Toll Brothers to unveil plans for Crebilly Farm

Updated on Nov. 14 with information from County Planning Commission

On Wednesday, Nov. 16, area residents will get their first look at development plans for Crebilly Farm in Westtown Township.

One of the entrances to Crebilly Farm is accessed from South New Street.

One of the entrances to Crebilly Farm is accessed from South New Street.

In July, Toll Brothers announced during a Westtown supervisors’ work session that it had secured an agreement of sale for the scenic, 330-acre property. The developers’ representatives indicated that they would comply with existing township zoning to build approximately 320 homes ranging in price from $400,000 to $1 million on the tract, which saw Revolutionary War action during the Battle of Brandywine.

The meeting of the Westtown Township Planning Commission will be held at 6:30 p.m. at Stetson Middle School to accommodate a larger number of attendees. Since Toll’s announcement, many area residents have expressed outrage and frustration on social media over what they view as desecrating hallowed ground as well as overburdening already-congested roads. Crebilly Farm is bordered by Routes 202 and 926, South New Street and West Pleasant Grove Road.

Planning Commission Chairman Richard Pomerantz said a significant portion of the meeting would be devoted to questions and comments from the public.

Crebilly Farm, which has been owned by the Robinson family since World War II, saw action during the Battle of Brandywine.

Crebilly Farm, which has reportedly been owned by the Robinson family since World War II, saw Revolutionary War action during the Battle of Brandywine.

At earlier meetings, Toll Brothers’ Andrew Semon, a divisional president, said the developer would likely create several proposals. One would conform to existing township codes while the others would seek to negotiate an increase in density up to 385 homes through the inclusion of township “enhancements,” such as roads or parks, into the design.

Opponents of the development have decried the fact that none of the area’s conservancies appeared to be trying to save the historic, scenic property. Officials from several area land trusts and conservancies said they were not free to discuss specifics on the Crebilly tract because confidentiality plays a vital role in most negotiations; however, speaking on the condition that they not be identified, they said that members of the Robinson family, descendants of the co-founder of Acme supermarkets, had rebuffed efforts to preserve the property.

County officials say work has been occurring behind the scenes. William D. Gladden, the county’s director of Open Space Preservation said he has had conversations with citizens, the township, as well as nonprofit conservation organizations, to make sure all are aware of the county’s “willingness to discuss and consider ways to maximize conservation of the site.”

Brian O’Leary, executive director of the Chester County Planning Commission, said he and Karen Marshall, the commission’s historic preservation specialist, met with the developer briefly to let him know what parts of the Crebilly Farm property were most likely within the Brandywine Battlefield area.

A view of Crebilly Farm is shown from West Pleasant Grove Road.

A view of Crebilly Farm's expansive pastureland is shown from West Pleasant Grove Road.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have a definitive study of this portion of the battle, but we have a pretty good idea of where the battle took place,” O’Leary said.  “This was the sole purpose of this meeting.”

O’Leary said he and Marshall expressed interest in having the battlefield portion of the property preserved, with development clustered toward Route 202. He  said during the meeting with Toll, he only saw a possible development plan. Since then, O’Leary said that Toll  submitted a plan to the county on Thursday, Nov. 10.

O'Leary said he hoped to complete a review of the plan by early December. He expressed a willingness to work with Toll to maximize preservation and said he hoped to have one of his planners attend Wednesday's Westtown Planning Commission meeting as an observer.

“In general, we’d like to see historic areas, view sheds, and natural features on the property preserved,” O’Leary said. “In addition, any development should be designed to minimize traffic impacts.  We also made the developer aware that there could be funds for preserving the battlefield portion (or all) of the property.”

In 2000, the Brandywine Battlefield Task Force issued a publication entitled “Battlefield Protection Strategies,” including an entire section on Westtown Township. It stated that one of the purposes of the publication was to highlight significant areas so that municipalities could take steps to preserve them.

As the site of the largest troop movement of the American Revolution, the Battle of Brandywine was federally recognized in 1938 and became a National Historical Landmark in 1961. Despite this high level of distinction, the designation does not regulate property use or rights, the publication said.

In 2001, Westtown Township identified the Crebilly tract, owned by the Robinson family since World War II, as one of the largest remaining agricultural areas in its Growth Management Plan and therefore at risk for development.

James K. Robinson III and David M. Robinson sold about 200 acres on the southwest corner of the family’s estate more than a decade ago, leading to the Brandywine at Thornbury subdivision, which doubled the population of Thornbury Township. A parcel on the western side of New Street was sold earlier this year and will become two residences, township officials said.

Commuters who travel on Route 926 experience this view of Crebilly Farm.

Commuters who travel on Route 926 experience this view of Crebilly Farm.

A 2003 assisted-living community and a 2012 apartment complex never made it off the drawing board for the portion of the property that is now under agreement with Toll Brothers. Township officials said both previous projects required zoning relief that the Toll Brothers plan avoids.

In the meantime, conservation officials said they’ve seen 11th-hour saves before, but they require a concerted effort from preservationists, lawmakers, government officials, and members of the public, who need to make their voices heard.

Area residents interested in joining the online conversation have several options. In addition to a change.org petition at https://www.change.org/p/westtown-township-save-crebilly-farm, three Facebook pages have generated lively commentary: “Neighbors for Crebilly” at https://www.facebook.com/neighborsforcrebilly/; “Save Crebilly Farm in Westtown Twp.” at https://www.facebook.com/savecrebillyfarm/?fref=ts; and SCOWT: Stop Commercialization of Westtown Township at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447923522090338/.

 

 

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One Response to “Toll Brothers to unveil plans for Crebilly Farm”

  1. Susan Hamley says:

    I personally think this is near criminal. It jeopardizes and disrespects a national historic site, goes against the grain of responsible stewardship and preservation here in Chester County which its people clearly value, and will muck up an already congested traffic area even more so. For no good reason at all and certainly not in the name of progress … for yet more new houses at the expense of our true assets and character? Very disappointed in those putting forth the proposal for what appears to be only their own good fortune and I hope their conscience allows them to at least listen to the County’s negotiations. Once the damage is done, it can’t be reversed.

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