A 1,500-acre piece of land in fast-growing northern Chester County won't be sprouting 700 new homes.
Natural Lands took ownership of the property last week and plans to create a 500-acre nature preserve and limit development on the rest of Bryn Coed Farms to 28 homes. To help with acquisition costs, the nonprofit plans to sell the remaining land in large tracts to private owners, with conservation easements attached.
Zoning laws allowed developers to build nearly 700 homes on the property. Most of Bryn Coed Farms is in West Vincent Township, with pieces in East and West Pikeland Townships. West Vincent officials plan to turn 72 acres into a municipal park.
Officials and open-space groups in Chester County, one of the fastest-growing counties in Pennsylvania, have been working to preserve land as the county prepares for more growth. In the two decades since county officials adopted their first Landscapes plan, they say, a land area greater than the size of Philadelphia has been cordoned off from development.
More than 551,000 acres of land in the region — six times the size of Philadelphia — qualified as public or private open space as of 2011, according to the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, which plans to update its figures this month.
Through the years, developers have had their eyes on the Bryn Coed property, about 900 acres of which is considered active farm or meadow land. For the last five years, Natural Lands, formerly the Natural Lands Trust, has been working with the owners to preserve as much of the land as possible. Chester County, the three townships that contain the property, and the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources contributed $11.5 million for the purchase of the property, some of which will go toward the nature preserve.
"It's not only an iconic landscape and a glimpse of our agricultural heritage, but it is an essential link in water quality in the region," said Molly Morrison, president of Natural Lands. A large percentage of the Pickering Creek Watershed, which supplies drinking water to Philadelphia, is contained in the acreage, she said.
Natural Lands has raised more than $4 million from donors, including hundreds of households and the William Penn Foundation, toward its $5 million goal for a 500-acre preserve. If it raises more than that amount, it plans to add more land to the preserve.
The preserve at Bryn Coed will join more than 40 others the nonprofit has established, primarily in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey.
Morrison declined to say how much Bryn Coed Farms cost, citing a confidentiality agreement between the nonprofit and the owners, members of the Dietrich family.