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Sunset over a pastoral farm with green fields and farm buildings.

Crebilly Farm

Crebilly Farm conservation progress

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.”

 

Media requests click here.

past progress updates

July 20, 2022Vote 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
benefits?”

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.

Read the full press release. 

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.

FAQs

How much will my taxes go up if the referendum is successful?

Your specific tax increase will depend on 1) your household earned income and 2) the assessed value of your home. For perspective, a household earning $100,000 would pay an additional $80 in local Earned Income Tax. That’s the equivalent of about four large pizzas. A home with an assessed value of $250,000, which is approximately the average assessed value for a single family detached home in Westtown, would pay an additional $105 per year. That’s about as much as a dinner out for a family of four.

Keep in mind that your taxes will also go up if Crebilly Farm is sold to a developer and turned into houses. In fact, taxes will go up MORE than the cost to preserve the land as open space. Brandywine Conservancy recently completed a study* that showed Westtown Township spends $1.17 on services like police, road maintenance, sewer, and schools for every $1.00 received in residential taxes. In fact, after 8.25 years, the cost to preserve Crebilly Farm as open space breaks even with the cost the community would be taxed to support its development. And after that 8.25-year break-even point, if Crebilly is developed it will continue to cost the community more than the tax revenue it generates. The same study determined that, if Crebilly is developed using the most recently proposed Toll Brothers housing scheme, the average household in Westtown will shell out $288 annually to cover the costs of the community services the homes require.

Why is Westtown Township proposing to increase both Earned Income Tax and Real Estate Tax?

To make sure the tax burden is shared equitably by all township residents. Real Estate Tax is paid by those who own property in the Township. Earned Income Tax is paid by residents who are actively working. By spreading the tax increase across both taxes, residents on fixed incomes—such as social security or retirement pensions—and renters will not be overburdened by new taxes.

Is an Open Space Tax the only way to preserve Crebilly Farm?

Yes. The plan to preserve Crebilly involves utilizing all available grant funds and the Open Space Tax funds. Even if we can get all the grant money the Township has applied for, there will still be a gap between that amount and the purchase price. The Open Space Tax is required to fill that gap.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of referendum passage is the fact that, with our community’s support, we will have the ability to conserve Crebilly Farm proactively. Without it, we can only stand by and wonder what the next development will look like.

What happens if the Open Space Tax referendum doesn’t pass?

Crebilly Farm will go back on the market and be sold to another buyer, most likely a developer. There will be no other chance to save the property as publicly accessible open space.

Why should Westtown residents vote to raise their taxes?

Frankly, if residents don’t vote YES on the open space referendum to conserve Crebilly Farm, their taxes will go up even more when it is developed. It costs more to develop land than to conserve it.

In July 2022, Brandywine Conservancy evaluated the costs to a community for various types of land use in Westtown Township. The Township spends an average of $1.17 on services to support residential developments—services such as police and fire protection, road maintenance, sewer systems and new schools—for every $1.00 received in tax revenue. In contrast, the Township only spends an average of 17 cents on services for open space for every $1.00 received in taxes.

Do taxpayers ever vote to increase taxes like this?

Yes! Referenda for open space preservation have been passed in 36 townships in Chester County alone. Nearby townships with dedicated open space preservation funding include East Bradford, Newlin, West Bradford, Pocopson, London Grove, Highland, and East Marlborough. Open space ballot measures attract bipartisan support across the country.

If the referendum is successful, how long will the new taxes remain in place?

The new taxes would remain in place unless they are rescinded by a future Board of Supervisors. Because the taxes would secure (i.e., support) the repayment of the bonds (debt) issued to purchase the property, the taxes would need to be in place at least for the full term of the bonds, which is expected to be 30 years.

If the referendum is successful and the Township acquires 208 acres of Crebilly Farm, what is the plan for that land?

The 208 acres will become a township park dedicated to “passive” open space. It will be a place for hiking, jogging, dog walking, bird watching, as well as general relaxation and enjoyment of nature. The specifics about how the property will be used—including but not limited to where trails, pavilions, and parking facilities might be located or what uses will be permitted—will be determined through a planning process that will include public input after the acquisition is complete.

Isn’t Crebilly larger than 208 acres?

Yes, in addition to selling 208 acres to Westtown Township, the property owners intend to create four large parcels out of the 104 acres in the southwestern section of the property. The owners are working with Natural Lands to permanently preserve these properties by placing conservation easements on those four parcels.

Once the conservation easements are in place, those properties can never be subdivided into smaller lots and developed with multiple homes. Three of the four lots already contain residences. The fourth lot will contain a building envelope within which a single-family residence and associated residential structures may be constructed. The current property owner would then market those conserved parcels to private buyers.

In addition, there is a six-acre lot on South New Street, surrounded by Crebilly Farm, that is not part of this transaction. It is a private residence and will remain as such.

Who will maintain Crebilly Farm after the acquisition is complete?

Westtown Township will own and be responsible for maintaining the 208 acres of open space once the acquisition is complete. Maintenance for the remaining 104 acres of eased land will be the responsibility of those individual property owners. Natural Lands will be responsible for monitoring the conservation easements’ restrictions in perpetuity.

I heard someone say Crebilly as open space would increase crime, is that true?

No, that’s not true. But it is true that developing Crebilly would lead to more police calls. The police reviewed and commented on the impact of a 300+ housing development at Crebilly with this statement: “The expected calls for service within the new development would add a minimum of 1% to the Township’s calls for police services. The police department anticipates numerous traffic concerns associated with the development. In the event that these concerns are not addressed, the police department anticipates a considerable increase in traffic complaints from residents of both Westtown and Thornbury Townships and a potential increase in crashes.”

In fact, municipal planners have long found parks and gardens to be a powerful tool to reduce crime. And, of course, access to free open space improves both physical and mental health. A recent study found that Chester County residents save $124 million per year by utilizing open space for recreation, and avoid $172 million in medical costs annually.

As owners of thousands of acres of nature preserves—much of it in Chester County—Natural Lands experiences negligible crime at our properties. It’s important to note that most of our properties are unstaffed and all are without any sort of security presence.

What about farming at Crebilly?

The state and federal grants that are planned to fund 75% of the purchase price of Crebilly Farm 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.

Additionally, the private property owners who purchase the eased parcels would be able to farm their land should they choose to.

What will happen to the existing structures at Crebilly Farm?

There are three structures on the 208-acre purchase area:

  1. The Darlington Inn at the corner of Route 202 and 926

  2. A house along Route 926 between Caleb Drive and Bridlewood Drive

  3. 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.

What will happen to the Brandywine Battlefield portion of Crebilly?

The majority of the area designated as the site of the Battle of Brandywine in 1777 is within the conservation easement area and will, therefore, be protected from development. By its very nature, a conservation easement is a legal document that spells out exactly what is and is not permitted on the property. It severely limits the types and amounts of future earth moving and construction.

Why can’t the Township pay for the acquisition of Crebilly Farm from existing taxes that we already pay?

Existing tax dollars are used to pay for critical Township services, including police and fire services, road paving and plowing, stormwater management, code enforcement, and park maintenance.

Tell me more about the role of Natural Lands in this.

Natural Lands is helping Westtown Township by actively applying for county, state, and federal grants and facilitating private fundraising to acquire Crebilly Farms on the Township’s behalf. It is also advising the Township and the property owner on many of the specific details of the transaction. In addition, the conservation easements will be legal agreements between Natural Lands and the property owners. Natural Lands will have no fee ownership interest in Crebilly Farms.

Natural Lands and the Township have entered into an agreement for services whereby Natural Lands is seeking grant funding on the Township’s behalf for property acquisition. In addition, the contract outlines additional due diligence associated with the acquisition and conservation easements that includes costs for a survey, environmental assessment, title insurance, closing costs, easement stewardship and additional staff time associated with the project.