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Chester County Press

The gift to New Garden that we hope to eventually see

01/09/2018 11:23AM ● By Richard Gaw
Throughout the 50-page document that chronicles the details of the conservation easement agreement between the Reynolds family -- owners of the 177-acre Green Valley Farms -- and New Garden Township, there are several sections devoted to just what the residents of the township will receive.
At first reading, the agreement's description of the property, carefully brokered and prepared by Natural Lands, reads like quite a gift to the locals. With its natural features, wildlife, vegetation, sloping topography and woodlands and streams, the Reynolds acreage offers a splendid promise of permanence, and the knowledge that a sizable chunk of Landenberg property will remain free for eternity from the developer's bulldozer.
It's a selfless gift to New Garden Township as well. If the Reynolds family entertained offers from real estate developers, they surely could have gotten a much larger amount than the $2.3 million conservation easement sum agreed to with the township.
And yet, nowhere in those 50 pages is there any allowance for public access to all of this natural beauty. For reasons known to the Reynolds family, they have stipulated that Green Valley Farms will remain a private property and, while it is their legal right to do so, their choice potentially closes the door to great opportunities that could serve both the family and the public for generations to come.
To illustrate the impact this decision may have, compare the acquisition of the Reynolds property with a similar transaction that occurred last year, just south of Green Valley Farms. In partnership with The Land Conservancy of Southern Chester County (TLC) and Kennett Township, the Brokaw family donated approximately 45 acres to create trail easements on the border of their property, which connects to the Bucktoe Creek Preserve and Red Clay Greenway trail system. In short, the Brokaw family’s vision contemplates a conservation zone that will cover both Kennett Township and New Garden Township, and represents a significant natural and environmental resource that will serve the community in perpetuity.
While this newspaper firmly believes that the conservation easement for the Reynolds property was brokered in good faith, it would be presumptuous of us not to report that the transaction has had its share of criticism, fair or not. Some in township circles believe that the deal dragged on for far too long; indeed, the acquisition was approved in February 2015 and was not finalized until Dec. 28, 2017.
At the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors meeting when the acquisition was agreed to, one supervisor said it smacked of what he called “cronyism,” implying that the three supervisors who agreed to the purchase voted to help Warren Reynolds, a former supervisor, who was arrested in 2013 on child pornography charges.
Some call the acquisition “a money grab,” orchestrated by a family whom many have long known to be conservationists, and who have for years publicly and privately declared that they would never surrender their precious land to developers. Some have asked, “Is this a gift for the people of New Garden Township, or is this really a gift for the Reynolds family?”
Perhaps the largest voice of dissent has been heard from supervisor Pat Little, who repeatedly called the transaction “a bad business deal” for the township, and on three separate occasions, called for the township to rescind the offer. Such criticism in the face of a good deed may not be warranted, but few who are familiar with the conservation easement placed on the Reynolds property believe that it is not without its detractors.
Whether one views this purchase negatively or, as we do, a long-term benefit, the true legacy of this protected land, as well as the family who chose to preserve it, runs the risk of being lost in undeserved controversy. We encourage the township, the Reynolds family and Natural Lands to do the good work of honoring the Reynolds family by developing ideas that will turn controversy into legacy. Here are our ideas:
 1.    Create “Reynolds Park,” a 2- to 3-acre tract on the far borders of the 177-acre property that provides easy and limited public access and parking. The site should be chosen in a way that it does not disturb the remaining private property.
 2.    Determine the public use for the park by looking at how other local municipalities are maximizing public spaces; i.e., the Goddard Park dog park and community-sponsored garden in London Grove Township; and the continuing development of Barkingfield Park in Kennett Township.
 3.    Solicit ideas from township residents on the township’s website. After all, this will be the “People’s Park.” Give residents the tools to envision what they want for the space.
 4.    Create a plaque that commemorates the partnership between the township, Natural Lands and the Reynolds family in creating this public space. Place signage throughout the park that identifies the natural resources throughout Green Valley Farms.
 5.    Initiate grant applications to state and federal agencies which support and fund the establishment of public spaces.
When it comes to the purchase and preservation of land this size and with this environmental impact, acquisition without commemoration is a hollow victory. What the acquisition of Green Valley Farms will mean for New Garden residents depends on the willingness of all parties involved to sit down and begin talking about a forever space.

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