Daily Local: Just a financial nudge needed to preserve Crebilly Farm
WESTTOWN — A representative of Natural Lands told township supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting that the conservancy is moving closer to finalizing the acquisition of the remaining 206 acres of Crebilly Farm.
With a total purchase price of about $25 million, Natural Lands has almost cleared the final hurdle and is $3 million short of its goal.
Todd Sampsell, Natural Lands Vice President of Conservation, said that the goal to acquire all the funding by March 31 might not be possible. Informally, supervisors and Sampsell suggested extending the time limit to September 31, or six months from the current deadline.
Crebilly landowner, the Robinson Family, and the township would mutually need to agree to extend the deadline.
“The property owner is happy with the progress,” Sampsell said. “It is in the best interest for him and his family.”
Sampsell is hopeful.
“There’s nothing negative, but I wish I had more positive news,” Sampsell told the supers. “It’s very typical for a large land purchase.
“It’s like putting a puzzle together. We need to find a few more pieces to the puzzle.”
Natural Lands and the township have collected most of the approximately $25 million cost for preservation, through grants, private donations and a voter referendum.
The Robinson Family ended a 5-year agreement with builder Toll Brothers. Toll had hoped to build 319 homes at the iconic property that hosted troops during the Revolutionary War’s Battle of Brandywine. Hundreds of residents attended 4-hour marathon meetings that were moved to Rustin High School to meet the demand for seating.
Sampsell said that the property is historically significant, an important natural resource and is a headwater stream for the Brandywine Creek, which supplies drinking water as far south as Wilmington. The preserved farm would provide wildlife habitat and be used for outdoor recreation.
“It’s got it all,” Sampsell said.
The cost of the eastern two-thirds of the 206-acre park acquisition is $20.6 million, or $100,000 per acre.
Natural Lands finalized four conservation easements on 102 acres on the western portion of the property at Crebilly Farm. These easements — permanent, legal restrictions on development — are one element of a two-part plan to preserve the entirety of the farm, which is one of the largest remaining parcels in Westtown.
The second piece of the two-part plan — still in process — is Westtown Township’s purchase of an additional 206 acres of the property for use as a publicly accessible, passive-use park. The purchase will be funded in part by the newly created township referendum.
So far, about $22 million, of the $25 million goal, has been accumulated.
Westtown voters agreed, by a 2-to-1 margin, to “tax themselves” and contribute $7.5 million toward the purchase. The DCNR has promised $6 million, Chester County pitched in $6.35 million, a private donor contributed $1 million and Mt. Cuba Center issued a challenge grant of $1 million. The 3-to-1 Mt. Cuba grant is contingent upon the conservancy gathering another $3 million and meeting the $25 million goal. Private donors have also contributed.
National Park Service plans to extend the boundaries for the Battle of Brandywine site are underway.
“It shows that troops skirmished in a broader area than the original battlefield,” Sampsell said.
The boundary change, that could add funding, requires congressional approval. The House of Representatives passed HB 3568. Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine is leading a bipartisan, non-confrontational effort in the Senate to pass the legislation, Sampsell said.
Sampsell encouraged residents to write and call their U.S. senators.
“Send a simple message — this is important to us,” Sampsell said.
Sampsell also noted that no more than 50 percent of the funding for the purchase can come from federal sources, which it doesn’t.
Possible additional sources include the non-profit Open Space Institute. Sampsell said that he hopes the organization, which has an interest in protecting watersheds throughout the Delaware Valley, can fund a portion of the purchase.
With the deadline looming, Township Manager Jon Altshul noted that it would take three months for the township to secure bonds.
Supervisor Richard Pomerantz is confident.
“One thing always pleased me about the persistence and patience of all the volunteers and supporters—something continues to be there,” the super said. “Speaking for myself, I’m confident our board will be responsive to the desires of the citizenry to support in whatever way possible the successful culmination of this whole process.
“If that means the granting of an extension for Natural Lands to fulfill its promise to raise the necessary funds, I think the extension will be granted.”
Toward the end of the discussion, Altshul called for the parties to meet and discuss an extension.
“Let’s sit down and make a recommendation,” Altshul said.