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Brightside Farm - Report on October 18, 1999 Supervisor Meeting
The following report on the October 18, 1999 special meeting of the Board of Supervisors was written by Loretta Watson and is provided courtesy of Charlestown Green. I would like to express my appreciation to Loretta Watson for writing this report, as the meeting was of such a nature as to be very difficult and time consuming to summarize.
This Special Meeting was called to order at 7:35 PM by Chairman John Sauser. After group recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance, the Chairman announced (1) A decision regarding conditional use of property as requested by an applicant will be rendered at the next hearing. (2) A postcard announcing this special meeting was sent to all Charlestown residents. This (special) meeting is to elicit opinion from citizenry regarding proposed uses of Brightside Farm.
Speakers: In favor of Community Supported Agriculture, Mark Connolly presented Mr. Theurkauf of Tom Comitta's office who discussed the 1976 Comprehensive Plan and Environmental Resource Plan for the Pickering Valley, which shows scenic, historic and environmentally fragile lands. He discussed three types of open space: Natural Resource Protection for waterways, steep slopes and forests; space for active recreation such as parks, trails, school properties, public spaces; and space for cultural heritage protection which is accomplished through agricultural, historic and viewshed protections. Mr. Theurkauf felt the Pyle farm could serve all three roles due to its location in the Pickering Creek watershed, the Horseshoe Trail, and its potential for cultural heritage protection due to its close proximity to The Wisner Rapp House, one of Charlestown's oldest Historic Register sites. He explained the network of horse trails wherein Brightside farm falls in a central location. Possible uses for this property could be for environmental and educational programs, Community Supported Agriculture farming, an equestrian facility or for Township use such as a municipal building site. For funding options, he supports a Vision Partnership with the County. Opportunities include being part of the new County Landscapes $75 million grant for protection of open space and historical resources. Also he mentioned a source in Philadelphia that would be willing to provide $500,000 toward preservation efforts. Another source of funds suggested could be for the Township to charge a fee to developers not planning recreational sites in their projects.
Next Ellen Behrle read a statement prepared by the equestrian community asking for consideration of equestrian facilities on this property, and that there are horse shows, riding clinics, seminars and an organization in England named Pickering Pony Club that is searching for a location in Pennsylvania. (Later in this meeting Marcia Solda spoke about the benefits of sponsoring equestrian efforts, in that this would attract more horse people to the area which would then serve to preserve more land as horse pastures. She spoke of the Pickering Pony Club's goal of teaching horse riding and care, and the need for show grounds in the area for either horses, dogs, or automobiles. She reiterated that the main purpose is to keep the land open and halt development in the area. She advised that rental for the Ludwig's corner show grounds is approximately $2800 per day.)
John Panizza of General Residential Properties, Inc. took the floor and explained that he is presently requesting a conditional use plan for "Deerfield Subdivision" along Yellow Springs Road on the 94 acres west of the Township's 28 acres together with the 55-acre Pyle farm. Concerns are to protect the viewshed, provide for public use, and/or provide for an equestrian center. He felt his plan would address all these issues while providing an 18-hole public golf course. Drawings of the proposed course were presented. He would protect the historic structures already on the property by preserving and rehabilitating them and may add more onto them for a clubhouse. A key feature would be that since no new dwellings would be visible from Yellow Springs Road, the viewshed would be protected forever. His plan would keep existing tree lines as much as possible and augment them where necessary. New dwellings would be hidden in the Westernmost and the NW corner. A space for Community Supported Agriculture could be provided, as well as trails for horses. The Township could utilize the southernmost part of this property for general parkland, equestrian use, or soccer. GRP would make a donation with no strings or requirements attached. (Later, this donation was valued at between $100,000 and $1 million.) He emphasized that viewsheds would be intact with no obvious structures and existing historic structures would be maintained and improved.
Mark Connolly took the floor to say that the (1997) actions of Mrs. Ewald and Mr. Kohn in purchasing the 20 acre tract in the Township's name should be applauded and not criticized since this has become the cornerstone for land preservation in the Township.
Comments were made as to how a CSA could work with the equestrian community. Earliest plans for establishing a CSA in this area were turned down by Arnold Bartschi at Swiss Pines. Later the idea was a success at Kimberton Waldorf School where a 10-acre farm was supported by citizens in a lease contract with the Township, also known as "subscription farming." Mark Connolly presented his research on the feasibility of Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) which he hopes to install on the property in question. This would be a model copied after the CSA at Kimberton, which has been a very successful venture and has a waiting list of supporters.
Mention was made of the West Pikeland purchase of the Palmer farm on Yellow Springs near Rt. 113, which is now being used as a park.
Another attendee brought to the group's attention that with 31 various developments proposed or under way in Charlestown Township, we could lose the character of the land if preservation is not stressed. (Click here for a list of Township developments with maps.)
Other comments from the attendees were that a golf course would necessarily use pesticides and herbicides -- in direct conflict with the CSA theory and procedures.
In regard to Charlestown Park, it offers many recreational facilities to us but has been taken over by children and groups from Phoenixville.
Mr. Panizza provided information in response to questions. The golf course would provide six acres with twelve condos in a single-family, detached home appearance, on private roads. Philadelphia Suburban Water serves neighboring Charlestown Oaks, but he may possibly drill two wells depending on costs involved. The most difficult route would be to dig wells. A Valley Hill resident voiced concerns regarding the amount of water which would be needed to maintain the greens of the golf course. In response to a question, he noted that the course would be a public "daily fee" course owned privately. A question addressed the guarantees that the course would not fall to development 10 years down the road, so Mr. Panizza said there could be a deed restriction provided. He added that the property is not presently zoned for a golf course, but if the zoning was changed to allow it, the Township would have to honor that change down the road.
The alternative development to a golf course was briefly addressed. This is approximately 40 homes on 97 acres proposed November, 1998. (Click here for preliminary sub-division diagrams). Should General Residential Properties or another developer purchase the 55 acre Brightside Farm tract for additional residential development, the number of dwellings would increase significantly. [JM]) Mr. Panizza's golf course plan would build only 12-15 homes on the 150 acres (which includes the 97 he already owns).
Jacob Merriwether stated his opinion that a golf course would be worse for the viewshed than any of the other suggestions presented so far.
In regard to the CSA, the question of funding was raised. Mark Connolly stated that Kimberton is supported by grants and subscriptions, and the Charlestown CSA would be built on the same premise. The CSA would be a Township-owned property which would generate no taxes. Also the Township would be liable for any risks which, in turn, would necessarily pass the risk on to the Township residents. There was brief reference to an Act which would hold harmless citizens who allow recreational use on their properties (to cover the Township also?)
Mr. DeWilde of Valley Hill Road asked Mr. Panizza if nothing changed for Deerfield, how many homes would be built there? Answer was 40 new homes plus one existing (Pyle home) (Click here for diagrams of the previously proposed subdivision). The storm water runoff would be contained in a basin near Valley Hill and Yellow Springs. However, the bulk of the Deerfield land would remain open along Yellow Springs.
Mr. MacErlane interjected that if the Township purchases the land, it certainly will be insured. If the Township receives rental payments, it then will become liable as a property owner. Any horse, dog or auto shows using the ground would have to provide their own insurance coverage for the event.
In regard to the golf course, Louise Kehoe asked about chemicals to be used and how it would affect the water resources. The response from Mr. Panizza was that courses are looking into organic methods of control. Mr. Sauser interjected that the farms in this area have been using chemicals for a long time--it's nothing new. A golf course consultant employed by Mr. Panizza said that a Naples, FL, golf course partners with the Audubon Society to preserve resources. The question of horse shows and resulting horse manure arose, and the response was that the horses would not be on the property long enough for it to become a problem. A comment from the floor brought up the fact that cows had been on this property for years depositing manure.
Upon questioning, Mr. Panizza said he had not participated with any golf courses to date, and the proposed donation to Charlestown Township is not firm but would range from $100,000 to $1 million.
Bob Jones of the Civic Association stressed that creativity in planning courses could work toward preserving the view and not appear as a fully manicured plot.
Regarding noise, the use of loudspeakers at events was broached. The response was that loudspeaker activity would be at a minimum and only on the weekends that a show was held.
A suggestion that Charlestown Park be used for equestrian related activity was made, but the response was that soccer and other kid's activities have taken over the park.
Mr. Panizza reminded all present that his plan would be a tax paying operation and not demand Township services or fill the schools.
One resident asked for more clarification as to who would be running an equestrian center if that was the route taken.
Mr. Sauser reminded everyone that this meeting was to bring out ideas for use only. He said that the School Board had formally stated an intention to provide a 90-day period, starting 10/18/99, during which time Charlestown Township would present an agreement over the use of the property. Meanwhile a professional appraisal will be taken to establish price. Subdivision is also being considered to break the parcel in to smaller parcels. Mr. Sauser reiterated that cost is an important as far as the amount the public would be willing to contribute. An outline and survey will be sent to the general public shortly. He added that he thought it interesting that a golf course was proposed by a private organization to minimize development and protect open space which would also incorporate the equestrian and farming concepts. However, he added time is of the essence in resolution of this matter.
Discussion on grants followed. Various grants from County, State, Private Sector and matching grants are available. Per Mr. Sauser, to qualify for the County funds, the Board of Supervisors must be in a position to move forward with the County's Landscapes plan. A master plan for uses of the land is the best way to show eligibility. Some dollars will come from the Township treasury as matching dollars to the grant money. The public must decide if they want to purchase Brightside Farm and turn it over to others for preservation of the open space.
Per Mr. Wert, (1) The Township wants to partner with the School District because the District wants to subdivide and sell. If the 55 acres is subdivided into two parcels, we may be eligible for $250,000 per tract from Landscapes. (see comment further below) (2) Easement issues must be decided (equestrian/public path along Yellow Springs and natural area along the creek running through the land) (3) The existence of the 90 day time frame for submission of written agreement for the Pyle land; if no agreement is submitted, the land will be on the open market.
Out of the yearly Township revenues of $790,000 about $190,000 to $200,000 is recurring revenue. Rest is other income. Mr. Wert quickly reviewed the proposed questionnaire to be publicly distributed and solicited from those present any additions or changes.
Mrs. Ewald stressed that there's a "cost" to keeping the open land. There are many possible ways to preserve it and community input is needed.
A question from the floor asking for the dates of additional meetings and when the financial picture will be presented. Mr. Sauser responded that we are here to determine the possible uses. Regularly scheduled supervisors meetings along with a possible special meeting could be held.
Mrs. Ewald stressed that at present the Township is debt-free. $400,000 exists in the open space fund which could be leveraged against any grants, but we must watch for any strings that may be attached to grants. The average Township tax levied is $100 to $200, and the question arises as to increasing this tax. (Note: The 1999 Township
Budget is available from our Official Minutes page or by clicking here.)
Comments from the floor included the thought that the School Board reneged on their decision. Open space is the goal and if a poll was taken tonight, the speaker felt the majority would vote for open space.
Wendy Leland gave a comprehensive review of the types of grants available including those from the State. The Township is ineligible for grant money from the Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources since this purchase would be occurring between two public agencies (Board of Supervisors and the School Board). The Department of Commerce and Economic Development will grant dollars upon meeting their requirements, but they need to have cooperation between the Township, School and County with matching funds. $50,000 is estimated grant.
State Representative Carole Rubley advised Wendy that small grants of $10,000 could be requested through legislation.
PennDOT grants were available.
County grants are available through Landscapes Program or Open Space and Municipal Grants for land acquisition. The parcels which are contiguous would be considered "one project" under Landscapes.
The Planning Commission could provide up to $20,000 additional dollars.
One grant would allow for such a transaction between the Township and the School Board
A budget loan of $300,000 to $400,000 at low or zero interest could be pursued.
Federal Government has a 20 to 30 year waiting list for land acquisition funding.
Township or private funds could also be considered.
A rhetorical question from the floor addressed whether we can afford not to purchase the property now.
Ellen Behrle spoke about setting up a land trust and obtaining dollar for dollar matching funds.
A question from the floor inquired as to whether the French and Pickering Creek Conservation Trust had been contacted. (No, it has not been contacted.)
One resident brought up his feeling that if he has to pay an earned income tax to another municipality, he would rather see his money go to Charlestown Township through an EIT.
Another comment was that while filling out the public survey (to be sent soon), consider the alternatives that would ensue with a 41 home development. Also consider that Charlestown can repeat the success achieved in West Pikeland in establishing a park.
Mark Connolly presented his slide show regarding Township monies and how much is available for use. He stressed that income could be raised by a 1% earned income tax. Rick Hevener (in municipal financing) advocated financing via a municipal bond with low rates and low amortization.
John Pittock expressed his concerns about water uses for the plans addressed; and advocated a plan of going to the school district to request that they sell the property back to the Township at cost in an effort to preserve the open space.
Some questions/comments were posed regarding anticipated traffic for the various uses planned. It was stated that horse shows would occur from April to October on weekends with approximately 150 horses per show. The impact would be minimal. Golfers would be around most of the year between 7am and 5pm with light traffic expected.
Jacob Merriwether advised all present to visit the Charlestown website (www.charlestown.org or send email on the subject to firstname.lastname@example.org) for information on Brightside Farm, CSA and other related uses of the property.
Mr. Issacs posed a question to Mr. Panizza regarding the impact of 41 homes vs. a golf course. Mr. Panizza advised that this information was available.
A thought was posed as to how much additional tax the public would be willing to pay to acquire open space. Mr. Sauser directed attention to the pertinent questions on the coming survey, and commented that an EIT was considered by Charlestown in the past but had no support from the citizens.
A suggestion was made from the floor to contact East Bradford Twp (John Johnson) because of their interested in fish and wildlife conservation efforts and the acquisition of land in that area. Mr. Sauser reminded the group that constant (Township) acquisition of land puts a bigger tax burden on the citizens. We should consider alternatives.
Mr. MacElree informed the group that a fractional increase in the EIT in Willistown is presently under consideration in order to put the increased revenues into acquisition of open space. He also cautioned that grants could take a while to obtain and can have strings attached, so we would not be able to accomplish certain things.
Meeting adjourned at 10:30 p.m.
Prepared by Loretta Watson
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