Concord Township supervisors voted 3-1 to grant preliminary plan approval for the Vineyard Commons project, but they still hope to preserve the land. And the township is putting up its own money to help make that happen.
Supervisors’ Chairman Dominic Pileggi said at the beginning of the March 18 meeting, held for the sole purpose of the vote, that the township was dedicating $500,000 of open space money to help some private conservation entity buy the property.
Pileggi also announced that Delaware County Council Vice Chairman Colleen Morrone said the county is committing $250,000 to save the land. Morrone is a Concord resident and former supervisor in the township.
No such private entity has stepped forward publicly as yet, however.
“We’re encouraging those groups that are actively pursuing it to continue to do so. I would also say that I’ve been told on numerous occasions there are groups out there but, so far, the only two to put their money up are Concord Township and the County of Delaware,” Pileggi said.
He said after the meeting that he knows there have been talks between the developers — McKee-Concord Homes and Eastern States Developers — and private conservation groups to keep the land open and that he hopes those talks will continue.
“We’re hoping they’ll bring that to fruition,” Pileggi said.
While it was not brought out in the meeting, the Delaware Congressional Delegation of U.S. Rep. John Carney and U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons are hoping for the same.
The trio sent a letter dated March 18 to Woodlawn Trustees, the property owner, and the developers recommending a “cooling off period” so that they can get together with the private conservation community to workout a reasonable offer on the land.
“We hope that you recognize there is more than one path ahead of you, and you will consider our proposal or find another way to preserve this land in the Brandywine Valley in a way that everyone will benefit,” they wrote.
The audience reacted to Pileggi’s announcement about the money with cheers, but those cheers turned to chants of “You should be ashamed” when the vote was taken.
The property in question is 230 acres straddling Beaver valley Road. Woodlawn is selling the acreage to Eastern States Developers and McKee Homes. They want to build 160 homes on the property.
Sherri Evans-Stanton, the executive director of the Brandywine Conservancy said she was disappointed with the outcome.
“There was significant information presented by a number of experts that would have supported a decision against the development. It would have given time to people who have raised issues of protecting the land. The battle is not over. There are a lot of conditions the developers will have to meet and there will still be opportunities to try to turn this around,” she said.
Concord residents Laurie Curl and Ken Hemphill were more than disappointed.
“Disappointed. Upset. Furious,” was Curl’s response when asked her reaction.
“I just don’t understand why the Board of Supervisors have no clue of the impact of destroying this precious open space. I just don’t see how they don’t see that clearly enough,” she said.
Hemphill, too, was angry with the decision and the supervisors who voted for the approval. He thinks the pledge of money lacks sincerity and will actually raise the price of preserving Beaver Valley.
“What’s going to happen is the land is going to be saved. The little charade at the beginning of the meeting promising money from the county and the township is proof that it’s going to get saved…but it’s going to cost the people more,” he said.
Hemphill called the actions corrupt because, he said, one of Woodlawn’s board members is Richard Julian who is also owner of Eastern States Development.
The developers would get nothing if the plan was denied, but now they can get more for their equitable ownership in the property, even if the property is preserved, according to Hemphill.
Another Concord resident, Chris Donnelly, was more reflective in his opinion.
“It’s not a win, but it’s not a complete loss,” Donnelly said. “By denying some of the waiver requests, increasing buffers and making the builders spend more money is making it more difficult on their pocket. Maybe they’ll allow us to buy it.”
Chadds Ford Township resident Rob Gurnee, who is the vice chairman of Save the Valley, one of the groups fighting the plan, also reacted.
"I am hopeful that out of this deeply flawed and unsettling process, a window may be open to find a preservation option for Beaver Valley. For the sake of our community, lets hope the opportunity is real and that everyone works to capitalize on it."
The applicant had requested 10 waivers, but three were denied outright and another three were denied in part by the supervisors.
Approval also came with a list of 19 conditions. Among those conditions, the builders must make improvements to Beaver Valley Road, conduct traffic counts to gauge cut through traffic on Summit, Dain and Watkin avenues, retain a forestry expert to confirm tree loss estimates and to increase the buffering around the Brandywine Summit Camp Meeting.
The lone vote against approval came from Supervisor Kevin O’Donoghue. He said he did not agree with granting any of the waivers, nor does he think that improvements to Beaver Valley Road, as required by one of the conditions, would adequately address traffic congestion or gridlock.
O’Donoghue went on to say that development would have a negative impact on the environment and would adversely affect the residents of Concord Township and surrounding communities.
“This is a very unique tract of land and must be treated as such. I have heard others say, and I agree, ‘Once it is gone it is gone.’ Any individuals or groups that have a genuine interest to buy and preserve this precious land, I hope they step forward now.”
The applicant presented, what attorney John Jaros said is, a by-right plan because no zoning changes were requested. All of the township consultants — engineers, land planners and fire marshal — said the plan met township criteria.
According to Supervisor John Gillespie, it’s a matter of whose opinion counts the most, the township’s consultants or those of the opposition.
“I feel strongly in the ability of our consultants. Every year we select our township professionals and I have every confidence in the township team. That’s reason why I’m voting yes,” he said.
Supervisor Libby Salvucci voted for approval, saying she had to rely on the township’s consultants for their interpretation of the code. She added, however, “My heart is not in this vote.”
Salvucci’s and Gillespie’s comments were met with boos and jeers, as was the vote itself. Pileggi also voted to approve.
Solicitor Hugh Donaghue said there is a 30-day in which to appeal the decision.
The vote was for preliminary approval only. The applicant must still present a more detailed plan and show that the conditions set forth in the resolution have been met before final approval can be granted.
Jaros said he could not comment until he had time to read the full resolution and the 19 conditions.