Daily Times: Funding for Little Flower Manor property nearly secured
Tuesday, February 23, 2015
By Kristina Scala, firstname.lastname@example.org
Funding sources to purchase the Little Flower Manor property for its preservation as open space are nearly aligned after Delaware County Council members unanimously approved the transfer of a $224,000 grant. The transfer is a procedural move to ensure the county does not lose out on the funding opportunity, county officials said.
County Councilman John McBlain called the Little Flower Manor property, named for the Little Flower Manor nursing home resting closest to Springfield Road, a “terminus” of a walking trail system that would add to the Springfield Road site to the Darby Creek Greenway. He said this grant shows the county is “taking small steps to obtain a tract of land” and preserve it as open space.
“It’s the opportunity for the county to really put together a green spine in a very developed region, but they had to keep acquiring land,” said Peter Williamson, Natural Lands Trust vice president of conservation services. “This parcel has been the focus of the county’s planning department’s interest for a long time.”
Williamson said the county was looking to obtain the rights to the property since the Darby Creek Greenway plan was developed. He said the Springfield Road parcel is a “hub or a spoke on the Greenway.” When commercial development failed to break ground, county council and retired state Rep. Nick Micozzie, R-163, of Upper Darby, jumped at the opportunity, he said.
Natural Lands Trust, an organization that preserves and cares for open space in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey, was tasked to raise funds for the county to purchase the property.
The $224,000 grant adds to the $1.175 million in funding from the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources.
According to Williamson, money was raised for the county through state grants. The county will purchase the 40-acre parcel directly from current owners, the Sisters of the Divine Redeemer, an order of Catholic nuns based outside of Pittsburgh.
The property, previously valued at $2.25 million, includes a large mansion.
The purchase does not include the nursing home. Instead, the century-old mansion sitting behind the nursing home is included in the purchase agreement. The mansion was previously used as the nuns’ retirement home and has been vacant for about a decade. The plan is to refurbish the dilapidated mansion for public use.
A purchase agreement was signed for $1.7 million. County officials are currently doing their “due diligence” by inspecting the property and the building, McBlain said.
To make up the $300,000 difference, Act 13 funding will be used.
“That source of revenue really pushed it forward,” McBlain said about purchasing the property.
The Marcellus Legacy Fund, or Act 13, is a designated source of state revenue distributed to areas in Pennsylvania directly affected by natural gas drilling.
Harrisburg lawmakers are disagreeing over a potential extraction tax that might eliminate an impact fee.
Gov. Tom Wolf recently announced his plan to push forward legislation that would impose a 5 percent severance tax and a 4.7 cent per thousand cubic feet of gas extraction on statewide drilling. The planned revenues would fund public education. Wolf’s plan would eliminate an impact fee — legislation enacted by his predecessor, Tom Corbett.
Several proposals were introduced in the past few months by both state Senate and House members. The proposals are lingering around the state Capitol awaiting approval. Some lawmakers say the details of the legislation must be further discussed before a final decision is made, while others are introducing terms of the legislation to spark dialogue.
State Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-18, of Bucks County, proposed a 3.2 percent natural gas extraction tax without touching the impact fee; Sens. Art Haywood, D-4, of Cheltenham, and Vincent Hughes, D-7, of Philadelphia, presented an 8 percent severance tax to fund education, environmental programs and pensions; and state Sen. Tom McGarrigle, R-26, of Springfield, is pushing for co-sponsorship on a bill proposing a 4 percent increase, also without eliminating the impact fee.
If the impact fee is excluded from the law, a primary source for state open space and recreation funding might be eliminated.
“That would impact our ability to do anything (with the Little Flower Manor property). That’s a debate they are going to have in Harrisburg,” McBlain said. “It’s the only source of funding in the commonwealth for open space. It’s been an asset to communities for parks and recreation funding and open space.”
McBlain said county council urges lawmakers to “seriously consider” eliminating the impact fee “before you divert that revenue away” from counties without a plan to replace it.
He said if the county is unable to retain the remainder of the funding, he’s unsure what would happen to the nearly $2 million in grant funds specifically awarded to preserve the large tract of land on Springfield Road.
Micozzie pushed for the purchase of the 40-acre property to designate it as open space before hanging his hat from Harrisburg politics last year. During his 18-term stint as state representative, Micozzie was a strong advocate for open space preservation. He made his final mark to help preserve the only undeveloped space in Darby that has a stake in American history.
The mansion’s historical tie trails back to the 19th century. Thomas A. Scott, the former president of the Pennsylvania Railroad and assistant secretary of war to Abraham Lincoln, lived in his mansion called Woodburn.
McBlain said the hope is to not only preserve the land as open space property in Darby Borough — a failed trend in municipalities just outside of Philadelphia — but also restore the mansion for public use.
Open space preservation wasn’t the first course of action for Darby representatives.
Darby initially considered commercial development. The area was rezoned a few years ago to pave the way for the construction of a BJ’s Wholesale Club and other retail outlets.
Debate swirled surrounding the interested developer’s plan to construct a shopping center on the Springfield Road property. Issues with flooding and heavy traffic concerned residents, including Micozzie. They strongly opposed commercial development on the site. Public outcry and a petition with hundreds of signatures ultimately forced the developer to another location.
The petition was delivered to Corbett, causing $4 million in Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program funding to be denied to the developer.
It’s unknown if a developer expressed interest in the property since.