To residents, 322 acres of rolling hills on the eastern edge of Chester County are iconic and invaluable to preserving the agrarian history of a county that is undergoing rapid growth.
To developers, the Crebilly Farm tract has been ripe for development for decades and is an ideal spot for hundreds of homes.
The Westtown Township Planning Commission has recommended, 6-1, that the township's Board of Supervisors accept the bid by Toll Bros. to build up to 397 single-family homes and townhouses on the property, which is in an area zoned for residential development.
But the commission — which has no power beyond issuing recommendations — gave the developer more than 40 suggested conditions.
At its meeting Monday night, attended by about 100 people, it said Toll should shift the development farther east, thus preserving portions of the property that could hold historic artifacts. Hessian troops are said to have marched through on their way to battle the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. The Planning Commission also said Toll should commission an archaeological survey, preserve any artifacts discovered, and preserve historic buildings on the property.
The commission also called for upgrades to the township's sewer system, additional traffic signals, road improvements, public trails, landscaping the township approves, limiting stormwater runoff, minimized use of cul-de-sacs, and the removal of access from the development to Route 202.
"This is the best way the Planning Commission could help the situation,” said Mindy Rhodes, a West Bradford Township resident who said she grew up riding horses on Crebilly Farm and is helping to lead area residents' opposition to the development. "This is by no means over.”
A representative from Toll Bros. could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
The township's supervisors plan to have their first public hearing, a conditional use hearing, on the proposed development Feb. 22, with more hearings to follow in March and April. More than 4,200 people in and around Westtown Township have signed an online petition against development of the property, which is bordered by Route 202 to the east and Route 926 to the south.
Several homes occupy the land, but the tract is mostly farmland. The Robinson family, which owns the property, has agreed to sell to Toll.
Toll has submitted three plans to the township for the property. All three leave more than 190 acres as open space and keep two existing homes.
If the supervisors grant Toll's conditional use application, the developer then would have to submit subdivision and land-use applications with the township and permit applications to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.