Councilmember Curtis Jones’ proposed ordinance, if passed, would subvert local environmental protections and violate the Overbrook community’s right to self-determination by giving the golf course developers free reign to cut trees on any steep slopes on the premises without going through the regular zoning process and without community approval.
The developers originally applied for and were rightfully denied a zoning permit to cut trees on steep slopes within the golf course, as it violates an explicit prohibition in the zoning code. They appealed. Rather than play by the rules, the developers withdrew their appeal and are using their wealth and political clout to influence politicians like Curtis Jones to change the rules for them.
Specifically, Jones’ proposed ordinance would allow the developers to flout the zoning code and appeals process, which requires that developers obtain support from the neighborhood. The developers don’t want to play by the rules because they hope to avoid tough questions from community members who are already outraged by the developer’s needless destruction of 108 acres of trees in other areas of the golf course.
Jones himself is trying to avoid public scrutiny by conveniently waiting to submit his proposed ordinance until one day after he attended an in-person “town hall” event about the golf course on November 16, 2022.
The Cobbs Creek golf course developers should play by the rules like everybody else. If the developers want a zoning variance to cut trees on steep slopes in the golf course, then they should make their case to the people of Overbrook instead of running to politicians for special exemptions.
The proposed ordinance won’t just harm Overbrook and other communities downstream from the golf course. It also creates a dangerous precedent that threatens to undermine legal protections for Philadelphia’s urban tree canopy, which were just recently consolidated by Councilmember Katherine Gilmore Richardson’s Philly Tree Fund Bill. If wealthy developers are allowed special carve-outs for their projects, our legal system for tree preservation will become a sieve through which any kind of irresponsible development can pass with enough money and political influence.
Lawrence Szmulowicz is a volunteer with the Cobbs Creek Ambassadors and Cobbs Creek Environmental Justice.