Westtown sets Crebilly vote

The 10-month long conditional use hearing process regarding Toll Bros. proposal to build 317 new homes on Crebilly Farm has come to an end. Westtown Township supervisors will announce their decision 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 28 at the township building, according to township solicitor Patrick McKenna.

Even if supervisors grant conditional use approval — which requires the developer to adhere to certain conditions the board wants to impose — Toll would still be required to go through the normal land development process by presenting fully engineered plans to the township Planning Commission, getting a recommendation from that body and then getting final approval from the supervisors.

During the final hearing session on Monday night, 42 people gave public comment. None of them said the plan was any good, while most comments were emotionally charged with pleas to save open space, with several referring to the farm — at Routes 926 and 202 — as "the crown jewel of the township," the desire to save open space and pointing to the already congested traffic.

Several people spoke of the quality of life in the township, saying developing Crebilly Farm would be destructive to that quality. Others engaged in what could be considered Toll bashing by alluding to numerous court cases involving the developer, and others accusing Toll of shoddy workmanship. Some spoke of the need to preserve the portion of the farm where British troops moved during the 1777 Battle of Brandywine.

Township resident Rebecca Dole said the farm should be turned into a park and likened Toll to Harold Hill, the con man in the musical "The Music Man." She said Toll would take the money and leave town.

Some residents, such as Bill Vosper, expressed apprehension that the development could damage wells on neighboring properties and that Toll should be required to fix any such problems if the development is approved.

Dick Pomerantz, chairman of Westtown's Planning Commission, called Crebilly "the soul of the township" and urged supervisors to deny approval if they feel Toll has not demonstrated any understanding of how important the farm is to the township. He added, however, that if the board should give conditional use approval, supervisors should use the 50 conditions the Planning Commission recommended before the hearings began.

Another person, Richard Weaver, rhetorically asked supervisors to name one benefit the development would bring to Westtown other than tax revenue. He then said, "It will bring only problems."

Residents of other townships were also allowed to make comments. Mindy Rhodes, of West Bradford, urged supervisors to vote no on the current proposal and asked Toll representatives to make serious changes.

"You can do better than the plan you've shown so far," Rhodes said to Toll attorneys.

She asked that an archeological survey be undertaken and for Toll to keep the development out of the battlefield swath.

Addressing the supervisors, Rhodes said "A development like this would cripple our community. No one has ever said they can't wait for this to be developed."

Mark Landon, of Birmingham Township, summed up the general feeling saying, "The board needs to find a way to keep this from moving forward.

Others, however, took a different approach.

Randell Spackman, a member of Thornbury Township's Historic Preservation Commission, did not ask the board to deny approval but said there should be conditions requiring the homes to be moved more to the east to keep them out of the area of battlefield troop movement. He also said he would like to see easements placed on the historic structures so they could be rebuilt if destroyed by fire.

Jarl Mork, of Birmingham, said Toll, supervisors and the Robinson family, who owns the farm, have opportunities. The board, he said, has an opportunity to preserve open space, while the Robinsons have a chance to leave a positive legacy and Toll could improve its image by coming up with a "reasonable development and a reasonable profit." He then said, "Plan and act to minimize the number of homes and maximize open space."

Supervisors will have two executive sessions with the solicitor and township manager as they review the more than 2,000 pages of testimony before announcing their decision on Dec. 28. Supervisor Micke DiDomenico said before the session that the decision must be based on law and that the board needs to make sure all the I's are dotted and the T's are crossed.

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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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