Funding deal preserves 240-acre Delaware County tract from development
Quaker leaders lived there. Landscape painter Andrew Wyeth captured local scenery. George Washington's men marched through during the Revolutionary War.
Now, a portion of Delaware County near Chadds Ford called Beaver Valley is slated for conservation after years of battle between local activist groups and developers.
On Monday, Concord Township and Delaware County Council officials announced they are contributing a combined $750,000 toward the purchase of 240 acres of historic Beaver Valley, with the goal of preserving open space.
"The land was acquired by William Penn from the Duke of York in 1682. Nearby, in 1777, Gen. George Washington's troops fought the British in the American Revolution," said Delaware County Council vice chair Colleen Morrone, ticking off the site's historic bona fides.
The valley's rolling hills and picturesque farmland have remained largely unchanged over 100 years in hands of a single owner, the Woodlawn Trustees.
Much of the Beaver Valley is already preserved, with more than 1,000 acres protected as a part of the First State National Historic Park, which includes sites in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, and New Castle County, Delaware.
A mixture of woods, swamp and pasture, Beaver Valley is popular with hikers, cyclists and horseback riders. Home to a federally recognized endangered species, the bog turtle, the tract abuts the historic national park.
In spite of that pedigree, conservation seemed to be a long shot a year ago.
In 2015, Concord Township supervisors granted a zoning variance to developers of Vineyard Commons, a mixed-use complex with 171 residential units, slated for the 240-acre parcel.
The Beaver Valley Conservancy, an open-space group that's opposed development, sued with a claim that the township couldn't grant a zoning variance that violated its own laws. This month, a Delaware County Common Pleas judge remanded the zoning plan, essentially sending developers back to the drawing board.
That delay created an opening for conservation.
"I think it's incredible, and it's very empowering to see that something that was said to be a done deal was actually saved," said Jason Hoover, founder of conservation group Save the Valley.
The Brandywine Conservancy, Mt. Cuba Center and The Conservation Fund are raising funds to close the gap on an agreement of sale with owner Woodlawn Trustees and real estate company, the McKee Group.
The $750,000 committed by local municipalities goes toward their goal of raising $8 million by May. Officials said the local contributions don't come from taxes, but are a part of money distributed through Act 13, the Pennsylvania's oil and gas law.
The Brandywine Conservancy said it could not disclose the sale price.
While the fate of Beaver Valley now appears settled, some loose ends in this local zoning fight remain. The lawsuit between developers and the Beaver Valley Conservancy is ongoing — and conservationists have their eyes on preserving more unprotected acreage abutting parts of Beaver Valley in the state of Delaware.
The news that conservation groups will buy the 240-acre chunk "gives us a lot of energy to save the rest of the parcels," said Hoover.
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