Kennett Township purchases additional 107 acres for conservation, trails04/26/2022 02:33PM ● By Richard Gaw
Photo by Richard L. Gaw Kennett Township homeowner Robert Waters shared his disagreement on April 20 regarding Kennett Township’s purchase of a 100-acre parcel that will include a conservation and trail easement. Joined by several of his neighbors, Waters, whose property backs up to the edge of the easement, argued that the proposed trail corridor would infringe upon his family’s privacy and lead to safety issues.
By Richard L. Gaw
During separate public hearings held on April 20, the Kennett Township Board of Supervisors voted to authorize the execution of two conservation and trail easements in the township that will tack on an additional 107 acres of open space in the township.
Both parcels were brokered between the property owners and The Land Conservancy for Southern Chester County (TLC) – a local conservation agency that will merge with The Brandywine Red Clay Alliance at the end of April.
The purchase of the first of two parcels was unanimously agreed to by the board, and without fanfare. Located at 901 Sills Mill Road near Bayard Road in Kennett Square, the 7.1-acre property, owned by the Montgomery family, was purchased by the township for $77,893 and an additional county grant from TLC totaling $57,401 that will be added to the cost and total $135,294 for the property.
As listed by township Solicitor David Sander during the hearing, the purchase of this property will conserve water, forest, woodland and the natural ecosystem found within the property. In her overview of the property, TLC Executive Director Abby Kessler described the property as historic and scenic, and said that the easement eliminates every other development right for the property while protecting more than seven acres of riparian buffer, woodland and stream corridor of a branch of the Red Clay Creek. The easement also includes a trail corridor.
Proposed trail on 100-acre easement raises neighbors’ objections
The second hearing, however – one that finalized the purchase of a 100-acre conservation and trail easement agreement at 251 Old Kennett Pike in Kennett Square for a price of $1.7 million – became a 90-minute verbal slugfest between those who live near the property and township representatives.
The parcel – identified as the Miller property – represents the largest protected space in the township’s history, and one that will leave the property’s remaining 25 acres to the seller.
Kessler said the protected property includes 60 acres of active cornfields, 34 acres of high-protection area that includes freshwater wetland stream corridor, as well as significant woodlands. The agreement also calls for the eventual construction of a trail easement that will be built on the eastern side of the parcel.
During the public comment portion of the hearing, several homeowners in the vicinity of the easement argued before the board, saying that the location of the proposed trail would come dangerously close to their property lines. They asked repeatedly whether the proposed trail – which may not be constructed for at least another ten to 15 years, it was revealed at the meeting -- could be built farther away from their property lines.
The most vocal of those who opposed the location of the trail were Robert and Denise Waters of Starvegut Lane, whose six-acre property edge is separated by the proposed trail by about 50 feet. The Waters were supported in argument by Kennett Square attorney Neil Land, who said that his clients had not been given proper notice of the hearing. Further, he recommended that the Waters and their neighbors receive additional time to consult with experts and secure expert testimony that will assist the township board.
Land also said that perhaps the largest concern the Waters have is about their safety.
“This is a big problem, because this is the backyard where their kids and grandkids play, and they are going to have a situation now where there will be unregulated and unrestricted folks coming up and down their property line, and essentially looking into their backyard and into their home,” Land told the board. “If trails are designed to create scenic views of the township, I suggest that in this situation and in this section of the proposed trail, that is not happening here.
“My clients do not necessarily oppose a conservation easement on the Miller property,” he added. “What they do object to strenuously is the proposal to place this trail, pressed up against the entirety of their backyard, in a manner they believe is unsafe and unwanted.”
Kessler said that there have been multiple studies nationwide that prove that trails do not lead to an increase in crime.
“If anything, having a trail actually deters crime, because it leads to additional potential witnesses,” she said.
‘That is unconscionable’
Speaking to the board, Robert Waters expressed his displeasure that the township had the right “to put a public trail in my backyard.”
“That is unconscionable,” he said. “It destroys the total value of our property. Not a lot of people know it, but the township’s open space program takes away all of the owners’ rights. If you have a trail next to you, you have zero rights. They are not giving you any due process, and that’s what we’re asking for here.”
Land proposed that the proposed easement be moved farther away from the Waters’ property line. He calculated that if the trail location was moved an additional 50 feet farther away from the Waters’ home, the Miller family would lose one-half an acre of their total 125 acres.
Kessler said that the location of a trail easement is decided by the owner of the property, through negotiations with TLC, who then brings the proposed transaction to the township, the county and the state for funding support.
“The problem of [moving the trail] in 50 to 100 feet is that you literally will run it through an active cornfield, which makes it very difficult to farm that property,” she said. “You have to take into account the private property owners’ wishes to be able to use their property the way they have been using it for decades.”
Following public comment, Supervisor Scudder Stevens and board Chairman Richard Leff voted to authorize the purchase of the Miller property, while Supervisor Geoffrey Gamble voted against the purchase.
“We are paying a lot of money for the easement and the ultimate trail, and I think we have to protect the residents who are affected by this,” said Gamble. “We have an obligation to balance the public right to this area – which I thoroughly support – as well as the concerns of people that involves the public welfare.”
Township Manager Eden Ratliff – who had walked the territory with Gamble earlier that day with those who live near the easement – said that the construction of the trail in the future will be done in consultation with them.
“The township in a very meaningful way has engaged these property owners and told them, ‘We want to build a greenway here. What are your thoughts? What are your interests? What are your needs?”” Ratliff said. “I would say that we are being proactive with them to build screenings, save certain trees and meet residents where they are.
“We have a landscape architect on our trails consulting team who has worked with them to come with solutions, and [these residents] have been appreciative and we’re going to implement [those ideas] when it comes to construction.”
While there is no exact determination as to how far the trail would be from the neighboring properties at this early stage, “that would be up to the trail easement owner or co-holder, which is the township, if and when it ever gets in,” Leff said.
“It seems improbable that there is a going to be a great crowd of people causing disruption to anyone along the road,” Stevens said. “To the best of my knowledge, there is no history – certainly not in Kennett Township – of any kind of criminal behavior that occurs on these trails. This is going to be a safe and appropriate trail that will give people who want to experience the wild an opportunity to do so.”
To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].