Crebilly Farm conservation progress
February 1, 2024 – In June, 2023, Natural Lands finalized four conservation easements on 102 acres at Crebilly Farm in Chester County. These easements—permanent, legal restrictions on development—are one element of a two-part plan to preserve the entirety of the iconic farm, which is one of the largest remaining parcels in Westtown Township and Chester County.
The second piece of the two-part plan is still in process: Westtown Township would purchase the remaining 206 acres of the property for use as a publicly accessible, passive-use park. Natural Lands and the township have raised significant funds towards this purchase, with support coming from the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Chester County, private foundations, private donors, and an open-space bond approved by the residents of Westtown Township in November of 2022.
Natural Lands continues to work with Westtown Township to pursue every possible public funding resource to fill the $3 million gap that remains. The organization is not yet crowd-sourcing funds from the community, but may do so if no more public funds become available.
In the meantime, donors are welcome to make gifts in support of the hundreds of staff hours Natural Lands has dedicated to the preservation of Crebilly Farm via the link below.
What’s happening in Congress?
In January, 2024, the American Battlefield Protection Program Enhancement Act (S.3568) was introduced in the U.S. Senate. A companion bill passed the House of Representatives in late 2023.
The legislation, if passed by Congress and signed into law, would create a process for expanding and updating Revolutionary and Civil War battlefield boundaries. Despite decades of new research and archaeology since the original battlefield studies were published, the National Park Service has no method to modify and update the core and study battlefield maps they use.
If the National Park service were able to utilize the most up-to-date research about the Battle of the Brandywine, it would possibly expand the battlefield map to include Crebilly Farm. This could make the project eligible for Battlefield Protection Plan funding.
The timeframe on this legislation and the subsequent administrative process it would enable is uncertain. Natural Lands has contacted the offices of Senators Casey and Fetterman to ask them to consider co-sponsoring the bill, and Pennsylvania residents are encouraged to do the same. More information can be found at Congress.gov.
Can I visit Crebilly Farm now?
No, Crebilly Farm is still under private ownership and not open to the public. The eastern portion of the property will become a Westtown Township-owned nature preserve open to the public, but not until the Township purchases that land and opens it up to visitors. The western portion of the property—the section that has four, permanently protected lots with four homes on them—will always be private property even after the Robinson family sells those lots.
What will that nature preserve look like, and will I have a say in decisions made about the preserve plans?
Westtown Township has stated that they intend to solicit residents’ input as part of a planning process for the nature preserve. For that reason, no details have been finalized..
What will the conservations easements allow and what will the conservation easements prohibit?
Each lot will be allowed a single primary dwelling, accessory dwelling (in-law suite or garage apartment), barn, and miscellaneous outbuildings. Fields may be farmed or pastured; and wetlands, woods, and streams will remain in their natural state. No further subdivision will be allowed.
Who will monitor the conservations easements for compliance, and who will have the right to enforce the conservation easement restrictions?
Natural Lands holds the conservation easements and will monitor the properties annually to ensure the terms of the easements are being upheld. Should a violation occur, Natural Lands will work to resolve the issue and bring the property back into compliance.
Conservation easements are perpetual legal agreements, which means every successive owner of the properties will be subject to the terms of the easements.
Who will own those four lots?
These lots will continue to be in private ownership now that the conservation easements have been placed on them. To learn if any lots are available for sale, interested parties may contact Lisa Yakulis: www.lisayakulis.com.
What about farming at Crebilly?
The private property owners who own the eased parcels (102 acres total) are able to farm their land should they choose to.
The state and federal grants that are planned to fund the remaining 206 acres are intended to protect parks, wildlife habitat, open spaces, forests, and trails. They do not permit active agricultural uses. There are no exceptions to these restrictions, which are mandated by a few of the large funding sources. However, the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources grant would allow Westtown Township to lease the farm fields to a farmer for three years as part of a plan to transition the farm fields to native meadows and other (more ecologically beneficial) habitat types.
What will happen to the existing structures at Crebilly Farm?
There are three structures on the 208-acre purchase area:
The Darlington Inn at the corner of Route 202 and 926
A house along Route 926 between Caleb Drive and Bridlewood Drive
A house with a small, detached garage in the interior of the property to the southwest of the Westminster Presbyterian property
The Darlington Inn is listed on the Township’s historic resources inventory. The Township has not yet discussed what to do with this structure, although it is our hope that it will also be preserved in a way that honors its history. The township plans to tear down the two remaining two houses, which are in poor condition and pose a safety hazard.
The existing structures on the conservation easement area of Crebilly Farm include barns, stables, residences, and a chapel. It is anticipated that most of these structures will remain, subject to the conditions of the individual conservation easement agreements between Natural Lands and the private property owners.
past progress updates
June 29, 2023 – Natural Lands announced today the finalization of four conservation easements on 102 acres at Crebilly Farm in Chester County. These easements—permanent, legal restrictions on development—are one element of a two-part plan to preserve the entirety of the iconic farm, which is one of the largest remaining parcels in Westtown Township and Chester County.
The second piece of the two-part plan is Westtown Township’s purchase of an additional 206 acres of the property for use as a publicly accessible, passive-use park. During November’s election, residents voted overwhelmingly—two votes to one—in favor of the creation of an Open Space Tax, the funds from which will pay for acquisition and maintenance of the township park.
“The development of Crebilly Farm has been looming for many years. Everyone who has worked so hard to preserve this iconic property will sleep easier tonight knowing the conservation easements are in place,” said Jack Stefferud, senior director of land protection for Natural Lands. “The preservation of Crebilly Farm has been a long, complicated process. We just took a major step toward the finish line.”
November 8, 2022 – Residents of Westtown Township voted overwhelmingly—two votes to one—in favor of the Open Space Fund referendum, which will increase both Earned Income Tax and Real Estate Tax. The funds generated from the increase will secure bonds to pay for the acquisition and maintenance of Crebilly Farm, one of the largest remaining unprotected properties in the Township and County.
Said Natural Lands President Oliver Bass, “To say we are thrilled is something of an understatement. For years, grassroots groups have been vocal about the importance of preserving this beautiful and ecologically important property. With Tuesday’s vote, the residents of Westtown—on both sides of the political aisle—have made their voices heard with a resounding “yes!” for conservation.”
Over the coming months, Natural Lands expects to receive positive news from a variety of other funders, including the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Chester County, and the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund. Natural Lands has submitted grant requests for approximately $16,000,000—about 75 percent of the cost of the acquisition.
“The successful passage of the Township’s Open Space Fund is a critical part of the plan to save Crebilly Farm,” said Jack Stefferud, senior director of land protection for Natural Lands. “Had this vote gone the other way, the project would have failed, and Crebilly Farm would almost certainly have been sold to one of a number of developers that had expressed interest.”
“Westtown Township residents should be applauded for their commitment to preserving this iconic property and, by extension, their quality of life,” said Kirsten Werner, senior director of communications for Natural Lands. “Cleaner air and water, less flooding and traffic, and preservation of a Revolutionary War battlefield… we all benefit from this open space, whether or not we ever visit.”
July 20, 2022 – Vote Yes to Save Crebilly is a group of Westtown residents committed to preserving Crebilly Farm as open space and to galvanize support for the passage of an open space tax referendum, which is key to the conservation effort. Supporters can sign up for updates on their website, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
June 20, 2022 – At the Westtown Township Board of Supervisors meeting, the BOS voted unanimously to amend the Township code to establish an Open Space Tax through referendum. The following language will be added to the ballot in this November’s election:
“Do you favor the imposition of an increase in the earned income tax at a rate not to
exceed eight one hundredths (8/100th) of one percent (0.08%) and an increase in the real
property tax at a rate not to exceed 0.42 mills ($0.42 per $1,000 assessed valuation) by
the Township of Westtown to be used to purchase interest in real property for purposes of
securing open space benefits and for transactional fees incidental to acquisitions of open
space property; retire indebtedness incurred in acquiring open space; and the expenditure
of funds for any purpose relating to the acquisition, planning for acquisition,
preservation, improvement and maintenance of open space or for an open space
This vote was an important step in making possible funding for the Township’s purchase of 208 acres of Crebilly Farm to become a Township park and for some of the cost of the conservation easements on another 104 acres of property.
April 4, 2022 – Natural Lands announced today that the owners of Crebilly Farm have signed an agreement of sale that opens a path for the permanent protection of the property.
The conservation plan—which may take 18 months to two years to complete—combines publicly accessible open space and privately owned preserved land. The agreement of sale between Crebilly Farm’s owners and Westtown Township—which was unanimously approved by the Township’s Board of Supervisors this evening—makes way for the Township to purchase approximately 208 acres intended to become a passive-use township park.
A second agreement between Crebilly Farm’s owners and Natural Lands is expected to be finalized soon. That deal will enable the land conservation non-profit to purchase up to four conservation easements on approximately 104 acres of the property. These 100+ acres, which contain most of the property’s buildings and residences, will remain on the market to be purchased by private buyers. New owners would be subject to the terms of the conservation easements.
December 20, 2021 – Natural Lands, a non-profit land conservation organization, has worked to save some of the greater Philadelphia region’s most iconic, ecologically important, and culturally significant landscapes over the past 70 years.
Crebilly Farm in Westtown Township, Chester County, is currently for sale.
Recently, the property’s owners reached out to Natural Lands to discuss possible conservation options for the farm’s 312 acres. We are very grateful to the Robinson family for their willingness to enter this dialogue, the details of which are confidential, as are all our discussions with landowners.
While it’s too early to know specifics, a conservation plan for Crebilly Farm could involve a combination of publicly accessible open space and privately-owned land.
In December 2021, Natural Lands received approval from Westtown Township to apply on the Township’s behalf for federal, state and county funding towards the conservation of the farm. As part of this proposal, Natural Lands will obtain an independent appraisal of the property.