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Agricultural easement discussed by Franklin Board of Supervisors

04/23/2018 01:59PM ● Published by J. Chambless

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The 108-acre farm at Appleton and Strickersville roads in Franklin Township could be preserved as farmland if the township and the county can reach a deal to pay for an agricultural conservation easement.

At the April 18 Franklin Township Board of Supervisors meeting, the board heard updated information about the proposed easement, which first came to the board's attention in June of last year. The Brandywine Conservancy contacted the township in 2017 on behalf of the Stoltzfus family, which owns the farm. The property, made up of three adjoining parcels, is being operated as an organic dairy farm by the family.

At that 2017 meeting, the board was generally in favor of the easement, which was estimated to cost $144,000. Board chairman John Auerbach noted that the property contributes to the rural character of the township and that an easement would preserve the land from housing development. As part of the easement on the property, the township would make interest-free payments of $28,800 per year to the county over a five-year period.

Recently, the Chester County Open Space and Land Preservation Department provided the board with the final, five-year payout schedule.

In comments to the Chester County Press on April 20, Auerbach wrote, “Recently, we received a proposal indicating a total cost of $220,815, requiring an annual payment of $44,163 per year for a five-year period, with no interest cost. The first payment is requested by the end of 2018.” That amount, Auerbach said, is significantly higher than the initial estimate.

The easement deal is coming at a time when the $750,000 loan for constructing Crossan Park is being paid off, with the last payment to be made in March 2019. Over the course of the loan, the cost for interest and principal was approximately $57,000 per year, Auerbach wrote.

“The amount [of the proposed easement payment] is more than what was originally proposed to the township,” Auerbach wrote. “The board is supportive of the easement, however, finding the amount of money the county is requesting will prove to be difficult, especially in 2018, when the park loan is still being paid. The proposed funding from the park loan payoff would not be available until 2020, with the last loan payment made in 2019.”

Auerbach noted that other projects need to be managed in the township, including some deferred maintenance in the park, and the replacement of the Hess Mill Road bridge, estimated to be $350,000, with the work slated to begin in 2019.

Several residents spoke at the April 18 meeting about the proposed easement. While there was no decision made by the board, a county representative will attend the May Board of Supervisors meeting to provide more information.

“The board determined a long-term funding plan for the next two-plus years needs to be developed to manage these costs,” Auerbach wrote, adding, “One of the elements of the cost plan is to renegotiate or restructure the payments for the agricultural easement.”

In other business, some ongoing zoning issues were discussed. Township solicitor Mark Thompson told the board that the property at 308 Heather Hills is scheduled to be addressed in District Court on April 26, but he said he is working to reach an agreement between the bank and township first.

A property cleanup has begun at 3300 Appleton Road, but not to the level that the township would like. A filing was made in District Court against the property. At 3327 Appleton Rd., the property owner has agreed to clean up the porch area, secure the windows and fix the roof so the house does not further deteriorate. A violation letter has been issued to the owner.

Paul Lagasse of the Historical Architectural Review Board discussed the disrepair of the Kennedy House at 3327 Appleton Rd. Township manager Joan McVaugh confirmed that a police report has been made for the property, and an investigation is underway. She and the township's zoning officer have been in contact with the property owner, she said.

Auerbach reviewed which roads in the township have been identified and prioritized as possibilities for this year’s road program. No final decisions have been made. The number of projects is greater than the available funds the township has to spend on the road program, Auerbach said.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.


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