Controversy and upset surrounding the proposed development of Woodlawn Trustees' property in Concord Township continued last week when the Delaware County Planning Department agreed the current plan could go forward through the township approval process.
That recommendation comes with 11 pages of comments from the department, said the planners’ Vice Chairman Thomas Judge.
Members of the audience — residents and nonresidents of Concord Township — expressed outrage that the department members would agree to the plan as quickly as it did and in a rubber stamp fashion. They also challenged the trustworthiness of Woodlawn and said it only conserves property until they need to sell it.
One unidentified resident said the board should take its time because there are “moral and ethical issues” along with legal liabilities involved with the proposal.
“This has a big impact on the whole community,” she said.
However, Judge said state law requires planners to act within a specific timeline and that since it was a by right plan — meaning it requires no extraordinary approvals such as zoning changes — the recommendation to move forward could not be denied.
At issue are 320 acres of land from the Delaware State line north to Smithbridge Road and from Route 202 west to the border with Chadds Ford Township.
The bulk of the concerns deal with increased population and traffic, higher school taxes and the overall environmental impact for wildlife and recreation.
A previous development plan that would have required rezoning of the area was withdrawn last year because, according to the CEO of Woodlawn Trustees, there was too much misinformation about the plan.
The new plan calls for the development of 230 acres for 171 homes, but that 117 acres would be left as open space. That open space acreage would be 93 acres after mandatory net-outs for rights of way.
Resident Chris Donnelly said 171 homes would add to the already “horrendous” traffic situation, and Chris Jarret of Bethel Township said the number of new students would cause a dramatic increase in Garnet Valley School District property taxes.
Another resident said Woodlawn only preserves property until it needs money and another said there’s no need for another housing development in the area, that there are other places to build.
Still another resident said Delaware County should spend the money to preserve the land and another said there are endangered species — such as bog turtles — in the area.
Rob Gurnee, of Chadds Ford Township, asked, “Can’t we have some initiative to save this gem?”
Another said there’s no one to advocate for the residents.
However, Concord resident Ken Hemphill said there is another solution, that of Woodlawn selling the property to a group that would conserve it.
Hemphill said there’s a group willing to buy the property. In a follow-up interview, he identified that group only as “a well known conservancy group that has assured us that they can put up substantial money and we would have a smaller burden to fulfill at that point.”
The group has made no overture to Woodlawn, he said, because it’s not an advocacy organization. “They don’t get involved in land fights. They protect land where the owners want to conserve it.”
However, he added that Beaver Valley Conservancy, a group formed when the first development plans for the property were made public, does plan to approach Woodlawn Trustees.
“We’re hoping to send a letter to Woodlawn saying that this organization wants to conserve this land and they’re willing to spend substantial money, along with other parties to save this land.”
That letter could be going out this last week of June.
In a subsequent e-mail, Hemphill said “It remains the opinion of Save the Valley, [another group looking to prevent the development] that Woodlawn would fulfill all three of its stated goals by pursuing the preservation option for the Beaver Valley wildlife refuge. Of course, acquiring funds for its protection would be a lot easier if Woodlawn and the developers announced their intention to pursue this course of action.”
According to Hemphill, the original sale of the land from Merlin Brubaker to Woodlawn Trustees was based on an understanding that Woodlawn would preserve the land, not develop it.
“There is substantial evidence that Dr. Brubaker wanted this land conserved…and Woodlawn promised him they would protect his land. There’s more than enough evidence to indicate that.”
However, there’s no legal document attesting to that effect.
“That’s because [Brubaker] trusted them,” Hemphill said.
John Jaros, the attorney representing the developers, said the amount of open space preserved under the proposal is more than what the township requires and that no hiking trails would be affected.