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Chester County Press

New Garden accepts master plan for Saint Anthony's in the Hills

07/20/2021 04:23PM ● By Richard Gaw

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

On July 19 -- at its first in-person meeting since March 2020 -- the New Garden Township Board of Supervisors voted 5-0 in favor of accepting the Saint Anthony’s Master Plan that reimagines a 137-acre township property as a haven for the appreciation of nature and as an abundant and busy home for recreational activities.

Prior to accepting the plan  -- a formal approval is expected in the coming months – the board heard a presentation by Ann Yost of YSM, a York-based landscape engineering firm that has headed the design of the plan in cooperation with the township, key stakeholders and other natural resource and engineering agencies.

From the plan’s early stages to now, it has been guided in large part by opinions, input and ideas from the general public, as evidenced by two well-attended open houses that elicited several comments. During her presentation, Yost shared the common themes that came out of the public engagement that called for developing “the right balance” between preserving natural resources and recreational opportunities.

“There is a great enthusiasm and excitement for the park,” Yost told he board. “People want it open now. They want to go there. They are specifically interested in trails and walking opportunities, and that aligns with what you hear statewide. [Recreational trail walking] is the number one type of recreation that people enjoy.”

In surveys and in conversations with residents, they also expressed interest in preserving the architectural elements and history of the park, which served as a sanctuary for inner-city children in Wilmington for decades under the vision of Father Roberto Balducelli of St. Anthony Padua Church, who owned the property until it was purchased by the township on Dec. 17, 2018.

Referring to an enlarged map of the master plan, Yost introduced several components that are being introduced throughout the park. They include meadow areas, gazebos and pavilions, a sledding hill, nature trails, basketball courts, a fitness station, dog parks, picnic areas, ponds with boardwalks and both recreational and natural playgrounds. The park will also renovate and retain the unique architecture of the property’s miniature golf course.

Athletic fields not proposed in master plan

Throughout the time that Saint Anthony Padua Church owned the property, thousands of young athletes played on its soccer pitches and playing fields. Pressing a transparent overlay that approximated the size of a typical athletic field against the map of the plan, Yost said the current dimensions of the plan do not allow for playing fields to be retro-fitted into the overall design.

“Surveys support the design as it has been developed,” she said. “There wasn’t a lot of outcry for flat fields. Additionally, I tried to reach out to a local soccer association four times and never got a response, which gives you an indication that there wasn’t a great need from that organization.

“I acknowledge that there is always a need for more playing fields, especially for soccer or lacrosse associations, who always want to grow their programs,” Yost added. “The uniqueness of this property allowed the township to look at it a little differently, highlight those unique features and put those things in for user groups that are not seen anywhere else.”

Yost said another influence in not including athletic fields in the design stemmed from the complaints of neighbors whose homes bordered the fields, who expressed concern about the noise factor involved.

Another topic discussed at the presentation involved transportation access to the park.  Currently, the access off of Limestone Road serves as the primary entrance, but Yost said that future plans call for it to be converted into an access route for maintenance vehicles only.

The plan proposes two new access points – one off of Route 41 near the Limestone Road intersection and the other off of Reynolds Road. Both entrance points, Yost said, will require further investigation and engineering study. A major factor in determining entrances and exits at Saint Anthony’s will be contingent on regulating traffic volume that is expected to be generated by the Splash Swim Club – which after delays is anticipated to open in 2022 – as well as at the 2,000-seat Greek amphitheater adjacent to the pool club, which is being proposed by an independent company to be refurbished and operated as a public venue for movies and concerts.

Yost said that another potential entrance to the park could come from the proposed development of White Clay Point, a 200-acre project that will include residential and commercial components on the north and south sides of Route 41. Located at the northern end of Saint Anthony’s in the Hills, the development could provide an access point.

“You have a pending land development plan that is not set in stone, so now is the time to see if you can find a partnership there in order to find a win-win,” she said. “A win-win would be an intersection with pedestrian and vehicular access points.

“None of these entrances are defined. These are our recommendations, but you can’t decide the future of a park with this many facilities without thinking about how best to get people in and out.”

Yost said that the annual cost estimate for the township to maintain the property will be $506,000 after the development of the park. She said that the implementation of the master plan has not been determined in terms of its phases, but will likely emerge as grants are secured.

Proposal will ‘tell an integrated and cohesive story’ of area

In other township business, the board demonstrated overwhelming support for the introduction of the Mason-Dixon/Arc Heritage Interpretation Connectivity Plan, a cooperative concept that if enacted would tie in the trail networks and shared histories of New Garden Township and surrounding municipalities.

The plan was introduced by Sheila Fleming of the Brandywine Conservancy and Jim Martin of Friends of the White Clay Creek Preserve.

If enacted, the plan’s mission will be to gain a clearer understanding of the story of the Mason-Dixon line at the Pennsylvania/Delaware arc and their importance in local and national history; identify existing sites that are critical pieces of that history that include interpretive areas and historic and natural resources; and determine effective trail links to connect preserves, parks, existing trails and open spaces to historic sites and accessible agriculture and agritourism.

“We know that this area has tremendous open space, parks, equestrian [life], history and agriculture that are probably second to none in the Northeast,” Fleming said. “We think there is an amazing opportunity for these municipalities to partner together to tell an integrated and cohesive story of this area and its history and its people and the beautiful places that are here.”

During her early research on creating the plan, Fleming said that while New Garden Township and surrounding municipalities have documented their own histories, when presented as a part of a cohesive story of an area, the narrative was fragmented and disjointed.

“It was really difficult to find a big picture of how you all fit in together and how you all connect and how the trails connect,” she said. “This study will be instrumental in helping this municipality advance its trail projects and meaningful trail connections not only in New Garden but in neighboring municipalities.”

Martin said that the plan would encompass an area of more than 13,000 acres in a cooperative venture involving four municipalities.

“It would be the largest token space in the Mid-Atlantic states, and what we’re talking about doing is getting the adjacent townships and taking your comprehensive plans and give you a means of executing those comprehensive plans together with bordering townships,” he said.

The plan – which would use the Brandywine Conservancy as a planning consultant -- would receive 70 percent of its funding from the Vision Partnership Program, and the remaining 30 percent would come from the participating municipalities – about $5,000. The 18-month-long plan is anticipated to begin in early 2022 and be completed by the end of 2023.

Martin and Fleming are expected to make a similar proposal to other municipalities soon, and then deliver a formal proposal to the township board later in the year.

The Southern Chester County Regional Police Department will be participating in National Night Out activities on Aug. 3 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the following locations: the Harvest Ridge Winery in Toughkenamon, Earl’s Sub Shop in Avondale and at the West Grove Borough Building in West Grove.

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, e-mail [email protected].