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June 01, 2017

Jewelers Row condo developer drawn into preservation fight near Brandywine Battlefield

Neighbors fight proposed 317-unit development by Toll Brothers

Development Preservation
Crebilly Farm Tom Maher/For PhillyVoice

This photo posted to the Neighbors for Crebilly Farm Facebook page shows the farm from a distance. Opponents to a plan by developer Toll Brothers to build homes on the farm site say Hessian soldiers marched across the farmstead in 1777 before fighting – the first skirmishes of the Battle of the Brandywine – broke out there.

The Montgomery County developer seeking to build a controversial high-rise condominium complex in Jewelers Row is caught up in another fight over a development proposal on land close to the Brandywine Battlefield in Chester County.

Its own version of the Battle of the Brandywine involves a parcel known as Crebilly Farm, a 325-acre "gentleman's farm" that sits just north of the main battlefield in Westtown Township.

Toll Brothers recently filed plans with the township to build a 317-unit housing development there with a mix of single-family homes and townhouses. The Horsham-based developer has said it would keep the majority of the site open and preserve its most important historic resources, but neighbors are fighting the proposal.

The first skirmishes of the Battle of the Brandywine broke out during the Revolutionary War on the morning of Sept. 11, 1777, on land where the farm now sits.

Ken Hemphill, who works with one of two grassroots groups fighting the proposal, said the developer maintains it will leave 60 percent of the space open if it builds on the site.

"That's an outright lie," Hemphill told Philly Mag this week. “Their development would take up most of the site, and the open space would be trapped by rings of houses."

The township's board of supervisors held an executive session on the proposal in late March as well as numerous conditional use permit hearings.

Area residents who have publicly voiced their opposition in recent planning commission meetings because of possible traffic impacts and concerns over the possibility of their taxes increasing as their property values potentially decrease, according to a February Daily Local News report.

The township planning commission approved the application, but added dozens of conditions that include moving a historic tavern away from Route 202, preserving all buildings on the property, keeping open space and building new roads.

“We have no doubt that if the board of supervisors approves the conditions, Toll will sue,” Hemphill said.

Two more hearings on the conditional use permit are set for 6 to 10 p.m. June 20 and July 25 in the Bayard Rustin High School auditorium, 1100 Shiloh Road, West Chester.

When asked to respond to the public opposition and elaborate on its plan for the site, Kira Sterling, chief marketing officer at Toll Brothers, sent PhillyVoice a statement Thursday that read, "We have filed a code compliant plan and are working through the township's approval process."

The developer's City Living Division presented plans for its 29-story Jewelers Row condo tower in January at a Washington Square West Civic Association meeting.

The city issued Toll Brothers a permit to demolish five properties to make way for the complex on Jewelers Row, the city's historic diamond district on Sansom Street between Seventh and Eighth streets and on Eighth Street between Chestnut and Walnut streets.