsylvania that the state has a registry to protect them. 

Each spring rain and snow melt fill the vernal pools. During the summer, they dry up. Very tiny tree frogs, salamanders and miniscule crustacean shrimp are some of the creatures that require sensitive ephemeral vernal pools for survival. A slight change in the landscape will eliminate a vernal pool and eliminate reproduction possibilities for thousands of amphibians, says Dr.Joseph Apodaca, executive director of the Reptile and Amphibian Conservancy.

The EPA recommends a buffer of 1,000 feet around the edge of vernal pools to protect them from contamination. Pennsylvania Natural Heritage recommends a minimum 200 foot no disturbance zone. That means that the township commissioners’ compromise solution for the site – buying half the Harston Woods parcel from the developer in order to protect many of the old trees – will not work. The vernal pools will be destroyed. 

Harston Wood’s trees are also at risk. Paving and construction of the townhouses puts Harston Wood’s 20+ invaluable old oaks and the many other trees on the “protected” half of the site at risk. Building activity is hard on trees, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources warns on its website.

.A single pass by a cement truck or heavy equipment can sever or crush 40% of a tree’s roots. Construction damage to trees can occur on projects as small as paving a patio, Minnesota’s DNR says. A large construction project so close to the remaining Harston Woods trees opens the township up to lawsuits because tree roots will inevitably be damaged and destabilized trees will eventually fall down.

The neighborhood around Harston Woods is a crosspatch of 1950s housing tracts with low walkability. Let’s give Erdenheim a park that is teeming with life and ecological value – not just a giant mowed lawn like typical municipal parks. A three-story townhouse development with asphalt, traffic, dumpsters and two parking lots for 75 cars is not in keeping with the character of the area. How much does Pastorius Park make Chestnut Hill a better place to live? The township should want that for Erdenheim.

Zeta Cross

Springfield Township