Supervisor withdraws motion to pull township's $2.3 easement
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw, Staff Writer
During the general discussion period at the New Garden Board of Supervisors meeting on Dec. 21, 2015, supervisor Pat Little resurrected a township transaction that was nearly a year old, a negotiation that some had thought was all wrapped up, but in truth, wasn't.
Why was it taking so long? he asked.
Little was making reference to a Feb. 23, 2015 board meeting when, after an hour-long public discussion that was both divided and accusatory, the board voted 3-2 to enter into negotiations to purchase the 178-acre Green Valley Farm for $2.3 million, for the purpose of placing a conservation easement on it. The acreage is currently owned in part by former supervisor Warren Reynolds, who began discussions with the township's Open Space Review Board two years ago, for the purpose of preserving the land in perpetuity. The property, eight contiguous parcels, is located north of Route 41 and is bordered by Penn Green Road on its western edge, Old Baltimore Pike on its northern border, and the area behind the commercial and residential development along Newark Road, on its eastern edge.
Supervisor Steve Allaband, former supervisor Betty Gordon and now board chairman Richard Ayotte voted in favor of the purchase. Little and supervisor Randy Geouque voted against it.
Geouque used the word 'Cronyism' to describe the transaction, implying that certain members of the board voted in favor of the purchase because they are long-time friends with Reynolds.
The most vocal opponent to the easement, however, was Little.
"It seems to me that we are trying to befriend Mr. Reynolds to the tune of $2.3 million," he said. "While this may be an honorable thing to do, I'm not sure it's something that the residents of this township should provide."
More than 11 months have gone by since the agreement was approved, and to date, the easement has still not been agreed upon by either Reynolds, nor the guardians of John Marshal Reynolds, Warren's brother. So, on the agenda for the board's Jan. 19 meeting was a motion – which Little had entered into discussion – to withdraw the township's offer for the easement purchase of the Green Valley Farm.
After hearing from attorneys Tom Johnson and George Elser – legal representatives for the Reynolds family, who spent 45 minutes explaining the reasons for the delay – Little withdrew the motion.
Johnson called the negotiation for the easement "a complicated process," largely because the property is owned by Reynolds, a guardianship for his brother, and by two trusts, with different beneficiaries – all of whom bring different fiduciary responsibilities to the negotiating table.
"We have not been wiling away our days in a hammock someplace, trying to do nothing. In fact, it's been the opposite," he said.
Johnson that a final agreement between family members should be completed by the end of February, and anticipated final negotiations to begin in March. When asked to predict the probability of his projected time line, Johnson told the supervisors that "We are very, very close. By the end of February, the family should reach this agreement."
Little asked for a more complete explanation for the delay, telling Johnson that he does not believe that it should take 11 months to "go through the process."
"We gave the residents of the township one day's notice [on the easement]," Little said. "It was rushed through. And now we've gone 11 months, and nothing's happened. I just think that after a year, we're tying up our money where we may have other sites, where we may want to take that money and go there."
Johnson reiterated to Little that the agreement is complicated – not straight forward – and "that complication was something that people did reasonably anticipate, although perhaps not long as it has been," he said.
During his explanation, Johnson denied a suggestion that a reason for the delay was because the Reynolds family was waiting for the installation of a sewer line on the property in order to use the installation as leverage to re-negotiate the price of the easement.
"That is not true," Johnson said. "We view the agreement of sale as binding. There is no attempt to re-visit it."
Township Solicitor Vince Pompo attempted to explain the reasons behind longer transactions, such as the Reynolds easement.
"Transactions differ, because you have different properties, different parties and different considerations," Pompo said. "Some can go rather quickly, and some take a long time. In my experience, the more parties you have, the more complicated a tract is, the longer the transactions is going to take, in order to come to fruition."
Erin McCormick from Natural Lands Trust and the open space consultant for township, is working on the easement with Johnson, Elser and the Reynolds family. She reiterated Pompo's statement.
"This isn't an unusual amount of time for such a complicated transaction," she said.
If there is an additional complication to the proceedings, it is because shortly after resigning his position as a township supervisor in June of 2013, Warren Reynolds was arrested for the possession of more than 500 images of child pornography. In March 2014, he pleaded guilty to five counts of sexual abuse of children – the official term used to define the possession of child pornography – and in September 2014, he began a state prison sentence that will extend from a minimum of two years to a maximum of four years.
After withdrawing the motion, Little asked for a condition that Johnson and Elser will provide Pompo with monthly status reports about the negotiation, which the attorneys both agreed to.
In other township news, Brian Roberts, a member of the township's Historical Commission, was named 2015 New Garden Township Volunteer of the Year. Reading from a proclamation, Ayotte credited Roberts for his advocacy and involvement with the township's local trail system and the preservation of its history.
"It's been a really wonderful year working with the Historical Commission, and a lot of the credit I'm getting up here has to do with the people who are on that Commission with me," Roberts said. "I look forward to this next year. We have a real gem of history in the township."
Roberts said a big project for 2016 will be to continue to restore the historic Lyceum House in New Garden Township Park, and later asked the supervisors for a contribution of $30,000 to pay for additional renovations to the Lyceum House, which will include painting, asbestos removal and repairs from termite damage.
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.