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Chester County Press

New Garden unveils two-phase plan for Saint Anthony’s

09/13/2022 03:21PM ● By Richard Gaw

Photo by Richard L. Gaw         Mikala and Michelle Slicer of Landenberg sort through a variety of flowers from White Rock Garden Bouquets at the New Garden Growers Market last Saturday in New Garden Township. After discussion at a Sept. 6 meeting, the township’s Board of Supervisors agreed to keep the market at its current location, but implement safety measures and reduce access routes to and from the market.

By Richard L. Gaw

Staff Writer

New Garden Township recently introduced a two-phase proposal for the development of Saint Anthony’s in the Hills Park that spells out a vision for the 137-acre property that the township purchased in 2018.

The plans, expected to be rolled out over the next two years, were introduced to the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 6 by Mike Buck, the township’s Parks and Open Space Superintendent. Phase I of the project, located at the southernmost parcel of the park near the former soccer fields, will create a trail system that is expected to open to the public in the fall of 2023. The area will include a caretaker house, several kiosks, pedestrian barriers, signage and parking spaces.

Buck estimated the cost of Phase I will be in the range of $50,000, and that grant opportunities will soon be available to fund the project.

“This checks off the box of the number one item that respondents to [Saint Anthony’s] master plan survey said they wanted at the park,” Buck said. “People want trails and access to nature, and this is something we can deliver on that will get people to the park.”

Phase II, located in the northwest corner of the park, is projected to open in the summer of 2024 and will include the installation of a playground, gazebos and an open-air gymnasium.

Buck said that in addition to developing both phases over the next two years, the project will also include a re-branding of Saint Anthony’s in the Hills Park; developing a mission statement for the park; constructing a gateway to the park from its primary entrance on Route 7; creating a consistent graphic identity and theme; naming roads; and continuing to develop partnerships with potential businesses that may wish to develop business plans at the park in the future.

Buck’s presentation served in some ways as a response to a presentation he gave at the board’s Aug. 15 meeting, at which he and former township manager Ramsey Reiner were criticized by the board for their perception that the development of the park was being done in small increments, rather than as part of a larger vision. Throughout the Aug. 15 presentation, the board called for a more “phased in approach.”

I think it’s critical that we consider all of the opportunities in the park for the present and the future,” Buck told the board on Sept. 6. “At this point, it is the opportunities in the present that I’d like to have a discussion about – introduced in phases that we can agree on as a group and take something that is a possibility and turn it into an action that is going to get us closer to a complete park.”

If there remains a component of mystery in the development of the park, it is found in the stalled development of Splash New Garden, a private membership swim club that was first scheduled to open on Memorial Day weekend in 2021. After an early flourish to redesign the former Saint Anthony’s swimming facility, construction of the club has come to a complete standstill.

For the moment, township Solicitor William Christman said that New Garden has no legal recourse to pursue a loophole in the company’s lease agreement with the township that could possibly permit the township to sever ties with the company.

Grower’s Market to stay at current location

After hearing the comments of several vendors who regularly appear at the New Garden Growers Market, the supervisors voted to maintain the market’s current location at the township’s Public Works Garage, and to introduce safety measures that would allow for better vehicle and customer access to the market.

The sentiments expressed by the vendors were in response to an Aug. 30 letter that proposed a location change for the popular market to New Garden Township Park – about a quarter-mile from Route 41. The letter, authored by the township’s Parks and Public Works departments and the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department (SCCRPD), said that the proposed change would improve the safety of the entrance and exit options for shoppers who attend the market, which has been operating at its current location since 2005.

As the market has grown in popularity in tandem with increased traffic along Route 41, the market “remains limited to the existing footprint which grows increasingly difficult to access for customers,” the letter read. By relocating the market to the park, it would reduce the number of entrance and exit points from three to one, and funnel customers in and out at the entrance to the park in a two-way traffic pattern.

“The new location will provide safe, adequate, and marked parking spaces (that include dedicated ADA accessible parking),” the letter read. “The existing entrance to New Garden Park is already designed to handle a high volume of traffic. Relocating the market will also eliminate any instances of vendor vehicles blocking Public Works Garage access during weekend emergency calls.”

Buck said that discussions that launched the proposal to move the market into the park began in April, when a few residents expressed their concerns to him about the egress, ingress and regress traffic patterns at the market. It led to an internal discussion with the Parks and Public Works departments -- with input from the SCCRPD -- to potentially adjust the traffic flow.

“The entrance to the park is already designed to handle a high volume of traffic, and this would allow, in our opinion, lead to a safer experience for the customer and provide an equal if not a larger footprint for the market,” Buck said.

He said that the SCCRPD suggested that a move to the park would reduce distraction opportunities for motorists traveling along Gap-Newport Pike and potentially ease potential back-ups for customers seeking parking. 

Many of the vendors believed, however, that the proposal would create too much distance from the market and its customers. Sarah Friedline, who has been the manager of the market for the past two years and a long-time vendor, said moving the market into the park would effectively be the equivalent of kicking off an entirely new market.

“Starting a new market is the same as starting any retail business where you rely on people to come to where you are, when you are open,” she said. “We’re always looking to grow [the market], but moving will really make it hard, and it assumes that all of the vendors will move with us.

“The only people who bear the risk of moving and suffering are the individual vendors.”

Friedline agreed with the suggestion to block off the two entrances at the front of the market, but that its current site improves its visibility to passing motorists, who account for 40 percent of the market’s customers.

Big Sky Bread Company owner Patrick O’Neill said that moving the market would be a “death knell” to his business.

“About 40 percent of our customers are from Delaware, and when we ask them what brings them here, they tell us that they are stopping here on the way to Lancaster, or are stopping here on their way to the beach,” he said. “We have to continue to bring those people in and visibility is the biggest thing.”

“Out of sight, out of mind,” added Dave Van Nevel of Grampa’s Garden, who has been at the market with his wife for the past two years.

While agreeing that the market will remain in its current location, the supervisors made several recommendations: that the two egress-ingress locations in front of the market alongside Route 41 would be coned off from vehicles; that the location would be enforced by the presence of a SCCRPD police vehicle; and that pathways and crosswalks would be constructed along the bushes at the entrance of the market, in order to provide safer pedestrian access from parking spaces at the SCCRPD and the park.

Township issues statement regarding resignation of former manager

In other township business, the township issued a joint statement regarding former township manager Ramey Reiner, who resigned from her position in late August.

Ramsey Reiner has resigned as township manager of New Garden Township,” said Chairman Steve Allaband, reading from the statement. “This was not an easy decision but she appreciates the support of the board and the wonderful staff at New Garden Township. She will truly miss participating in such a wonderful community. The Board of Supervisors thanks her for her service to the township and wishes her the best of luck in her future endeavors.’”

The statement followed a nearly two-week shroud of secrecy surrounding the reasons for Reiner’s resignation, namely whether she resigned, was asked to resign or was terminated. Questions to the board following the statement were answered by Christman, who said that Reiner’s removal from her position is deemed a “personnel matter” and therefore, is not considered “public information.”

“I have asked [the supervisors] not to comment on the specifics of whether she resigned or not,” Christman said.  Reiner was appointed to her former position in April of 2020, replacing former township manager Tony Scheivert.

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