Surprise development: Deal reached to preserve prized Delco tract

After a years-long battle over the fate of a sprawling tract in one of the region's fastest-growing towns, a prized 240 acres in southwestern Delaware County once destined for development has been saved after conservation and real estate groups reached an unexpected agreement.

The agreement of sale for the scenic Beaver Valley, not far from bustling Route 202, guarantees for the first time that the highly sought-after land in Concord Township - now the site of rolling pastures, winding trails, and wildlife - will continue to exist as open space.

The bid for the land was made by the Conservation Fund, the Mount Cuba Center, and the Brandywine Conservancy - all nonprofit environmental groups - and the deal, announced Monday, was finalized Friday, said Blaine Phillips Jr., Mid-Atlantic regional director of the Conservation Fund.

Previously, the land was owned by Woodlawn Trustees Inc., a Delaware real estate company, and developers Eastern States Development Co. and the McKee Group, equitable owners of the land who made a bid for the property years ago.

The purchase price was not disclosed.

The announcement represents a major victory for local residents and conservationists who fought to preserve the tract that seemed bound for construction. For years, local groups protested and rallied after Woodlawn Trustees sold the land to the developers, calling for the parcel - which abuts more than 1,000 acres of federally protected land - to remain untouched.

Still, Concord supervisors initially backed the plans for the development, called Vineyard Commons, which called for building more than 150 homes on the 240 acres.

In a community where population had nearly tripled to 17,000 between 1990 and 2010, the growing pains of the township seemed to conflict with residents' demands for open space.

On Tuesday, Phillips said preservationists had reached "a milestone."

"This is clearly about protecting land," Phillips said. "But I think it's also about momentum, and it's about setting a tone that you can make a difference if you're willing to stand up and make a commitment."

A representative from the McKee Group reached Tuesday night confirmed an agreement of sale had been made but declined to comment further. Representatives from Woodlawn and Eastern States could not be reached.

Still, the agreement is not a done deal, Phillips said Tuesday. The groups must raise an additional $8 million to finalize the purchase, which they hope to complete by the spring of 2017, Phillips said.

"I give a tremendous amount of credit to the community and the citizens who stood up to voice their concern," Phillips said. "The valley is unique, and we are learning that we have to be really careful with every decision we make and every acre we have left."

cmccabe@philly.com

610-313-8113 @mccabe_caitlin

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