New Garden easement deal may face end-of-year deadline
11/28/2017 01:53PM ● Published by Richard Gaw
From the time the deal was first made on Feb. 23, 2015 to enter New Garden Township into negotiations to purchase the 178-acre Green Valley Farm in the township for $2.3 million and place a conservation easement on it, supervisor Pat Little has been its staunchest opponent.
For nearly three years, the negotiations between the township, members of the Reynolds family who own the property and their attorneys have been a one-step-up, two-steps back confluence of delays, and just moments after the board voted at its Nov. 20 meeting to approve payment for the initial $858,449 installment for the property, Little was heard from again.
Little introduced a motion to approve advertising for a discussion at the board's Dec. 18 meeting – and subsequently a vote – declaring that if the Green Valley Farm conservation easement is not fully reached by the end of 2017, the township would rescind the entire deal. The motion was approved by all five supervisors.
“We're going into our third year on this, and I don't know whose side I'm working on,” Little told the board.
Little first suggested a motion to back out of the deal at the board's meetings on Dec. 21, 2015, Jan. 19, 2016 and May 16, 2016, but at each stretch, he and the board were given reasons for the delay. At one meeting, Tom Johnson, one of the attorneys representing the Reynolds family, called the negotiation for the easement “a complicated process,” due mainly to the fact that the property is owned by Reynolds, a guardianship for his brother, and by two trusts, with different beneficiaries.
Reaching a final deal on the property has been further complicated by Warren Reynolds currently serving a state prison sentence for the possession of more than 500 images of child pornography. In addition, his brother is incapacitated and not able to actively be a part of discussions related to the sale of the property, which has prompted the negotiations to be entered into the Philadelphia Orphans Court Division, one of the three divisions of the Court of Common Pleas that serves to protect the personal and property rights of all persons and entities who are otherwise incapable of managing their own affairs.
On June 1 of this year, a pinhole crack in the negotiations appeared to open up when Township Solicitor Vince Pompo informed the board that the Philadelphia Orphans Court issued a decree approving the application to the agreement of sale of the property. He said that assuming that there are no further appeals, a due diligence period would begin on July 3, conclude on Aug. 17, with a final agreement expected by the end of September.
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. It offers more than 30 acres of mature woodland, large ponds, streams, existing paths and scenic vistas which can be seen from Penn Green Road. It contains the former site of a dairy farm, and an historic home built in 1740, which has been in the Reynolds family since 1904.
The acquisition of the property is scheduled to be paid for out of the township's Open Space Fund, and the initial payment will comprise 37 percent of the total cost for the easement, which will be followed by the remaining 63 percent of the total cost, which will be paid in equal installments over the next three years.
In other township business, an informal straw poll taken of the audience revealed clear and overwhelming support for the new facility that will house the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department near its current site on Route 41, in the next year or so.
The reaction came during the latest presentation by Police Chief Gerald Simpson that further unveiled its design, project goals and the projected cost and timeline of its completion.
The 90-minute presentation, which also included Sean Goodrick of Tevebaugh Architecture -- the architectural firm responsible for the project's design -- was the latest glimpse into the progress of the new facility. Tevebaugh entered into its contract with the township in Dec. 2016, and has met in public before the board three times -- and most recently in October in an executive session -- to review the schematic design of the nearly 12,000-square-foot building, the functions of its space, and cost estimates. The projected cost of the facility is, at the present time, estimated at $5.056 million, and will be paid for out of funds from the $29.5 million sale of the township's sewer system to Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc.
Simpson and Goodrick presented a broad timeline for the project, which is scheduled to begin this coming January, when the regional police department will leave their temporary residence in trailers along Route 41, and take up occupancy in offices located on 385 Starr Road in Landenberg, for the duration of the construction period. While the exact calendar dates for the start of construction are dependent on the finalization of the township's deal with Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc., the bidding process to determine the builder is expected to begin in January 2018; followed by the selection of the contractor in February; and groundbreaking projected to begin at the start of summer 2018.
Simpson estimated that the construction period would take between 12 to 14 months, which will project a completion of the new facility by the summer of 2019.
"We needed to develop a building that prioritized safety, security and service to the public," Goodrick said. "The project needed to safely meet the demands of the department as well as the public who live here, and who are going to utilize this facility. We need to utilize the existing site. It is the most cost effective [option], so we don't have to go out and purchase a new property."
Goodrick said that the floor plan has not changed much since it was first shared with the board in May. Simpson said that the process of getting to the final floor plan involved funneling it through the department's staff for input.
"It was a very involved process, but it wasn't just me and the architects and [Township Manager] Tony Scheivert," Simpson said. "It was also the people who will live and breathe in that facility, and should know how it is supposed to function."
The facility will include a public entrance that will include a public vestibule; a community room, designed to be a training facility and house joint operations between police departments; a small kitchen area; an administrative area for department staff; and a secure detention area that will include three holding cells, and two sally ports for the secure and protected escort and intake of detainees. The detention area will be constructed with cinder block walls, while the other areas of the building will be made of wood-frame construction.
Goodrick said that the design of the building will include a fire suppression system throughout the entire building, including a sprinkler system in the security detention area, as well as security cameras.
While the location of the new building will keep the police in their familiar location, its position and design is restricted and dictated by the position of a cell tower that stands at the corner of the facility property, as well as meeting variance requirements. The tower's location affects zoning regulations in place that require construction to observe a 50-foot setback from Route 41, and subsequently, the building's design needed to be tweaked in order to comply with setback regulations.
The tower is projected to remain at its current location for another 10 years, under a lease with American Tower.
Goodrick also said that stormwater infiltration, sewer systems and water pressure for the facility still need to obtain engineering certifications.
While the presentation received overwhelming support from the audience, a few attendees balked at the new facility's pricetag, as well as questioned the need for a new building.
"We're not just talking $6 million for the next two to five years," Simpson responded. "This [facility] is a 50-year investment in your public safety in your community.
"We have done our due diligence here. I know this is a hefty price tag. I'm not going to deny that at all. I would hope that in this presentation, and in the recent history of this organization, we have [demonstrated] a very conservative approach at raising the services we're providing for this community."
In township business related to the monetary source for the planned new police facility, the board approved a 60-day extension in the negotiations with Aqua Pennsylvania Wastewater, Inc. to finalize the sale of the township's sewer system to Aqua for the price of $29.5 million.
The township had originally agreed to a 155-day extension in its negotiations with Aqua, but that extension is set to expire soon. Scheivert said that the purpose for granting the additional extension is because the asset purchase agreement for the sale has been appealed by the Office of the Consumer Advocate, and that easement issues between the township and Aqua still need to be finalized.
The board agreed to the proposed 2018 meeting schedule, beginning on Jan. 2 when a re-organizational meeting will take place. Board meetings will take place on the third Monday of every month, beginning at 7:30 p.m. All budget meetings will be advertised and begin at 7 p.m.
Jim DeLuzio, the New Garden Township representative for the Kennett Library, thanked the board for its support of the Library Referendum that appeared on the township's Nov. 7 ballot. By a vote of 1,014-651, township voters approved the referendum, which will create an annual dedicated tax of about $20 per household and generate a projected $80,000 in annual revenue to the library.
“The referendum carried in all voting [locations] in the township, and almost 61 percent of voters that day supported the referendum,” DeLuzio said. “The Board of Trustees have a vision to make the library an even more vital part of our community. We have the staff and programs that will help change lives for the better.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email firstname.lastname@example.org .