Arguments heard in Crebilly appeal

It’s anybody’s guess when a decision will be made in the Toll Bros. appeal of Westtown Township’s decision to deny the Toll’s conditional use application to develop Crebilly Farm. Attorneys for both sides, as well as attorneys for two intervenors, gave oral arguments before judge Mark L. Tunnell on Monday.

According to Westtown Township solicitor Patrick McKenna, there is no clock on the judge, that he will give his decision when he’s finished with his considerations.

“It could take six months,” McKenna said after arguments were heard in Chester County Court.

Those arguments were brief and the proceedings lasted less than an hour. The courtroom, with a maximum capacity of 282 people, was roughly one-third full. With the exception of some professional observers, the audience was composed of people who don’t want the property developed.

In arguing the appeal, attorney Gregg Adelman, representing Toll, said the Westtown Township supervisors denied the application improperly, that state law says the township must prove an “abnormal impact” to deny the conditional use.

He said there is no abnormal impact, that the board made reference to things that were either offsite or under PennDOT jurisdiction, not the township’s.

In the board’s decision to deny, supervisors made reference to traffic at the intersection of Routes 926 and 202 — two of the four roads that encompass Crebilly’s 322 acres. (The other two are W. Pleasant Grove Road and South New Street.)

Both 926 and 202 are state roads and improvements are up to PennDOT, Adelman said. He said conditions could be placed on Toll to improve traffic flow and be required to show such improvements on the land development plan, but not at the conditional use stage.

Supervisors also denied the application because multiple and alternate points of ingress and egress weren’t shown on the plan. Adelman acknowledged that point but said they were noted on the plan.

He also argued that the board was wrong for citing the lack of a collector road within the proposed development because it wasn’t needed to provided access.

Adelman argued a fourth point, that the supervisors were wrong in citing a lack of preserving secondary conservation elements. He said that argument was subjective while the conditional use procedure requires objective reasons and that Toll is preserving 60 percent of the land as open space.

McKenna countered, saying Adelman was invoking elements of Westtown’s code that didn’t apply, rather than others that do apply and support the denial. He also said Toll was onboard with installing a collector road on a secondary plan that asked for bonus density.

“Mr. Adelman can’t have it both ways,” McKenna said.

He added that PennDOT has indicated Toll should improve the intersection of Routes 926 and 202 with dedicated turn lanes. McKenna also said the townships traffic engineer testified that the turn lanes would be even more important if the farm were to be developed.

It would also be up to Toll to provide a new traffic light at the intersection but that Toll has not committed to doing so, McKenna said.

Arguments were also offered — for and against — by intervenors.

Mark Thompson, the attorney representing Neighbors for Crebilly, argued against upholding the appeal, focusing mainly on the historic nature of the property.

In asking for the board’s decision to be upheld, Thompson cited Article 1 Section 27 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That section is the Natural Resources Amendment which reads:

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come.”

Thompson said there was “likely” British troop movement on the western portion of the farm during the Battle of Brandywine in 1777.

During McKenna’s and Thompsons’s arguments, the partisan audience would occasionally applaud.

On the other side of the issue was Fred Jacoby, representing the Robinson family, the legal owners of Crebilly. He said the family wants to sell the property that’s been in the family for 81 years. While there are 322 acres now, Crebilly was once a 600-acre farm and that almost half of the land has already been sold or donated. The development on the south side of Route 926, Brandywine at Thornbury, was once part of the Robinson property.

He said that while some of the family has remained on the property, many have moved away and the younger generation has no desire to work on or operate the farm because of the expense.

“Toll is better equipped to develop the property while preserving historic structures,” Jacoby said.

After  the hearing, Vince Moro, of Neighborhoods offered a comment via email, saying it’s rare for people to applaud at a hearing of this nature, but “we’re just as pleased and inspired as the many in attendance when our counsel Mark Thompson raised the importance of not only the historic treasure of Crebilly Farm but also the significance of preserving the land under PA Constitution Article 1, Section 27.”

He went on to say the Robinson family’s decision to sell “is one of financial duress having to satisfy family demands at the cost of this community.” This is very unfortunate as the community is here and ready to help."

While the  Robinsons remain the legal owners, Toll Bros. is the equity owner. Toll wants to build 319 homes on the site, but 190 acres would remain open space. Westtown held nine months-worth of conditional use hearings during 2017 and issued their denial in December. Their written decision was released in February of this year and Toll later filed the appeal.

Even if conditional use had been granted, Toll would still have to go through the land development process of presenting a fully engineered plan for Westtown Township’s Planning Commission recommendation and final approval from the township Board Of Supervisors.

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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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