Fireworks May Be Coming Early to Easttown Township . . . the Battle Lines are Drawn for Agnes Irwin vs. the Hawkins Property Neighbors . . . Tuesday, June 29, 8 PM, Beaumont Elementary School

With the unanimous vote of defeat by the supervisors, I assumed that AIS would look elsewhere for their playing fields.  The acquisition of more land for playing fields has apparently been part of the school’s long-range plan.  While AIS has explored other properties in the area, they have not proven sufficient for the school’s needs. We now understand that the girl’s school from Rosemont does not take ‘no’ lightly and has orchestrated a campaign to change the minds of Easttown’s supervisors and residents. 

Taking a different approach in selling this project to the community, AIS has now developed a new proposal scheduled for presentation at a special meeting on Tuesday, June 28, 8 PM at Beaumont Elementary School.  In the new proposal, AIS is offering to donate 50 acres (of 108 acres) to the township as open space. In addition, the new plan includes a reduction from the school’s original proposal by one playing field and two tennis courts and a reduction to the proposed paved parking spaces. Mounting a major PR campaign designed to promote the playing fields in Berwyn, the school has marketed the land development project to current AIS families, alumnae and friends through letters and a newly designed, “Hawkins Property Information Center” website.

Rather than sitting on the sidelines, the neighbors to the proposed playing fields are organizing their own campaign to fight back.  In a show of solidarity, the Hawkins property neighbors have created their own website, Protect Easttown: Working to Keep Easttown Residential Saying NO to Zoning Changes.  The neighbors who oppose the proposed playing fields want to clarify that the issue is not about AIS but rather the issue is about changing the zoning ordinances. A zoning change would permit AIS’s planned multi-sports complex in a residential district, forever altering the character and integrity of Easttown Township.

I have had several emails from Easttown residents in regards to the Hawkins property but none of the communication supports the proposed AIS plan.  One individual who wrote to me explained that they purchased their home next to the Hawkins property because they were told the Hawkins farm property would not be developed; as it was protected under a conservation easement. Since purchasing their home, the proposed playing fields project has developed and these owners are now faced with the possibility of living next door to a sports complex rather than the quiet, peaceful protected property that they thought would be their neighbor.

With the battle lines drawn for Tuesday’s special meeting, I decided to drive to Hawkins Farm today and see the location of the proposed playing fields.  I admit that looking at the acres of bucolic fields and mature landscaping; it was hard to visualize soccer and softball fields, a turf field, tennis courts, running track, gatehouse with restrooms and a parking lot.  As I stood in the shadows of Mrs. Hawkins historic stone house and barn, watching the ducks on the pond, I am challenged to believe that this proposed AIS plan would have met with her approval.

To the neighbors of the Hawkins Farm, you have my best wishes for Tuesday night. 

____________________________

Additional posts on Agnes Irwin School’s proposed playing fields in Easttown Township:

http://pattyebenson.org/2010/06/03/brandywine-conservancy-easement-on-hawkins-property-cannot-be-undone/

http://pattyebenson.org/2010/06/02/agnes-irwin-school-purchase-of-berwyn-property-for-playing-fields-remains-an-open-issue/

http://pattyebenson.org/2010/03/08/what-does-a-sprawling-berwyn-estate-a-hollywood-related-socialite-a-private-girls-school-and-a-planning-commission-have-in-common/

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10 Comments

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  1. Thanks for updating the community Pattye. I know that Tredyffrin keeps you busy so as a Easttown resident, I’m twice as appreciative! Thanks for the beautiful photos of the Hawkins property, it really is stunning.

    I have lived in Berwyn for 64 years and as a young man helped out on the Hawkins farm. I would encourage people to come out and show their support on Tuesday night. Preserving the farm is what Mrs. Hawkins would want, I’m sure of it.

  2. The person in question that moved in next door should have done their research. That area is not conserved land. And it can and will be developed.
    I am 100% in favor the fields. I find it to be far better use then a couple more homes, or worse town homes. Have no doubt about it, this will not be empty land forever.
    I live closer to playing fields then ANY neighbor will live to these and they do not bother me, they are not loud. The traffic congestion will not exist to the point people think it will as it is not congested now. A soccer game will bring 20-30 cars, not something that will alter traffic flow.

    Plus t is something the township residents will be able to share. You will not be able to share someones home, but this will have nice return on no investment to the taxpayers.

    1. CJ, as a resident, I have been given the Conservation Easement and read it. I think most residents understand that *something* will happen to this land.

      Why do you believe the land is not conserved ?
      => 20 acres is under Chester County Open Space and virtually nothing will happen to it (stay woodlands)
      => 80+ acres is under Brandywine Conservancy. A large housing development is not allowed. Why wouldn’t 5 homes be better ?

      How will the township residents be able to share the fields ? AIS intends to use those fields virtually all daylight hours either for their own use or “at their discretion” (ie. leasing).

      Have you read the problems with the turf fields in Paoli ?

      AIS’ traffic study claims that a worst case scenario of 120 cars will be the impact on game days. During a 2 hour window (4-6pm), that will be 240 trips (into the field and out). Are you claiming this is insignificant on a small road ?

      I would rather have the ongoing tax revenue from a private owner than the no-revenue, high cost (traffic, noise, police, etc.) impact of AIS.

    2. The person in question who moved next door to the property DID do their research.

      With all due respect, CJ, it is NOT inevitable that the property will be developed. Mrs. Hawkins granted Conservation Easements to protect her wishes for her land. She probably was advised that the Zoning Ordinances would not change, either.

      As for traffic flow, I think if you ask any mother who treks her children to and from sports practices and games on a daily basis will beg to differ. Furthermore, these other fields are not merely dropped into the middle of a residential area. If you are the closest neighbor to this property, I might be concerned about the effect on your property value if these fields go in. I guarantee it will go down substantially – as it will for most residents of Easttown.

      There is minimal, if any, benefit to Easttown residents.

  3. We all know loosely that Mrs. Hawkins wanted the farm to become educational property — so the family living next door expecting to live forever next to undeveloped property are sort of sol — unless they want to mount the fight themselves. Undeveloped land is never guaranteed to stay as it is — that’s life.
    Having said that — the obvious issue is whether a private Lower Merion township school should use economic leverage to convince the local authorities to change the zoning. I am aware that when the Baldwin School, another LM township independent school, wanted to expand on their own property that it was a major zoning and community effort — and they already owned the land. If AIS wanted additional land, the Episcopal Academy property in Devon was certainly on the market…someone with deep pockets clearly wants the Hawkins property — and Bryn Mawr College, the trustee, probably wants the money that the property will bring.
    This property will be developed some day. It’s just fact. Easttown would be much better served by not approving development by a non-profit — as they will never gain anything but this transaction. At the very least, property taxes would be a long term benefit….and the transfer tax would be too short-lived to allow fields to go into the hands of non-residents…
    But they will prevail unless someone can be sure that the supervisors, in economic trouble in Easttown, are not tempted by the offer. Those opposing it need to be sure they don’t have the votes to get it done….asking each decision maker one at a time.

  4. I think that it is not an unreasonable assumption for a homeowner to make concerning the development of Hawkins property. Part of the land is under a conservation easement by the Brandywine Land Conservancy. And to build playing fields would require change to the zoning ordinance — so why would a prospective owner ever think that they could be living next door to playing fields. i’m sure that neighbors are not niave and expected that it would be developed — but residential. At least that way the township would get the benefit of real estate taxes on the mega-million dollar houses that would be built. But other than transfer tax, the township will not receive yearly real estate taxes from Irwins, as they are a nonprofit school.
    Anyone that views living next door to playing fields is a wonderful solution, just ask those residents close to Delaware Valley Friends School. Lights, noise, traffic, and that is only one field not a mega-sports center!
    As for increase in traffic — there are the school buses and all the parents coming and going — big difference than what residential development would add in the way of traffic. Have you ever driven down 252 as a game is ending at the new Episcipal Academy location — complete mess. And that is on 252! I would just ask that people consider the other side of this situation.

  5. Undeveloped land will be developed — count on it — so it’s pick your poison. The land is too expensive to build 5 mega homes on it — AIS has set an incredibly high price for any future developer to top…and Bryn Mawr College could step in here and claim that they are prohibited from benefiting from the sale if they have to accept a much lower price to develop very few homes.
    But all that being said — Irwin’s is not the right buyers. CJ’s assessment that the traffic would be minimal is simply off base. COnsider when the horse show has their parade routes and all the effort to ban parking along Sugartown…20 cars for a soccer game??? This isn’t one field — this is multiple fields…and once they get their toe in, and get changes made….things will expand. It was brilliant for them to offer to donate land as open space — of course that means Easttown, with so few parks, would have to maintain that land….so while free, it would not be free of costs…
    School buses on Sugartown in the quantity necessary to transport teams would be small, but the door would be open. And the community would never be truly able to use the property — the parking would belong to AIS. Again, the only way to work with this idea is to talk to the Easttown supervisors individually and be sure where they are leaning — because a public vote is very quick….and without being on record as opposed, you could see a vote in a wink and it would be done….

    Again, though, neighbors cannot ever assume how land will develop unless they pare prepared to spend money to protect their interests.

    1. TOwnship Reader.. “undeveloped land will be developed, count on it”.. Maybe some will be developed, but if a parcel of land is deed restricted and it is developed, then what good is a deed restriction? it is cynical to say nothing counts for anything anymore. That is, if the deed restriction restricts any development. Maybe you can clarify? Thanks Chet

      1. Chet, the deed restriction is against large housing developments (ie. 1 home / acres as allowed in R1 zoning).

        It does not restrict against athletic fields. Each specific easement can be tailored to the owner’s wishes. In this case, Mrs. Hawkins allowed for “recreational use, in a public setting”. There is some disagreement as to the meaning of those terms but Brandywine Conservancy has loosely stated that athletic fields are permitted under the easement.

        However, in this case, the zoning does not allow for athletic fields. So the protection against this use lies with the Board of Supervisors and the zoning decision.

  6. I am not a direct neighbor to the Hawkins property but I live in Easttown and know how directly this will affect all Easttown residents.

    These playing fields will alter the character and integrity of our residential Township. We have chosen to live in Easttown, specifically in Berwyn, because of this character. The last thing we need is playing fields to take over this beautiful space.

    On the proposed “peak hours” of use, there will be an increase in traffic of 37.4%. This is taken from the AIS proposal directly. This includes only practices from 4-6pm. It also admittedly only accounts for a CONSERVATIVE estimate of traffic increase. If there is anyone who argues that a 37.4% increase is insignificant, I would like them to deny such an increase in their bank account on a yearly basis. This doesn’t account for times when leasing will occur, tournament use, etc. Anyone who has children who participates in sports knows that children usually participate in multiple sports. The bussing and extra transportation of parents going in and out of the parking lot to pick-up other children, bring them back, carpool with other kids, etc, etc… we all know what havoc this creates.

    During tournaments, the proposed 86-parking space with 50-spot overfill lot will not suffice. You will see parking alongside Sugartown Road. It is inevitable.

    There is very minimal benefit to this proposal to the residents of Easttown Township.

    The opposition to this plan is not against AIS, it is against development of this nature. This type of development can happen ONLY with a change in the zoning ordinance. The land is further protected by the conservation easements which allow for only 5 homes to be built on the property. That is why the land is comparatively a bargain. The zoning ordinance protects against commercial and education use; the conservation easements protects against major housing developments over 5-homes including cookie-cutter homes, condos, apartments – it just can’t be done.

    This is why the change in ZONING is the important “first line of defense” for Easttown Residents.

    http://www.protecteasttown.org

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