New Garden, parish agree to conservation easement on St. Anthony in the Hills
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
At its last meeting of 2015, held on Dec. 21, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors introduced, discussed and gave OKs to a variety of resolutions and agreements, including the approval of the township's 2016 budget.
Yet, it was a little more than 137 acres of township property that stole the show.
Following a public hearing, the board voted unanimously to enter the township into a conservation easement in cooperation with St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Wilmington, for the purpose of preserving 137.6 acres of St. Anthony in the Hills, a facility the parish owns in southern Chester County.
Appraised by Stephen B. Collins of Beiler-Campbell Realtors at $9,500 per acre, the agreement will transfer $1,370,200 to the church ・ half of which is expected to be taken from the township's $2.3 million Open Space Fund, while the remaining half is expected to be paid from by county and state funding.
As part of the agreement, the land will continue to be owned and operated by the church as a sanctuary for inner-city Wilmington children, as a lasting legacy to the vision of Father Roberto Balducelli, who served as the founder and caretaker of the facility until his death at the age of 99 on Aug. 9, 2013.
The acreage is located in the area just southwest of the intersection of Gap-Newport Pike (Route 41) and Limestone Road (Route 7), just north of Somerset Lake, and sits on the headwaters of the Broad Run Creek. An additional five acres of property owned by the church, located on Limestone Road and zoned commercial, was not part of the easement agreement.
The first seeds of the collaboration between the township and the parish, which dated back to 2008, when Father Balducelli approached the township with the idea of entering into a conservation agreement.
In making his recommendation to the supervisors to enter into the agreement, Lukoff of the township's Open Space Review Board, who chaired a presentation with fellow member Chris Robinson, said that the board looked at several criteria: The property's cvalue to the township; its environmental and ecological infrastructure; its connection and access to Greenway trails; its parcel size; and its proximity to protected land.
Proclaiming that the agreement would be a ・win, win, win・ for residents, the township and St. Anthony of Padua, Lukoff said that the property will very easily fit into the public trail connections to the nearby development being planned by the Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust [PREIT] on Gap-Newport Pike; enhance the quality of life for nearby residents; create lower dollar demands on the township than if the land were to be developed; and increase value to adjacent residential property. Lukoff said there was an environmental factor as well in preserving the property: St. Anthony in the Hills' property contains the headwaters of the National Wild & Scenic White Clay Creek; is a natural habitat for birds and amphibians; and in a 2010 study, was identified as an important factor in improving the water quality of nearby Somerset Lake.
・For anybody who has had the privilege to meet Father Robert, this property was his baby,・ said Domenick Peronti of St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church. ・He gave birth to it. He nurtured it, and he wanted to see it continue. The people at St. Anthony's feel that joining this public-private partnership with New Garden Township gives us the ability to keep that vision alive, and continue what Father Roberto drempt of.・
Township Solicitor Vince Pompo said the final negotiations in the conservation easement between the township and the parish should take between 60 and 90 days.
After agreeing to several minor revisions, the supervisors gave unanimous approval to the township's 2016 budget, which anticipates expenditures slightly more than $21.5 million, with revenues expected to be $17.3 million. This approval follows a Nov. 23 meeting, when the supervisors gave their OK to the preliminary budget. On the revenue side, the township is expected to take in $4.8 million for its general fund, and $2.1 million from its sewer fund. Similarly, the largest sources of expenditures expected next year will be coming out of the township's general fund ($5 million) and sewer fund ($4.3 million).
Although there will be a $4.2 million projected difference between expenditures and revenues on the township's books next year, the deficit will be offset by reserve funds in the township's sewer, airport, open space and capital reserve funds, which total more than $9 million.
Township residents will incur no increased taxes for 2016.
The supervisors also gave approvals on a series of resolutions: To authorize the township to sign the loan agreement for the construction of hangars at New Garden Flying Field; to maintain the township's 2016 real estate tax rate at 1.62 mils; to maintain the current tax rates in the township's real estate, amusement, earned income for open space and local services tax categories; and to enter into a pump and haul agreement for the spray areas in zones 3 and 4 in the township.
In other business, the board agreed to extend the township's contract with the White Clay Soccer Club for a five-year period, for the Club's use of soccer fields in New Garden Township Park. The board also agreed that as part of its annual agreement with the Avondale Fire Company, the township will make a $179,500 contribution to the Company, while also directing a $110,500 contribution to its EMS.
Solicitor Pompo provided an update on the proposed sale of the township's sewer system. Recently, township's Sewer Authority Committee sent out a request for proposals [RFP] in order to determine potential interest and qualifications from outside companies. They received initial proposals from the following interested parties: Aqua America, based in Kennett Square; the Pennsylvania American Water Company, based in Vorhees, N.J.; and Chester-based Delcora.
Pompo said that these companies will now have 45 days to submit supplemental proposals to the township. Following, the Committee and the supervisors will then have an additional 30-day period to decide which of these companies the township wishes to negotiate a definitive proposal with. After the company is selected, the township will then share the definitive terms of the agreement with the general public, prior to the township and the company entering into a definitive agreement.
Pompo said that if everything goes according to plan, the agreement could go before the board by May 2016.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail email@example.com.