New Garden to enlist citizen input for future design of St. Anthony in the Hills07/09/2019 11:00AM ● By Richard Gaw
At its Feb. 20, 2018 meeting, the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors approved the township's acquisition of the 137.5-acre St. Anthony in the Hills property, and since then, plans for its redevelopment have been the subject of several private and public meetings.
Now, as it begins to conceive the long-term schematics for this sizable and historic hunk of property, the township wants to toss around ideas with a group they know well: The residents of New Garden Township.
Township manager Tony Scheivert said that the beginning stages of what will become a master plan for the property will begin this September, which will include two to three public meetings that will allow residents to provide their input on how they wish to use the park. To complement the public’s ideas, the township will also create a committee made up of the township’s Planning Commission, supervisors and community members, and hire a contractor and landscape architect.
“I think this is a smart first move, because it gives the township an understanding of what we are all looking for – the public and township officials – as well as the viewpoint of several professionals, in terms of what they see,” Scheivert said.
While the final hammered nail on what will be the completed project is still years away, there is already widespread agreement that the acquisition of St. Anthony in the Hills will serve as a major environmental, social and architectural centerpiece for the township. The property, located just southwest of the intersection of Gap-Newport Pike (Route 41) and Limestone Road (Route 7) and just north of Somerset Lake, sits on the headwaters of the Broad Run Creek. It was owned and operated by the church as a 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 until his death at the age of 99 on Aug. 9, 2013.
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. Following a public hearing in Dec. 2015, the board voted unanimously to enter the township into a conservation easement in cooperation with the parish. That agreement was later rejected by the parish, which led to the township's negotiation with the parish to purchase the property.
As the township prepares to launch into its master plans for the future of St. Anthony in the Hills, it’s already been the beneficiary of funding. In May, State Rep. Christina Sappey (D-158) announced that $60,000 in state grant funding would be given to New Garden Township to assist in the planning of the park, which came from Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development
“The township has been working towards preserving this space for over a decade, and I am happy to help them in their efforts,” Sappey said. “The St. Anthony in the Hills property should remain open greenspace, free from overdevelopment, for all to enjoy.
“The more we preserve the spaces that have an impact on water quality and avoid overdevelopment, the more we can sustain safe and healthy communities,” she added. “I am committed to supporting sustainable development in the communities I serve and across the commonwealth.”
Scheivert said that while the public and the township will help determine what 50 percent of the property will contain in future years, the other half will remain open space.
Since the time of purchase, the site received high inspection marks during two phases of environmental remediation by Boucher and James, a Doylestown-based civil engineering firm. The first phase found no major clean-up needs, and the second required the installation of a new water pump at an existing well.
While the big picture ideas from residents are projected to define St. Anthony in the Hills for future township residents, the key questions will be to find ways – and the funding - to rebuild, repurpose or demolish some of the property’s signature structures: a 2,000-seat Greek-style amphitheater, a large outdoor pool, and several pavilions and miniature castles.
Answering these questions will be part of the mission of the master plan for the property, a process that will require a lot of time and effort, Scheivert said.
“It’s going to be a ten year process to get where we want to be,” Scheivert said. “Right now, it's basically a blank canvas, but we'll have to balance what the public wants, what the board wants against the projected cost of what those requested improvements will be.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].