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from Neighbors for Crebilly, 4/17/19
Commonwealth Court moved oral arguments to Pittsburgh!
Corporate interests again placed ahead of the people’s interests
In an inexplicable and highly unusual move, Commonwealth Court has moved the venue and date of oral arguments from June 3rd in Philadelphia to May 6th in PITTSBURGH!! Westtown Township appealed to the court to move the proceedings back to Philadelphia and they refused, saying that not all parties agreed to the move. In other words, Toll would not agree to move arguments back to Philadelphia. Of course, the court has blithely ignored the fact that Westtown Township and Neighbors for Crebilly did not agree to move oral arguments to Pittsburgh in the first place!
The judicial system is supposed to be convenient and accessible to the people, so this move makes a mockery of long established tradition and, quite frankly, puts corporate interests above the people’s interests. With a ten hour round trip, it also means that Neighbors for Crebilly and Westtown Township will have to pay much larger legal fees to get our attorney and the township’s solicitor to Pittsburgh.
We’re not going to take this lying down. A bus has been chartered to Pittsburgh which will leave from Randall Spackman’s Thornbury Farm at 6am* and return the same day. The bus has room for 54 concerned residents and it also has Wi Fi for those who would like to bring a laptop. This bus also comes with a lavatory! $45 per ticket covers most of the costs of chartering the bus. There is also plenty of parking at Randall’s Farm.
Also, some very generous supporters are supplying Crebilly Day Trippers with gourmet doughnuts and coffee. We hope you can join us!
More about Neighbors for Crebilly here
from Neighbors for Crebilly Facebook, 10/23/18
Whose brain doesn’t ache when it’s time to send that big piece of our yearly pie to our town, county, school district, state, and the federal government? It hurts our heads less, though, when we can see the essential services we get in return. Trash picked up. Roads paved. Kids educated. Fires fought. New Jersey defended from foreign invasion, etc. But no one likes paying higher taxes than necessary, or learning that someone else is not paying their fair share. We feel swindled. But it’s cheated we’ve been vis a vis the Crebilly Farm saga. The owners of that rare piece of idyllic eastern Chester County landscape, the Robinson family (heirs to the Acme Markets fortune and inheritors of Crebilly Farm) entered into a contract with Toll Brothers to pave our common legacy which experts conclude saw part of the Battle of the Brandywine. Toll’s and the Robinson’s plan to desecrate hallowed ground might suffice to get your dander up. If not, maybe knowing that you subsidized Crebilly Farm for decades will.
Unlike the vast majority of homeowners and landowners in the region, the Robinsons actually paid significantly reduced property taxes for Crebilly Farm because of a 1974 PA tax abatement measure called the “Clean and Green Program” (Act 319 ). The intent of this law was to encourage owners of 10 or more acres to conserve their land in return for large property tax breaks. However, no conservation easements are placed on enrolled land which is only safe for as long as the owners want to keep it open. For those who never intend to develop, Act 319 is a very fair deal for everyone: the landowner gets a nice tax reduction and taxpayers get the benefits of open space. For those like the Robinsons who decide to cash in on their land, Act 319 is nothing more than a decades-long tax holiday with an insultingly weak penalty for leaving the program: the sum of the last seven years of unadjusted taxes plus six percent interest. Even if a parcel has been enrolled since 1974, landowners only pay back seven years of unadjusted taxes instead of the full 44 year tab.
It’s a big tab we’ve picked up for the Robinsons. Instead of paying approximately $48,000 each year on the unadjusted assessment value of 322 acres, they pay just $6,519 in total on their open land. That’s less than what most homeowners pay for a house on one acre and it represents missing revenue for area taxing authorities who recoup that loss via higher taxes for the rest of us. In other words, if they had paid taxes based on the full assessed value of the land, everyone else’s tax bills would have been lower. Choosing to stay in the Clean and Green program would continue to be a fair arrangement: Crebilly would not send students to schools or cars to roads; it wouldn’t need sewers, traffic lights, or police protection. It wouldn’t need an army to defend it even if the original American army fought there. But now that they’ve chosen to leave Act 319 by selling to Toll, their “penalty” really becomes our penalty.
These absurd PA “rollback taxes” pale in comparison to what’s in place in New York state. Withdrawing from one of that state’s preservation programs costs the landowner the last 10 years of unadjusted taxes – multiplied by five – plus interest. NY’s exit fee in many cases is greater than what was saved with lowered tax bills. Consequently, very few landowners leave that state’s program. The weak exit cost for leaving Pennsylvania’s Act 319, on the other hand, actually cheats taxpayers twice. Not only is just a small fraction of lost tax revenue recovered, after the land is residentially developed, taxes invariably rise as increased population density necessitates more expensive services.
Residentially developing Crebilly would be not be financially beneficial to taxing authorities. While revenue would increase from new taxpayers, there are associated costs attached to that new revenue. According to separate well-regarded national studies by the American Farmland Trust, the Keystone Conservation Trust, the Trust for Public Land, and the DVRPC, each dollar of revenue raised from a new residential development actually costs a taxing authority between $1.03 and $2. Taxpayers, therefore, face higher tax bills when residential developers come to town by adding to the housing density of the municipality, SD, or county. Simply, increased density triggers a need for more expensive services.
If tax rates weren’t hitched to density, the 80,000 people living in the eight square miles of Upper Darby Township would have some of the lowest taxes in PA. Instead, they have some of the highest. Conversely, lower density equals lower taxes: compare Pocopson Township to Upper Darby, Chester County to Delaware County, New Hampshire to New Jersey. In the vast majority of cases, lower density equals lower taxes. West Chester Area School District understands this well which is why the school board passed a resolution last year demanding $645,000 per year from Toll for five years to pay for the large influx of new students to the district.
Some apologists for this taxpayer swindle will argue that we got open space for all the years the Robinsons were in the program, but that ignores the undeniable fact that Act 319 was intended to encourage conservation. Passed shortly after the Environmental Rights Amendment was added to our state constitution in 1971, it reflected the new concern for the environment that infused the early 70s. The PA Legislature certainly did not intend this program to be used by large landowners as a temporary tax haven while waiting for the right moment to cash in. But that’s what it’s become and area Pennsylvania Legislators have refused to do anything about it.
So how much have the Robinsons saved through Act 319 since the 70s on all the land they’ve owned and sold off along the 202 corridor and on both sides of 926? Likely millions. That’s money we had to pay instead. If Toll ever defiles Crebilly and its history with a colony of plastic houses, it’s money we’ll never get back. Added to the trauma of losing Crebilly is the insult of higher taxes that would be needed to pay for new services. But this doesn’t have to be. The Robinsons could, if the opportunity presents itself, show their appreciation to taxpayer largesse and sell Crebilly Farm at a conservation price to a consortium so that all future generations could enjoy it as a county park and a hallowed sanctuary of open space to honor the first American heroes.
Map from “The round of applause heard ’round the county” by Ken Hemphill at Neighbors for Crebilly, 9/18/18. Green = municipalities that have passed open space referenda or other measures to buy or preserve open space, 1992-. Blue = not. Yellow = urban areas. Click on the list of municipalities there for details.
See also the detailed “parcel map” of preserved open space on the Chesco web site. Or dwnload (through 2016) here: ProtectedOpenSpace2016_201708011325275412. The good news is that all municipalities in the county, even those with no formal municipal actions, have protected open space, in some cases quite substantial.
[n.b. see the latest in “The round of applause heard ’round the county” by Ken Hemphill at Neighbors for Crebilly, 9/18/18.]
By Michael P. Rellahan, Daily Local News, 9/16/18
WEST CHESTER — A packed courtroom is expected at the Chester County Justice Center Monday for a hearing on the appeal of Toll Brothers of the denial of its plans to build a housing development at the Crebilly Farm site, property that residents have claimed as the “crown jewel” of Westtown that should be left largely untouched.
The Horsham-based development is asking Common Pleas Judge Mark Tunnell to overturn a 2017 decision by the three member Westtown Board of Supervisors to deny its conditional use application to locate a 319 unit subdivision on the 322 acre property located along Route 926 and South New Street.
Toll Bros. contends that the supervisors denial of its development plans ran against the law, was an abuse of discretion, and was not supported by the evidence it put forward in a number of well-attended public hearings from 2016 to late 2017.
Residents opposed to the development plan are expected to crowd into Courtroom One, where Tunnell moved the oral arguments to in order to accommodate the large number of people expected to attend….
Read more at Daily Local News
Here is the analysis of Neighbors for Crebilly (the only group that has legal standing in this appeal), especially focusing on the importance of the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment:
Toll Brothers wants our brief “quashed”
As you know, Neighbors for Crebilly has been permitted by Chester County Common Pleas Court to intervene in Toll Brothers’ appeal of Westtown’s denial of their conditional use application. Oral arguments in this appeal will made this Monday, September 17th at 1pm in courtroom #1. Please join us if you can.
A quick word about Toll’s legal arguments which, as you can imagine, mock reality. Their lawyer, Greg Adelman, actually argued in a recent brief to the court that the Environmental Rights Amendment should not be applied to the “conditional use process,” a bizarre line of argument to say the least, and that our legal brief should be quashed. What Toll would have the court believe is that laws passed by the PA state legislature – including the PA municipal planning code of which the “conditional use” process is a part – must not be examined or questioned in terms of their impact on the environment. In other words, the legislature, according to Toll’s lawyer’s flawed reasoning, can pass any law it chooses regardless of the harm it causes the environment, and the courts must not weigh in on those laws.
But outside Toll’s time-space distortion bubble, Courts strike down unconstitutional legislation all the time. As this conditional use application from Toll Brothers would permanently impair environmental and historic resources at Crebilly Farm, the Environmental Rights Amendment must take precedence over the conditional use process since the state Constitution supersedes all laws passed by the legislature. That’s why the process of amending the constitution is so onerous: the amendment must pass the two legislative houses in two consecutive terms and then be approved by voters. Therefore, the unanimously-passed Environmental Rights Amendment (Article 1, Section 27) of our state constitution, outweighs laws passed by the legislature. This amendment guarantees environmental protection for allpeople in the Commonwealth, including generations yet to come. So it is plainly ludicrous for Adelman to argue that the E.R.A. must not be considered in the conditional use process.
It was also curious that Adelman would cite as support for his argument any case from Commonwealth Court regarding the Environmental Rights Amendmentsince, in 2017, the PA Supreme Court threw out the Commonwealth Court’s three part “Payne Test” which had been that Court’s method of ignoring environmental protections afforded state citizens under the Constitution. Writing last year for the majority in Pennsylvania Environmental Defense Foundation vs. the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, “Justice Christine Donohue said the prior interpretation of the amendment, which included a 3-part legal test and [which] was in place for four decades, ‘strips the constitution of its meaning.’ The opinion clearly defines the role of the state as trustee, which the court said is associated with fiduciary responsibilities.” (Quoted from PA State Impact)
Unfortunately for Adelman’s argument, the Pennsylvania Environmental Rights Amendment occupies higher ground than the conditional use process which is merely part of a set of laws which are informed and governed by our state constitution.