The new park in Kennett Township: How it happened
● By Richard Gaw
By Richard L. Gaw
When Susan Pierce first decided to build her farmstead on 56 acres on Bayard Road in Kennett Township in the early 1800s, the concept of sharing her property with the rest of the township residents was just not thinkable.
However, this is 2016 – more than 200 years after what is now known as The Susan Pierce House was first constructed – and times have changed. Last year, local real estate developer Michael Pia, Jr., and his wife Stephanie decided they were going to purchase the property and its farmhouse from the home's most recent owners. In the end, after more than a year of negotiations with Kennett Township, they kept 11 acres of their own, while arranging that the remaining 45 acres become Kennett Township's first public park, to be shared by all, for generations to come.
“The township's Land Conservation Advisory Committee found out that Mike was looking to purchase all 56 acres,” said township manager Lisa Moore. “At the same time, the committee and the township and the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County felt the property was important to preserve as an open space. We approached Mike with the idea of selling a portion of that, in order to preserve it. The Pia's both agreed to work with the Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County to preserve the entire property, and place a conservation easement on the 56 acres.”
On Feb. 12, 2016, the township became the official owner of 45 acres, purchasing it for $782,000. It's a win-win for the township, who is expected to recoup 90 percent of their investment from reimbursements through a grant from the Department of Community and Natural Resources (DCNR).
At first, Pia had exclusive rights to purchase the property from the DeLeeuw family, with the stipulation that a conservation easement be placed on all 56 acres. When Pia began talking with the township about converting the remaining 45 acres to a public access space, the agreement with the township would give them the rights to develop a “passive” park, which would be restricted to the construction of trails, community gardens, dog parks – but no playgrounds and sports fields.
“If we were going to purchase the property, we didn't want to keep it open space, without access to the public, so Mike presented the option of creating a passive park,” Moore said. “We felt that a creating something of this kind, where everyone has access to, would be the most beneficial to the entire community.”
“We looked at many of the surrounding parcels and natural land areas that have been preserved as open space and asked ourselves, 'What would be best here?'” Pia said.
Pia will become a part of a newly-formed township park committee who will help design and construct a butterfly garden and a sunflower garden. In addition, the park will also feature two dog parks – each designed for large and small dogs.
“Stephanie and I were originally going to purchase the property and maintain it as a crop farm,” Pia said, who plans with his wife, an interior designer, to slowly renovate the house and adjoining barn, and eventually live there. “I have always appreciated the character and charm of historic Chester County structures. With the exception of the garage [which was built for automobiles], this property looks the same exact way it did in 1800.”
Construction on the park is expected to begin by this summer, and will be developed in phases. Tom Comitta Associates (TCA), a West Chester-based landscape architectural firm, will design the meadow. No stranger to projects of this kind, TCA has designed a number of active recreation facilities and assisted several municipalities in the preparation of parks and open spaces. In addition to the township, TCA is currently assisting Middletown Township, Delaware County, and East Whiteland Township, Chester County, with their recreation plans.
TCA will not be working on the park alone. The township has hired well-known trail consultant Larry Knutsen to develop a trail design for the park, which is expected to be completed by Spring 2017. Knutsen is the founder and owner of Penn Trails LLC, and is currently serving a three-year term on the Pennsylvania DCNR State Trails Advisory Board, where he chairs the board's Accessibility and Sustainability Committee.
His orientation to sustainable, natural surface trails has been acquired through contracted trail projects experience, professional education and certifications including Trail Planning, Design & Management certification as provided by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and U.S. Forest Service. He teaches a variety of trail planning, design and construction classes for clients, including the Pennsylvania Recreation & Parks Society, Wildlands Conservancy, Chesapeake Bay Foundation and DCNR.
Moore also credited John Snook of the Brandywine Conservancy for developing the transfer development rights for the property.
As the first public park in the township's history, Moore sees the public-private collaboration as a potential gateway for similar partnerships to be formed in the future.
“We love Anson B. Nixon Park [in Kennett Square] and everything they do, but this is a chance for the township to have its own park, with trails and dog parks – one that will help bring the Kennett Township community together,” Moore said. “We feel that there should be more incentives for that, because if there are other public-private partnerships, we can apply for grants each year, to provide the township with the opportunity to preserve land and expand trails, and do something that will benefit the entire community. We feel that this park may become our identity. It was a lot of work and it took a long time, but Mike was wonderful to work with.
“We've all been bursting at the seams with excitement.”
Pia credited not only Moore, but the township's Land Conservation Advisory Committee and the township's supervisors, for their patience during the negotiation stage.
“The entire Kennett Borough is only six times the size of this property, which definitely puts the size of this partnership into perspective,” Pia said. “We are fortunate to have a municipality in this community who embraced the idea, first by being open minded, and then demonstrating the willingness to make it all happen.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.