PRE­SERV­ING LAND AND HIS­TORY

The cen­ter­piece of West Vin­cent Town­ship, Bryn Coed Farms, saved by Nat­u­ral Lands Trust

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Michael P. Rel­la­han mrel­la­han@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Ch­escoCourtNews on Twit­ter

WEST VIN­CENT >> Su­per­vi­sor David E. Brown III moved to this north­ern Ch­ester County town­ship in 2004, from the sub­ur­ban sprawl and con­gested pop­u­la­tion den­sity of Lower Me­rion, Mont­gomery County, and soon re­al­ized that he and his fam­ily had found a true home.

“I just loved life in the coun­try,” Brown said in an in­ter­view on Fri­day. The mix­ture of open fields, deep wood­lands, rolling hill­sides and open room to breathe took hold of him.

So when in 2011 a town­ship of­fi­cial ap­proached him and let him know that one of the largest pieces of open space in the town­ship, Bryn Coed Farms, was be­ing con­sid­ered for sale to a de­vel­oper who would turn it into a mas­sive hous­ing project, Brown was “ap­palled.”

“It is the cen­ter­piece of West Vin­cent Town­ship,” he said. “A large de­vel­op­ment would put a huge num­ber of homes there, and it would per­ma­nently change the char­ac­ter of West Vin­cent Town­ship. It would change us from ru­ral to sub­ur­bia. It would no longer be the coun­try.”

So when on Tues­day Brown was able to break months of “sworn se­crecy” and an­nounce to mem­bers of the town­ship’s Open Space Com­mit­tee, on which he serves as a mem­ber,

“The com­mit­tee broke out in some­thing of a stand­ing ova­tion. There had been ru­mors of deals be­fore but they didn’t hap­pen. No one had ever got­ten this far, to have an agree­ment of sale.” — Su­per­vi­sor David E. Brown III

that an agree­ment of sale for the 1,505 acre prop­erty had been signed, not by a hous­ing de­vel­oper but by the Nat­u­ral Lands Trust con­ser­vancy or­ga­ni­za­tion, he said his feel­ing was one of “ter­rific re­lief, verg­ing on joy.”

“The com­mit­tee broke out in some­thing of a stand­ing ova­tion,” Brown said in the in­ter­view af­ter the plan to con­serve the prop­erty had been an­nounced by the land trust. “There had been ru­mors of deals be­fore but they didn’t hap­pen. No one had ever got­ten this far, to have an agree­ment of sale. I cant say enough about the (prop­erty own­ers) and NLT. They put their mus­cle into it and made it hap­pen.”

Bryn Coed Farms, which strad­dles St. Matthews Road in Ch­ester Springs and is one of the largest sin­gle tracts of open space in the greater Philadel­phia re­gion, would be largely pro­tected from en­croach­ing hous­ing de­vel­op­ment un­der the terms of a plan put to­gether by the Me­di­a­based land trust. Of­fi­cials said the trust had reached an agree­ment of sale with the Di­et­rich fam­ily, heirs to the Lu­den’s cough drop for­tune and own­ers of Bryn Coed, that would fully pro­tect about one-third of the land stretch­ing across three town­ships in north­ern Ch­ester County.

The rest of the land would be sold as large, 30to-50 acre lots for sin­gle­fam­ily homes that would be placed un­der con­ser­va­tion ease­ments, ac­cord­ing to the an­nounce­ment. Those homes would be placed in the in­te­rior of the prop­erty so as not to dis­turb the unique and iconic views of the land­scape seen by the pub­lic.

The trust came to the agree­ment with mem­bers of the Di­et­rich fam­ily on Sept. 28, and now has six months to con­duct its due dili­gence on the prop­erty, in­clud­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal test­ing and fund­ing strate­gies for its pur­chase.

“It is the em­bod­i­ment of the land­scape in north­ern Ch­ester County,” trust Pres­i­dent Molly Mor­ri­son said in an in­ter­view Fri­day. “Of rolling hills and wooded land­scapes, dot­ted with farms. It means a lot to Nat­u­ral Lands Trust to be part of the process to pro­tect it from de­vel­op­ment.”

In its re­lease, the trust said the fate of the prop­erty has been the sub­ject of much spec­u­la­tion over the years as de­vel­op­ment pres­sures have in­creased in the re­gion. Lo­cated pri­mar­ily in West Vin­cent, with por­tions also in East Pike­land and West Pike­land, the prop­erty is one of the largest re­main­ing un­de­vel­oped, un­pro­tected tracts of land in the greater Philadel­phia re­gion.

Un­der cur­rent zon­ing, nearly 700 homes could be built on the prop­erty if it is not placed un­der pro­tec­tion. That would have sig­nif­i­cant im­pacts on the Ch­ester Springs com­mu­nity, as well as the en­vi­ron­ment of the Pick­er­ing Creek wa­ter­shed, those in­volved say.

Elected of­fi­cials like Brown joined with res­i­dents of West Vin­cent on Fri­day in ex­press­ing de­light in the news and prais­ing the par­ties who have put the agree­ment of sale to­gether.

“I think that this is won­der­ful news,” said county com­mis­sion­ers Vice Chair­woman Kathi Coz­zone, who lives close to West Vin­cent in Uwch­lan and knows first­hand the pres­sures of land de­vel­op­ment there. The num­ber of acres that would be pro­tected by the trust and the town­ship — about 500 — is “roughly the size of a county park.”

“It is part and par­cel of our wishes as com­mis­sion­ers to pre­serve open space in the county,” Coz­zone said, con­firm­ing that the county had for the past four years been ear­mark­ing mil­lions of dol­lars in tax dol­lars for cap­i­tal ex­penses to be used to sup­port the ac­qui­si­tion of Bryn Coed by a land con­ser­vancy. “We have been aware of the po­ten­tial of this for a while, and we have been plan­ning on par­tic­i­pat­ing when (an agree­ment) came to fruition.” She said there was an es­ti­mated $8 mil­lion in the county’s 2016 bud­get des­ig­nated for Bryn Coed.

The prop­erty, which in­cludes a 700-acre par­cel that was home to the late U.S. Supreme Court Jus­tice Owen J. Robert, for which the area’s school dis­trict is named, is the “most crit­i­cally valu­able prop­erty to pre­serve in north­ern Ch­ester County and will en­able the ru­ral char­ac­ter and iden­tify of Ch­ester Springs to re­main,” said U.S. Rep. Ryan Costello, R-6, of West Goshen who grew up in neigh­bor­ing East Vin­cent and whose con­gres­sional dis­trict cov­ers the prop­erty.

“This agree­ment sig­nals that the real work of go­ing about pre­serv­ing the prop­erty be­gins with all in­ter­ested stake­hold­ers,” Costello said in a state­ment. “I know NLT lead­er­ship has spent many hours work­ing to­ward this ob­jec­tive and they should be ap­plauded, as should the Di­et­rich es­tate for their pa­tience and per­se­ver­ance in con­sum­mat­ing an agree­ment that will ben­e­fit the greater north­ern Ch­ester County for gen­er­a­tions to come.”

Had the prop­erty been pur­chased by a home builder and un­der­gone de­vel­op­ment, res­i­dents said that what has be­come a con­cern in the town­ship over con­ges­tion and loss of en­vi­ron­men­tally sen­si­tive land would have wors­ened, not to men­tion the im­pact on taxes and in­fra­struc­ture.

“This is def­i­nitely a big win for West Vin­cent,” said Jamie McVickar, who lives less than five miles from Bryn Coed and who grew up in the town­ship in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was an ex­clu­sively ru­ral area. “It’s a big win for Ch­ester Springs and Ch­ester County.”

“We’ve been scared to death that some de­vel­oper would come in and de­velop it,” McVickar said, adding to the traf­fic woes and the loss of open space he says the town­ship al­ready ex­pe­ri­ences. “Traf­fic in the morn­ing is crazy. It’s three times what it is nor­mally on Route 401 and Route 100 down to Route 113, at rush hour. Ob­vi­ously, a de­vel­op­ment there on St. Matthews Road would only add to the ter­ri­ble traf­fic.”

McVickar praised the land trust, as well as Brown and for­mer su­per­vi­sors Ken­neth Miller and Clare Quinn for work­ing to save Bryn Coed. “Su­per­vi­sors here have al­ways made an ef­fort to limit the de­vel­op­ment in West Vin­cent, as op­posed to a place like (neigh­bor­ing) Up­per Uwch­lan, which is hugely overde­vel­oped,” he said.

West Vin­cent Open Space Com­mit­tee mem­ber Sara Shick, who was present for Brown’s an­nounce­ment Tues­day, said, “the com­mu­nity is thrilled” at the news. “There are peo­ple who want to throw a party for the Di­et­rich fam­ily to thank them. It is just amaz­ing. It would have been a shame to lose that big, beau­ti­ful prop­erty.” To con­tact staff writer Michael P. Rel­la­han call 610-696-1544.

PETE BAN­NAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Nat­u­ral Lands Trust has reached an agree­ment of sale with own­ers of Bryn Coed Farms to fully pro­tect about one-third of the 1,505 acres stretch­ing across three town­ships in north­ern Ch­ester County.

Gen­er­a­tions of res­i­dents and vis­i­tors have en­joyed the pas­toral views of Bryn Coed Farms.

A barn com­plex at Bryn Coed a 1,505-acre farm in West Vin­cent.

Much of the prop­erty at Bryn Coed is ac­tively farmed or in pas­ture.

PETE BAN­NAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Gen­er­a­tions of res­i­dents and vis­i­tors have en­joyed the pas­toral views of Bryn Coed Farms.

Much of the prop­erty at Bryn Coed is ac­tively farmed or in pas­ture.

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