About 50 township officials from surrounding communities and interested citizens gave close attention to Charles Jacob, chairman of Warwick Township Supervisors as he presented Ann Orth of the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust.
Orth said officials from 17 townships north of Route 30 had been invited to the forum co-sponsored by the North Chester Agricultural Conservation Easements Challenge Grant Program County Communities and the French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust. Orth commended Bill Fulton of the Chester County Planning Commission and State Sen. James Gerlach, co-sponsor of Growing Greener program for regional planning.
Orth introduced Chester County Commissioner Karen Martynick. Martynick pointed out that the commissioners are helping to develop challenge grant programs for northern Chester County. She said it started in 1987 when a referendum encouraged the state and the county to spend $100 million on farmland preservation. then, Chester County commissioners established a $50 million fund to preserve farmland and open space.
Since then 1,600 acres of open space and farmland have been preserved. Eighty two percent of the voters approved of the referendum in 1987.
She pointed out that about 200 community parks have been created all of which would not have been possible without the participation of the municipalities. To date, 71 of the 73 municipalities in the county have signed on to the county's Landscapes program. "Chester County is the only county in the state which has a county-wide program," she said. "There is real support from the farmers and the general public."
According to the Land Trust Alliance, a national umbrella organization for land trusts and conservancies in the U.S., in the year 2000 there have been about 209 referenda on preserving open space in 30 states. Of that number, 174 have been approved with the winning referenda getting (on average) 83 percent of the vote. The land value in question is $7,494, 482,000.
The Northern Chester County Agricultural Conservation Easement Challenge Grant Program is aimed to preserve farmland in the northern portion of the county and to help municipalities control growth. Funding is provided with 50 percent coming from the county and 50 percent from the municipality. The private sector can help, help can also come from the state or there can be a combination of the above types of funding.
Kevin Baer, chairman of the Chester County Agriculture Preservation Program, said there is pressure for housing in Chester County but the preservation program is working for ways to preserve farmland and control growth. He added that to date there has been good response to the program.
To participate in the agriculture preservation program, Chester County farmers have until Sept. 1 to submit applications. Farmers joining the program must fulfill certain criteria. For example, a farm must be located in a township which provides matching funds for the program. The deadline for townships to sign on is Dec. 31.
The farm also must be in an ag security area and must contain 25 acres or 10 acres if it adjoins other parcels of protected land. The farm must comply with Landscapes, a county conservation plan.
Baer advised that townships should have a strong Ag Security Advisory Committee.
Orth added that a workshop for landowners will be conducted at the Warwick Township Building Thursday evening, August 9 at 7 p.m.
Michael Frank of the Heritage Conservancy located in Doylestown, Bucks County, said his organization wants to provide funds for open space which benefit the community. He, too, agreed that farmland in southeastern Pennsylvania is under immense pressure from developers. He reported that in Bucks County, where he now lives, 14 municipalities have accumulated $21 million to preserve open space.
Frank said that the woes of development are sprawl, congestion, higher taxes, higher school taxes, loss of community character, more new schools. He commented it will cost a community to prepare for and maintain a development. "The cost to the taxpayers to educate a student through 12 grades could reach $116,000," he said.
"Some people believe it is worth saving part of a community and paying for it. Some say it is a program for wealthy townships. A development hurts farmers and people on fixed incomes."
L. Gordon Walker of Penn Capital Advisors explained how to figure out how much a township can borrow for land preservation.
Baer said, "There have been about 91 applications. The program is basically run on a first-come, first-served basis.'
Martynick said, "Township officials should approach large landowners to determine their feelings.'
Baer said, "The program is extremely flexible. They have an independent contractor to appraise farm properties."
Jacob said, "Act 67 and Act 68, which encourage regional planning, have been a help.'
The French and Pickering Creeks Conservation Trust has protected 7,000 acres of open spaces. Six hundred twenty eight acres has been added to the French Creek State Park; 493 acres has been given to the state Game Commission. The size of Warwick County Park has been doubled. Six hundred sixty nine acres, formerly owned by Bethlehem Steel, has been donated to the Game Commission. The Great Perligatial Marsh in East Nantmeal has had 1,345 acres protected. The trust has added 62 sites to the National Registry of Historic Places.