Open Space Review Board

Board Members
Edie Shean-Hammond, Chairman
Rick Scheler, Vice Chairman
Susan Deegan-Watson
Phyllis Chambers
John Ellwanger
Ralph Levengood
Tim Hennessey, Jr.

The Open Space Review Board (OSRB) is scheduled to meet at 7 p.m. on the 4th Tuesday of each month. Please check the Township calendar for scheduling changes.
Land Preserved prior to 2002
Open Space Preserved as of 2020

Township Open Space Program Report as of 2020

From:     Christopher Washburn, Chairman (2002-2021), for the Open Space Review Board (OSRB)

Open Space Review Board 2020 Annual Report

It now has been 18 ½ years since North Coventry Township began its Open Space program in 2002. As I step down today from the OSRB, after serving as its Chairman for all these years, I am proud and thankful for our committee members, other boards and commissions, and our township residents and funders for helping us accomplish so much! During this time we have made remarkable progress in preserving our Township’s character and high quality natural resources, many of which are recognized for regional and national significance. It is an honor that we are now frequently cited by the County and State for what we have accomplished.

Achievements During 2020

The Township funded and Natural Lands acquired a conservation easement on the entire 10-acre Great Oak Farm on St. Peter’s Road adjacent to our multi-municipal Coventry Woods Park. Natural Lands received $20,000 in funding from Chester County. This parcel is adjacent to the Park’s Great Oak Trail and has a Class One historical house, high quality stream and historic over 400-years old “William Penn Oak”, the only registered tree in the Township. Preserving the William Penn Oak and this Property resulted in numerous press releases, including the Philadelphia Inquirer and Pottstown Mercury.

The Township acquired two vacant forested parcels having 6.3 acres on the north side of Chestnut Hill Road to facilitate a critical off-road connection for the Coventry Trail. Funded completely by Chester County and DCNR, this acquisition expands our Coventry Woods Park to 703 acres.

The Open Space Review Board has worked with Natural Lands and the owners of a farm to apply for a Chester County agricultural easement on 11.9 acres of their farm on Harmonyville and Laurelwood Roads. This parcel has spectacular views of already preserved farms and South Coventry’s Woody’s Woods and contains part of the High-Quality designated Pigeon Creek. The owners rejected the County’s offer but will consider applying again.

The Open Space Review Board has worked with the Environmental Advisory Council to have Green Valleys Watershed Association do water quality testing of Shenkel Hollow Run and part of Pigeon Creek. Testing is being done on multiple dates and is still in process. At least three land owners adjacent to the stream have expressed interest in preserving their land.

The Open Space Review Board actively discussed the pending sales and/or possible preservation of 13 additional parcels in different parts of the Township. The Board did research on the history and quality of many of the parcels, including providing connectivity to other preserved land. The owners of some of these parcels have been contacted.

The Open Space Review Board made 3 separate recommendations at the request of the Planning Commission on a proposed but not completed minor subdivision plan. The OSRB also discussed three proposed land development proposals.

The OSRB actively participates in the Hopewell Big Woods Partnership, the Schuylkill Highlands Conservation Landscape Initiative, the Northern Federation Regional Parks, Recreation and Open Space Plan, and The Iron and Steel Heritage Partnership. These alliances are designed to preserve this region’s unique resources and create regional trail and tourism links between our Townships and nearby parks and attractions.

Due to 2014 legislation, the Township authorized partial use of our Open Space Funds to care for land acquired with these funds. This enables the Township to initiate improvements and maintenance of existing parks that have been purchased with dedicated Open Space funds. Total spent for this purpose in 2020 was $142,789.

Our Overall Achievements

A former President of Natural Lands once declared “For in the end, our society and community will be defined not only by what it creates, but also by what it refuses to destroy.” This message resonates today with our mission to preserve high priority areas of our Township either by acquisition, conservation easement, or innovative conservation by design development.

North Coventry Township is a truly magnificent landscape with environmentally sensitive and historic rural areas. In May, 2002 with the help of Natural Lands and the Coventry Land Trust, the voters of our Township approved the Open Space Referendum by a substantial 77%. After years of achievements, this was reinforced in a 2018 Township survey for its new Comprehensive Plan when our residents identified preserving open space as the Township’s most important goal along with providing connections to existing parks.

In 2002, the OSRB conducted a series of public forums where our residents identified their priorities for open space preservation. Natural Lands helped us map our environmentally sensitive areas, and using its own Smart Conservation mapping tool, it found that 40% of our Township is in the top 10% of environmental priority areas of the entire SE Pennsylvania region. The western part of our Township is part of the Hopewell Big Woods (“HBW”), the largest unbroken forest habitat area in the Federally designated Highlands between New York City and Washington DC. In 2001, the HBW was identified as a globally significant natural area by the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. It also is designated as an Important Bird Area by the Audubon Society and an Important Mammal Area by the PA. Wildlife Federation.

In the beginning of our Open Space Initiative, Chester County and Natural Lands also helped our Township modify its ordinances to facilitate open space preservation by giving developers options to use ingenuity to preserve open space as part of development plans. The OSRB also has conducted two comprehensive strategic plans not only to identify areas of priority for preservation but how they should be preserved.

Motivated and thankful to our residents for enabling our Township to preserve its character and natural resources, we have accomplished much in only 18 years:

In the 18 years of our open space initiative, the Township directly or in partnership with others has preserved 1,473 acres of natural lands. This total represents 821 acres of forest and trails, 53 acres of active recreation parkland, and 599 acres of perpetual agricultural easements on farms. These totals include 94 acres dedicated by developers to open space as required by our township ordinances. To accomplish this, the Board negotiated 55 separate transactions for 87 separate tax parcels, and completed 13 subdivisions to achieve solutions that benefit the land owner as well as the Township.

Our largest park is Coventry Woods Park. This Park includes many former wood lots that were owned previously by The Hopewell Company which owned and operated the Hopewell Furnace. Before 2002, the Township owned 4 parcels with a total of 89 acres that had no public access or connections. Since then, we have acquired 614 acres in 24 separate transactions. Our Coventry Woods Park is now a multi-municipal park in three townships that include 703 acres with more than 10 miles of trails. We also have acquired 102 acres of forests in 4 transactions that we have transferred to and are now part of French Creek State Park. The OSRB also has worked with the HBW Partnership and many others to prevent a proposed pipeline that would have been constructed in the western part of our Township, including the core of our Coventry Woods Park.

In addition to Coventry Woods Park, we have strategically expanded or created other parks so most of our residents have a park near them. This includes (1) expanding the historic Kenilworth Park from 20 to 52 acres with pending access to the Schuylkill River Trail, (2) creating our 33-acre Bickel Run Park near the Elementary School and adjacent to Bickel Run from near Miller Road to Hanover Street, (3) working with the Planning Commission to have the Town Square developer dedicate the 22-acre Hanover Meadows Park to the Township, (4) creating the new 26-acre Shenkel Park north of Valley View Road, and (5) increasing the perpetual agricultural easements on our farms by 599 acres to a total of 832 acres.

The cumulative land preserved in our Township, including the land preserved even before our open space program, is 1,944 acres or 24% of all Township available land (total land minus our share of the Schuylkill River and all roads). Before the 2002 beginning of our open space program, only 5.8% of all Township available land was preserved, including French Creek State Park. Although some Chester County townships have preserved a higher percentage of their land, we have done very well in a short time.

The total appraised value of all land preserved in the last 18 years at the time of each transaction is $20.5 million. To preserve this land, the Township has received $12.2 million in grants from the State, County and Federal governments and $4.7 million through land owner donations or conservation organization assistance. The net cost to the Township is $3.6 million. As a result, the Township has successfully leveraged 82.4%% of all acquisitions with funding from other sources. According to Chester County’s published record of grants in the 32 years since 1988, our Township in only 18 years has preserved or developed one of the highest number of acres among the 68 municipal recipients and received one of the highest amounts of municipal grant funds since the County program began. Likewise, the Township in 18 years has received more grants from the 28-year history of DCNR’s Keystone Fund than almost any city or town in the state except Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This record demonstrates the quality of land in our Township.

To initiate these purchases, the Township borrowed $3 million in 2003. Annually the Township receives approximately $600,000 in earned income tax for open space. As a result of these combined funding sources and grants, we have been able to fund our acquisitions and still reduce the original debt to $189,000, which was paid off in January, 2021. We currently have over $5.5 million remaining in open space funds.

Enclosed are two maps that show (1) the land preserved before the 2002 public referendum and (2) the land that has been preserved today.

We have accomplished much in only 18 years. As I step down from the OSRB, I sincerely appreciate the exceptional coordination of our Township volunteers, our residents and land owners, and Chester County, DCNR, the Federal Government and others who awarded us grants or donations for making all this happen.

It is critical that we continue our efforts to preserve open space at strategic locations throughout the township. All citizens are encouraged to actively participate in meeting this objective. This can be accomplished with assistance from the OSRB by planning for their personal financial future as well as ensuring the preservation of their homestead for future generations. Together we will continue to fulfill our goal of preserving the natural landscape and character of our township.

Respectfully Submitted,

Christopher Washburn, on behalf of the OSRB