Crebilly Farm conservation progress
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.”
past progress updates
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.
Was the referendum successful?
Yes! Westtown Township residents voted overwhelmingly—by a margin of two to one—for the creation of an Open Space Fund that will support the preservation of Crebilly Farm.
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 will have four, permanently protected lots with four homes on them—will always be private property even after the Robinson family sells those lots.
When will the Township buy the 206 acres that will become a nature preserve?
Westtown Township has until April 12, 2023, to close on the bonds needed to fund the acquisition of the 206 acres. Those bonds will provide about 25% of the purchase price for the land. The additional funding that will be required to finalize the purchase is slated to come from federal, state, and county grants. Those grants are likely to be announced throughout 2023. The purchase would follow.
When will we learn if funding grants will be awarded toward the preservation of Crebilly Farm?
The PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) has already announced an award of $2,000,000 for Crebilly Farm. We anticipate an additional PA DCNR award in January, 2023, and final state funding to be awarded in fall of 2023. We hope to hear very soon from Chester County regarding their funding award.
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.
When will the conservation easements be completed on the four lots on the western side of Crebilly Farm?
The conservation easement language is currently being finalized between Natural Lands and the landowner. Finalization of the conservation easements is also contingent on Township Open Space funds and Chester County grant funds being received. Therefore, the timing for protection of the easement lots will likely be sometime in 2023.
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 will hold the conservation easements and 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?
The Robinson family currently owns these lots and will continue to own them after the conservation easements are placed on them. The Robinsons plan to sell these lots to private buyers. Interested parties may contact Lisa Yakulis, the realtor the family has engaged to sell these lots: www.lisayakulis.com.
I’ve heard there might still be a funding gap; why is that?
Natural Lands, at the behest of the Robinsons and Westtown Township, has applied for the maximum grant funding from those federal, state, and county programs for which this conservation project is eligible. Even if all the funds are granted, there will likely be an approximate $2 million shortfall between the purchase price and the funding generated.
What is the plan to fill that shortfall?
Natural Lands will fundraise by soliciting donations from private individuals and foundations. Many people have already donated to this preservation effort—most recently for the Vote Yes to Save Crebilly campaign to raise awareness about the referendum vote on November 8. To avoid confusion and not have more than one private fundraising campaign ongoing simultaneously, Natural Lands has not yet begun soliciting donors. Experts from Natural Lands have recommended waiting until all grants have been announced, so we know exactly the size of the funding gap before beginning a private fundraising campaign.
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:
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.
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.
I want to donate toward the preservation of Crebilly Farm; how can I do so?
You can make a tax-deductible donation if you scroll up on this page to the “donate now” button. Thank you.