Around Landenberg: The landscape preservation band
● By Richard Gaw
“New Garden Township has expressed the desire to retain the remaining rural character and open spaces of the community.”
Open Space and Recreation Plan, Chapter 13, New Garden Township Comprehensive Plan
By Richard L. Gaw
Harrogate North resident Joe Miscione, now a retired engineer, grew up in New York City.
Landscape-wise, the boroughs that comprise the city are about as far away from Landenberg as you can possibly imagine, and as far as open space? Fuhgetaboutit.
In the seven years prior to settling in Landenberg, Miscione and his wife were living in Houston, and when it came time to select a place to retire, they looked everywhere.
“Every place we saw was OK, but it wasn't perfect,” Miscione said. “My wife and I came up here without any knowledge of the area, and one of the pleasant surprises that we found was the amount of open space -- and the care and feeding of that open space -- that had been done by some of the groups in the area, as well as the legacy of land left by many others.”
For reasons having to do with that care and feeding, Miscione is now a member of the New Garden Township Open Space Review Board. So is Stan Lukoff, a retired DuPont consultant who, with his wife Estelle, lives on a seven-acre property in Landenberg, where it is not uncommon to see bald eagles and other birds soaring over the two-acre pond that borders their home.
So is Randy Lieberman, a publisher, who with his wife Amy, raised their two children in an historic home in Landenberg, within eyesight of woods and fields where horses run.
So is graphic designer Kecia Crowl, a 20-year township resident, who has seen the rejuvenation of birds of prey that have come back to the White Clay Creek.
So is township volunteer Chris Robinson, who dedicates his time and energy to the appreciation and preservation of New Garden Township's history.
Together with fellow members Dave Rickerman and Erin McCormick, a consultant from Natural Lands Trust (NLT), these individuals carry the torch that began in 2005, when the Open Space Review Board (OSRB) was founded, to assist landowners with planning to preserve remaining open space.
Since its beginning, the OSRB has helped to promote and protect more than 1,000 acres of land -- about 10 percent of the entire township. These efforts are not achieved in board rooms, but through a roll-up-the-sleeves approach that begins with walking in fields and pastures, and listening to what the homeowner wants for his or her property. The work is also done in partnership with the NLT and the Friends of the New Garden Trails, a volunteer organization that maintain the trails, provides programs related to the trails, and does much of the work required when new trails are established.
The financial packages that organizations like the OSRB can provide property owners often fall way short of what commercial and residential real estate developers have in their arsenal. The bargaining chips of the OSRB, however, are in the intangible benefits a homeowner will receive. By working with the township rather than with a real estate developer, a homeowner can take advantage of a federal income tax reduction -- up to 50 percent of an adjusted gross income that owners can carry forward for the the next 15 years.
“You need a land owner who has some sentiment of wanting to conserve the property,” Robinson said. “If they're just looking at it in terms of dollars and cents, this is going to be a tougher sell for them, than in the case of a developer who has a different offer.
“Our dialogue with property owners has given the Review Board opportunities to educate landowners and the general public about the larger value procured when a property is conserved,” he added. “That is, the increase in value to both their and adjacent residential properties, public recreation, protection of habitat, clean water protection, historic preservation, and less impact on township resources, when compared to residential development.”
Protecting land through the OSRB saves money, too. For every dollar communities realize from residential development, $1.16 is paid out by townships and municipalities for services needed to maintain that development. Comparatively, on non-developed land, only 37 cents is paid out.
The mission that helped to form the OSRB a decade ago had its roots in the 1993 New Garden Township Open Space, Recreation and Environmental Resources Plan, and is now on the township's updated comprehensive plan. It has been the blueprint for a success story, one that has formed the proposed 17-mile White Clay Creek loop trail; created Township Park; and continues to pursue other methods of preserving -- and protecting -- open space.
Although the bulk of the operating costs to acquire land for conservation comes from the Open Space Fund -- created from a 2005 township referendum that operates separately from the township's general fund -- the township also receives financial assistance from the National Park Service, the White Clay Creek Wild & Scenic, and the Chester County Preservation Partnership Program.
It's being put to good use.
After years of discussions by the OSRB, the board entered into negotiations on Feb. 23, 2015 to purchase the 178-acre Green Valley Farm, for the purpose of placing a conservation easement on it. While negotiations are still in progress on Green Valley Farm, the OSRB worked with two township residents this past May to place a conservation easement on 23-acre parcel on 480 Church Road.
The property, located on the western edge of the township, is in the vicinity of the Brandywine Polo Fields and Glen Willow Orchards. The site is rich in farmland vistas, wetlands, woodlands and trails, and its waterways link to the eastern branch of the White Clay Creek watershed.
Declaring it a “win-win” for both the property owners and the township, Lukoff said at a presentation to the board about the property that the acquisition of easements adds conservation value to the township's environmental and ecological infrastructure, and has very little impact on township services, such as public works, sewer and police service.
“When we preserve properties, there's less of a strain on the ecosystem,” he said. “The preservation of farms is very important and part of our scope. There is a lot of agriculture in this township, and we want to continue to preserve as much as we can.”
Perhaps the shining moment in the history of the OSRB occurred last December, when the township's board of supervisors voted unanimously to enter the township into a conservation easement in cooperation with St. Anthony of Padua Catholic Church in Wilmington, to preserve 137.6 acres of St. Anthony in the Hills.
As part of the agreement, the land will continue to be owned and operated by the church as a camp 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 for 50 years, until his death at the age of 99 in 2013.
It was a long time at the negotiation table. The first seeds of the collaboration between the township and the parish dated back to 2008, when Father Balducelli approached the township with the idea of entering into a conservation agreement.
The OSRB looked at several criteria: The property's value to the township; its environmental and ecological infrastructure; its connection and access to Greenway trails; its property parcel size; and its proximity to protected land. 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.
The OSRB also saw the environmental factor in acquiring the property: St. Anthony in the Hills 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.
“I grew up in the township and I knew Father Roberto,” Robinson said. “I knew his spirit, and I also knew that he wanted to preserve that land for future generations. Previous OSRB members knocked on his door, and then they came back to us. It was an opportunity that we felt served both the township and St. Anthony's.”
“For anybody who has had the privilege to meet Father Roberto, 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 dreamed of.”
So how do the conservation easements -- both finalized and projected -- look in the big picture of the Landenberg area? Are they linked to the vision of the White Clay Creek Loop Trail? Do they connect with the Mill Race Trail, the Laurel Woods Trail and the Landenberg Junction Trail?
One of the goals of the OSRB will be to create a visual database of information to provide an overview of where their efforts fit within the “Linking Landscapes” objective of the township. It will help spell out high-, medium- and low-priority target points, that can easily serve as a road map for future board members.
“It will give the township a lot better understanding of what the resources are and what money needs to be allocated, in order to achieve our goals,” Mascione said.
For every large-scale acquisition the OSRB brokers, the truest testament of their work is done one acre at a time.
“It's not only just the big pieces, but the smaller pieces,” McCormick said, pointing to the 1.2-acre Hendrickson property that serves as a trailhead in the New Garden Township Trail System. “It's a testament to that family to sell that property to the township.”
“The land that the Du Pont family left behind in southern Chester County and beyond has been a huge legacy, but our job is to continue that mission, even if it's only a few acres here and there, or 137 acres,” Crowl said. “It's all really important, historically and ecologically.”
“The frustrations we experience are in the form of seeing people who are sitting on historic and preserved land who are calling the real estate developers or the bulldozers to clear that land, and not considering the long-term ramifications of protecting their land for future generations,” Lieberman said. “The joys are when we get someone who is interested in protecting their land through the township, and there is an engaging conversation with them.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail email@example.com.
How to preserve your land for future generations
If you live in New Garden Township and would like to consider preserving your property as open space in perpetuity, here are the basic steps you will need to take:
· Contact the OSRB (firstname.lastname@example.org, to the attention Chris Robinson), or come to the next OSRB meeting, which is the third Tuesday of every month at 7 p.m. in the New Garden Township building.
· After the initial meeting, a member of the board schedules a time to walk the property, looking for features such as scenic vistas, trail connectivity, watershed protection, wildlife habitat, agricultural heritage and historic site preservation.
· Next, the OSRB evaluates this information and proceeds or declines with development of the conservation easement process.
· The OSRB and the property owner summarizes the land use restrictions and arranges a property appraisal by the township.
· With the property owner’s approval of the appraised value, the OSRB recommends to the township supervisors to authorize a final offer to purchase the conservation easement.
· If the supervisors approve the offer, they will schedule a public hearing to start negotiations and request NLT to prepare a contract for presenting the offer to the property owner. Negotiations are between the property owner and the township supervisors.
· The township will arrange a meeting to sign all necessary documents to purchase the conservation easement.
Before exploring development of a property, consider talking with a member of the OSRB to determine conservation options. Funds are available for purchase of conservation easements and, in some situations, may offer comparable value to landowners to outright sale of the property with no easement.
For additional information about the OSRB, contact Chris Robinson at email@example.com, Erin McCormick at firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the New Garden Township at 610-268-2915.