Brandywine Conservancy Easement on Hawkins Property Cannot be ‘Undone’

I continue to receive interesting information on the Agnes Irwin’s proposed land development plan in of playing fields on the Hawkins property in Berwyn.  As I have previously explained, Berwyn neighbors to the Hawkins property have received anonymous emails and letters from supporters of Irwin’s proposed playing fields.  Some of the communication makes claims of other possible buyers, including the Tredyffrin Easttown School District.  Much discussion has circled around the Brandywine Conservancy easement and the suggestion by some that the conservancy easement could be broken to allow for other usage of the land.

This may help to set the record straight. I have received a copy of a letter dated March 22, 2010  from Sherri Evans-Stanton, Director of Brandywine Conservancy to the Board of Supervisors, Easttown Township. In reading the letter, there should be no misunderstanding on the issue of the easement protection of the Hawkins property – see excerpt below:

A conservation easement is a restrictive covenant voluntarily placed on land which allows a legally qualified conservation organization (in this case, the Brandywine Conservancy) to enforce it.  Conservation easements usually run with the land in perpetuity, as does the Hawkins easement.  For many years, conservation easements have been recognized and enforced by the Pennsylvania courts as valid property restrictions, and the Pennsylvania legislature codified these legal principles in 2001 in the Pennsylvania Conservation and Preservation Easements Act (Act 29 of 2001).

The Brandywine Conservancy has over forty years of experience upholding and defending the conservation easements it holds and will continue to do so.  It is simply not true (as we have been hearing) that the easement can simply be ignored or “undone” and a housing development, large or small, built on the property.

On the subject of Tredyffrin Easttown School District’s interest in the Hawkins property, I received some new information.  I was told that this information is widely known; however it was news to me. Apparently the T/E School Board passed on buying the Hawkins property because they did not want to challenge the open space easements. (In order to build a school would have required the School Board to challenge the conservancy easement).  I had previously suggested that the current school budget situation would not have been financially possible at this time.  Apparently I stand corrected.  I have been told  that the School Board could afford to purchase the Hawkins property as the District has a AAA bond rating, but it was determined that the land was not suitable for a school (due to the restrictions associated with the property). 

If the T/E School District did not think that T/E could change the easements on the Hawkins property, . . . how is that Agnes Irwin School thinks it has any better chance?  Also, remember that our School Board has the ability to condemn property for government need whereas Agnes Irwin’s does not enjoy that same ability. 

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  1. I am one of the homeowners directly adjacent to the Hawkins property. I have received several of the anonymous emails that have been mentioned. As one of the neighbors that will be most affected by the outcome of this proposed land development project, I thank you for focusing the community’s attention on the problem. The sale of this property to AIS will not be a win-win for the neighborhood or the tax collection coffers. Single homes on large parcels of property would be good use of the space. However, creating additional noise and traffic for the commnity with playing fields only helps Agnes Irwin. I hope that the supervisors are listening.

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  2. How much noise do you really expect? I live very close to a field, sports games are constantly there. If you are one of the few homes across Sugartown Rd from this property, you are no further then I am. The athletic activities DO NOT cause disruptive noise, And even if you can here activity from time to time, it’s not at 1am, so it’s no big deal.

    Plus, I hardly feel that the traffic congestion that is anticipated will be anything to worry about. Sugartown road, Newtown Rd and Waterloo Ave are all highly traveled roads and are quite capable of handling volume. If anything, Sugatown/Waterloo Ave could use a traffic light, but that is more for safety, rather then volume. Lets say there are 40 cars coming/going over 10 minutes is only 4 cars more per minute…

    I think if the township can manage use of the fields for public usage, it is a great benefit. That is a tremendous value to the township at no cost.

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    Casey Reply:

    CJ, with regard to noise and traffic, I can only look to similar situations for their experience. Look at DVFS and their turf field. Look at any turf fields and the neighborbors around will complain about the non-stop crowds.

    Also, you said, “That is a tremendous value to the township at no cost.”

    Actually, the original proposal wasn’t “no cost”. In addition to the fact that it was $0 tax revenue, AIS wanted the Township to pay a fee to help with maintenance. Where is the benefit in that ???

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    Moxie Maven Reply:

    Considering that the stretch of Sugartown Road from Newtown Road to Leopard Road (the next “large” intersection) takes all of 1 minute to travel, an additional 4 cars coming continuously for 1/2 an hour (which will be quite probably more, as traffic will be arriving and leaving constantly for the “stated” times – for AIS use – doesn’t even include the leased access) would create a tremendous backlog of traffic.

    Think about Episcopal and what effect that has had on traffic in the area. They didn’t think a light would be necessary to accommodate the traffic. Instead, we now have TWO more lights – necessary, but also causes tremendous backlogs of traffic during rush hour and now even during what used to be “light” rush hour.

    Think about someone telling you the traffic in your area will grow by 10%, which AIS has stated. The 10% growth is true if you compare the conservative estimate of increased volume over a 24-hour period of traffic along Sugartown. In fact, if you look at the actual traffic report prepared by McMahon for AIS and make the appropriate calculations comparing apples to apples (the stated peak period of 4-6pm), the traffic growth is 37%. That, my friends, is HUGE. 10% is a large enough change (PennDOT recommends an annual growth factor of 2.05% as stated by McMahon). 37% is tremendous. These are not insignificant percentages.

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    Chet Reply:

    Question: Is conservancy land “deed restricted”? If it is deed restricted, then can it be undone by a vote of the supervisors? My understanding of deed restricted means it is not reversible. thanks

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    Moxie Maven Reply:

    Chet – In brief, you are correct.

    There are two Conservancy Easements on the Hawkins property. The most significant one at present is the one held by The Brandywine Conservancy. The other is held with Chester County Open Space. Conservancy Easements are deed restrictions which run in perpetuity with the land. They cannot be undone or changed by owners or supervisors. It is irreversible.

    You can learn more about the Hawkins’ Conservancy Easement held by The Brandywine Conservancy here: http://protecteasttown.org/easements.html.

    Chet Reply:

    MM, thanks for the info. So my next question is: why all the fuss? How can anyone, including AIS attempt to erase the restriction and why would the Board of Supervisors even countenance an argument to do so?

    an interested resident... Reply:

    The deed restriction (ie. easement) is against development. This property is largely zoned R1, which would allow for 1 home/acre. However, according to the easement (deed restriction), you would only be allowed 5 total homes. This is why the scare tactic of “athletic fields are better than 80 homes” is simply a mis-statement.

    Why would the BOS entertain their argument ? That, my friend, is the million dollar question.

    There are virtually no benefits to the Township and as most residents see it, only drawbacks. In addition to the increased traffic, noise, lights there is no ongoing tax revenue to the Township (only a one-time transfer tax).

    The “gift” of 50 acres is not such a great gift. It includes 20 acres of highly wooded area which can never be developed. It includes the estate house which will require annual maintenance that is greater than the endowment they are willing to give. It does have a walking/biking/running trail, but that will not be paved due to impervious restrictions.

    (btw, I was impressed with the use of the word “countenance”!)

    Chet Reply:

    Interested Resident. Thank you! This is an example where I actually learned something here!!! I live in a community and I border “deed restricted” open space. My understanding, from settlement, was that this restriction was strict as to allowing NO development (another house) to be placed there. So then, there are all sorts of easements(restrictions) depending on how it is decided. I am now wondering of the origin of my open space restriction. Maybe the builder of the community granted that to the township or the township required it during the dividing up of the community into lots for homes. Again, many thanks

    Chet Reply:

    one more thing.. I hope the elected officials are responsive to the community and I wish you good luck in defeating this. Maybe sometime the community will have to settle for 5 houses, but at least that would be in keeping with the flavor of the area. And the township would get real estate taxes yearly.

    Chet Reply:

    If Agnes irwin owned these fields, would they be open to TEYSA, CYL and Little leagues from the community? That would be a sharp two edge sword. On one hand, it would SERVE the community at large, but on the other it would create a nuisance, to say the least, for the neighboring community. In the meantime, I believe that when Teamer Field was turfed, it was agreed to be limited to school activities with very very few if any non school usage. It is a shame for the community that, unlike Radnor, this field is unavailable. Drive by Radnor and all sorts of groups use both turf fields. True, it is not in nor near a housing neighborhood. I would argue Teamer should be open, reasonably so, before any fields are placed in your residential community, assuming AIS would let the community use their proposed fields… Hope this rambling makes sense?

    Berwyn Neighbor Reply:

    Chet –
    I live in Strafford next to a township park so I know what you mean about living next to protected space. I’m curious, you mention that you border “deed restricted” open space — what part of Tredyffrin are you in — the Great Valley? Just curious to get a handle on the different areas of the township and if it makes a difference for the residents. Thanks.

    chet Reply:

    Berwyn neighbor. I rather not say what part of Tredyffrin I live in, but suffice it to say I live in a community, and within the borders of the community are “open spaces” that will never be built upon.. …………….Restricted to one use… open space for the community.

  3. As someone that lives on Waterloo ave, four cars every minute is four cars too many. There are at least five bus stops on this road alone. All it takes is one distracted teenager,not paying attention, for tragedy to strike. Regarding games, these girls would travel 2-3times per week for practice. The field can accommodate several sports at one time. Game days could have at least two venues going at once, with girls from AI, the opposing team, the parents of both opposing teams, throw in a grandparent or two and you are looking at a lot more than 40 cars. I think there is a better usage of this property, one that either serves the community or doesn’t change it so drastically.

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  4. Chet, my understanding of deed restricted land is that it is a public document filed along with the deed. If you wanted to check the actual language (and we’ve all learned how important that is!), you could call the recorder of deeds, and they can find the actual deed for that land. It should list the easement on it and most likely, a copy of the easement is filed with the deed. You might have to pay a nominal amount for them to send it to you, but I would bet this would have the answers (and would be a positive if you ever sell your home).

    Through this process, I’ve learned the importance of researching information for the actual legal wordings!

    My opinion is that 5 homes would be a great option. We are talking about 100+ acres here. It provides tax revenue and keeps it as open space. It may not be “public” open space, but it has never been that in the past with Mrs. Hawkins living there.

    As to leasing to TEYSA, etc. that is absolutely part of the AIS plan. They have downplayed the leasing angle of it, but nothing in their plan precludes or prohibits that. In fact, in the plan, they talk about field use in a “light winter”, yet last I knew, high school sports were regulated as to practice season. Who, then, will use it ? Not AIS girls.

    There is a statement in their proposal, “fields will be available for use by Easttown residents, local community groups, and athletic associations in accordance with the School’s standard terms and conditions for use.” In their first proposal, they wanted the Township TO PAY to use the fields, and when I read through the current proposal, there is nothing that addresses FREE use of the fields. The “in accordance with” statement raises red flags for me.

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  5. Well, I for one am glad they turned it down. Mrs. Hawkins would like to see this a large park for the public, or the site of the new school. It was her wishes and I believe she left the property in good hands. Nobody is going to break the trust. Mrs. Hawkins mother actually put the land in trust before her death. I think it will stand the test of time. Make it a park for the area. I dont know what the price of the land is, but a township park would be nice.

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