A developer plans luxury homes on a beloved Main Line property. But locals are pushing to ‘Save Rock Hill Farm.’

The rolling hills, lush meadows, and verdant woodlands at Rock Hill Farm in Willistown offer you glimpses of the earlier.

They are also the concentration of a struggle about the potential — not only of Willistown and Chester County, but of after-rural, suburbanizing communities in other collar counties of Philadelphia, the place bucolic vistas prolonged treasured by locals are supplying way to McMansions and Wawas.

“These significant tracts of undeveloped land, these heritage landscapes? After they’re absent, they are gone,” mentioned Pennsylvania Point out Sen. Carolyn T. Comitta, a Chester County Democrat.

Prolonged owned by a conservation-minded nearby household, Rock Hill Farm was acquired for $25.4 million previous December by the substantial-profile developer and businessman J. Brian O’Neill, who is trying to get acceptance to make as lots of as 22 luxurious residences on parts of the 246-acre assets.

Willistown’s Setting up Fee is set to vote on his subdivision application Wednesday if authorised, the approach will be scheduled for a assessment and vote by the township’s Board of Supervisors. Because the software does not ask for exemptions from Willistown’s zoning regulations, the developer could be equipped to establish the residences by-ideal.

But supporters of a campaign named Help you save Rock Hill Farm — who selection 350 and counting, in accordance to organizers — mentioned they want to stave off a development they feel will inevitably destruction the natural environment, character, and quality of lifetime in Willistown and outside of.

“We’re just people of Willistown, Easttown and neighboring communities who are passionate about preserving the gains of open up area for the community at significant,” explained Les Haggett, a leader of the group whose household in Easttown is across South Valley Highway from the O’Neill residence. The group has dispersed additional than 500 “Save Rock Hill Farm” symptoms and additional than 100 matching T-shirts.

Haggett stated that though Rock Hill has very long been in personal fingers, its open up meadows, woods, and waterways are a neighborhood landmark “that allows the setting breathe.” He and other folks in the group would like the residence to develop into publicly available open up place and place out that its expanses of undeveloped greenery and scenery previously visually connects Willistown’s general public Ockehocking and Kirkwood preserves.

“Open house lets people in,” Haggett reported. “Development of this character keeps most people today out. ”

He and other individuals stated it’s tough to have an understanding of why a township that has supported land conservation given that the 1980s would think about a system to construct on one particular of it greatest remaining rural attributes. They also issue out that Rock Hill incorporates habitats for birds and other wildlife.

The farm contains a 10-bedroom principal property built in 1900, together with many smaller sized houses, barns, and other structures. The land is house as effectively to a Crum Creek branch that empties into a reservoir that delivers drinking drinking water to Delaware County inhabitants.

“We moved here from the reduce Most important Line simply because we consider in open up space,” reported Michele Cruise, who with her partner, Mark, has lived in Willistown given that 2000.

O’Neill and Edmund J. Campbell Jr., the King of Prussia lawyer symbolizing the developer just before the setting up commission, declined to remark. Associates of the Willistown Preparing Commission and Board of Supervisors also did not react to requests for remark.

In a July 7 letter, Campbell introduced to the fee 3 potential ways to building the assets at South Valley, White Horse, and Grubb Streets.

The first proposal is for by-suitable development of five properties on the White Horse segment, with 17 added houses to be built on a new cul-de-sac in the property’s 100-acre eastern portion. The developer would retain the appropriate to separately request acceptance for additional solitary-family members residential development around the present key dwelling on the farm’s 122-acre western portion.

An choice described in the letter consists of building of a single residence in the White Horse area and 20 a lot more in the jap part. A 2nd choice phone calls for construction of 13 homes in the jap part and order of a $12.5 million conservation easement by a 3rd get together to forever maintain about 75% of the complete home.

“Our preference is to see land in rural areas permanently preserved as open up space,” Brian N. O’Leary, govt director of the Chester County Planning Fee, mentioned in an e-mail. An advisory body, the county commission is examining O’Neill’s proposals.

“When [total preservation] is not feasible … we endorse that residences be clustered jointly with sizeable open up house preservation,” he said in the electronic mail, and explained proposals to do so as “generally consistent” with the county’s in depth program.

There are 147,000 preserved acres in Chester County, representing 30.2% of its full land location. Willistown experienced 4,400 acres, or 38% of its land spot, preserved, at the end of last year.

“If you’re heading to have advancement,” O’Leary mentioned afterwards through an job interview from his business, “then what they [O’Neill’s company] are proposing is quite very good.”

Climbing genuine estate values have ongoing to spur the sale and subdivision of previous estates and upscale farm attributes, notably in Key Line communities.

In June, for instance, Reduce Merion Township opted to enable the Linden Hill estate to be subdivided into five constructing heaps.

Whilst larger charges can complicate land preservation attempts, there have been noteworthy current successes: In April, Westtown Township moved to obtain 208 acres of Crebilly Farm for $20.8 million programs contact for the land to turn into a park.

In the meantime, the 209-acre Kirkwood Farm house on Providence Highway in Willistown was shown for sale final winter season in ads touting its “endless views” and other characteristics.

“To the very best of our knowing, the property is less than an agreement of sale with a non-public customer, and we are hopeful to have a superior conservation final result,” claimed Kate Etherington, executive director of the Willistown Conservation Trust.

Founded in 1996, the belief employs conservation easements and other equipment to guard environmentally delicate and or else considerable land in and all-around Willistown from improvement by respecting the legal rights of, and performing with, residence entrepreneurs.

The have faith in has served conserve 7,500 acres in the headwaters of the Crum, Ridley, and Darby Creeks.

“As for Rock Hill,” Etherington stated, “we continue on to have conversations with the present-day proprietor.”

Fascination in sustaining historic, environmentally sensitive, or or else significant local places and landscapes is nothing new in and around Willistown.

The hamlets of Historic Sugartown and the White Horse Historic District entice readers. The community can obtain walking trails on 10 websites that have been guarded from development. And a e-book about Willistown heritage titled Acres of Quakers, posted in 2006 by the township historic commission, ran to 685 internet pages — and finished in the calendar year 1900.

Help you save Rock Hill Farm has an lively existence on Fb and somewhere else on social media, and members such as Haggett and Cruise explained by themselves as newcomers drawn into activism because of the stakes involved.

“Change is fantastic in a ton of ways”, mentioned Rachel Breskman, a member who grew up in Willistown. “But with Rock Hill Farm the [proposed] alter is damaging. Not successful.”

Comitta, who serves as minority chair of the Pennsylvania Senate’s environmental methods and vitality committee, saluted the grassroots effort.

Land conservation “is a really complex puzzle” that can take time to get suitable, she reported.

“It’s not linear and it is not quick. But it can be finished,” Comitta explained.

“In the situation of Rock Hill Farm, I think it should really be carried out.”

This tale has been updated. An before edition misidentified an opponent of the proposed progress. His name is Mark Cruise.