It took only five minutes for Westtown Township supervisors to end a year-long conditional use hearing when they voted to deny Toll Brothers’ application to develop Crebilly Farm. Residents in the township building’s standing-room-only meeting room applauded and some jumped for joy when the vote was taken.
Residents from across Chester County and elsewhere in the suburbs rallied against Toll’s project, arguing the entire parcel should be preserved as open space. According to those fighting to preserve it, Crebilly Farm’s proximity to the Brandywine Battlefield, and the possibility that Revolutionary troops crossed the farm, was enough of a reason to protect it. Most of the parcel is devoted to farmland, though a few buildings exist on the site.
Supervisors gave no reason for their decision, and Andrew Semon, Toll’s divisional president, only said that he would wait until the board issues the formal written decision, which is due by Feb. 12, before deciding how to move forward. Toll had proposed to build 317 new homes on the property. The township’s planning commission recommended approval of the plan, contingent on 50 conditions, in February 2017, and the hearing began in the spring.
Supervisors’ Chairman Mike DiDomenico said the board sifted through almost 2,000 pages of testimony and exhibits submitted during that time. Township solicitor Patrick McKenna said the board also reviewed findings of fact and conclusions of law submitted by the applicant and by others given party status, including the township planning commission, Neighbors for Crebilly, and Thornbury and Birmingham townships.
The battle between preservationists and the luxury builder highlights the tensions that have emerged in one of the state’s fastest growing counties. Chester County’s population has surged 19 percent since 2000, with more than 516,000 people recorded in 2016, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As a result, public officials have had to grapple with how to accommodate that population growth, while still maintaining open space, a hallmark of the county’s history.
In a statement Friday, Elizabeth Moro, who co-founded Neighbors for Crebilly, said the supervisors’ decision was “a win for respecting the sanctity of battlefields and the men and women who paid the ultimate price for our freedom.”
Sources: Chadds Ford Live; 12/28/2017, Philadelphia Inquirer 12/29/2017