Pennsbury toasts the end of a controversy

With a closing chant of “PVA, PVA, we are glad you went away,” more than a dozen Pennsbury Township activists cheered the end of more than a decade of controversy.

The group met at the township building for a light lunch on Feb. 26 in honor of the township buying — for $4.8 million — 23 acres of land that had previously been slated for a hotly contested development, known as Pennsbury Village. The developer was Pennsbury Village Associates, known as PVA.

The chant was written as a chorus to a rhyme penned by township Supervisor Wendell Fenton, who came into office in 2006 amid the controversy. He said he was surprised by the final outcome.

“I never assumed we could buy the property,” he said. “Maybe reduce the density, but not save it. I never thought this would happen.”

Supervisors haven’t decided what to do with the acreage, but Fenton thinks it might be appropriate to have a questionnaire asking residents what they would like to see happen, he said before reading his doggerel to the assembled group.

Lynn Luft and Bob Crandell were among those celebrating. They were part of the fight against the development from the beginning.

Crandell was a member of the Planning Commission when the idea was still just a sketch plan.

“This is what we’ve been striving for the last 15 years,” Crandell said. “When they first came up with this plan, the developer came in and said, ‘Here’s a new ordinance that we wrote and that you will adopt to allow us to do this.’”

Crandell’s response at the time was, “You’ve got to be kidding,” he said, adding that the supervisors at the time wanted the development to become reality.

A major point of contention was the desire of those former supervisors and the developer to allow township land — part of the parcel where the township building and park are located — to become part of a commercial and residential development. That land had been gifted to the township and deed restricted for public use only.

Several residents sued the township because supervisors were seeking to violate the deed restriction. A flurry of other lawsuits followed. Over time, the developer filed for bankruptcy and the project fizzled despite a settlement agreement being reached.

Luft is a current member of both the Planning Commission and the Historic Commission. She said former supervisors just didn’t accept what residents wanted.

“I felt that the supervisors weren’t doing what the residents of the township wanted done, so they weren’t really representing their constituents,” Luft said. “Everybody who lives where I live thought the plan was a trespass onto what the philosophy had been as far as preserving open space and the deed restriction that was on the property.”

She said she feels a major sense of relief because of the land purchase, and part of that relief deals with an environmental issue. The township property would have been used as part of a sewage treatment system that would discharge treated effluent into a small stream in the park area.

“That’s huge relief that that’s not going to happen,” Luft said.

She’s also pleased that the Hope House won’t be moved or demolished and said saving that structure is “a major accomplishment. And we’re going to have park land for use by residents.”

The controversy led to one supervisor losing a re-election bid in the 2005 primary election, and two others deciding not to seek re-election because of the flak they had received.

In December 2014, the township completed a deal to buy three parcels of land from a subdivision of Toll Bros., which had bought the land from PVA. One parcel is a three-acre piece at Route 1 and Hickory Hill Road. The other two parcels, totaling 20 acres, are on either side of the township building. Those are the two parcels that would have been connected by the township property had Pennsbury Village been built.

To buy the parcels, Pennsbury borrowed $4 million, while the Land Trust gave $125,000. The remainder of the $4.8 million price tag is being paid for with open space funds.

Another celebration, one for the entire community, is planned for this spring on the newly acquired land, Fenton said.

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About Rich Schwartzman

Rich Schwartzman has been reporting on events in the greater Chadds Ford area since September 2001 when he became the founding editor of The Chadds Ford Post. In April 2009 he became managing editor of ChaddsFordLive. He is also an award-winning photographer.

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