Updated 11:39 a.m.
Delaware County wants to create a large park on the Don Guanella School property in Marple Township, hoping to acquire the 213 acres through eminent domain.
“It is the last really large piece of open space in a very dense area in eastern Delaware County. And it’s one of those parcels that just does an incredible amount of work for the community by just passively existing,” said County Council member Elaine Schaefer.
For years, the land, owned by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, has attracted interest from prospective buyers, who lined up with plans to clear the forested area so it could be developed.
One plan, called Cardinal Crossing, required “very dense development,” according to Schaefer. The Marple Township Board of Commissioners has rejected several proposals for the site.
Talk of possible development and deforestation fueled the county’s interest in preserving the property as open space.
“It’s been up in the air for the last several years. It was very much at risk of being developed given the contract that the Archdiocese [was] under to sell to a developer, and council decided to take action,” Council member Kevin Madden said.
An ordinance to initiate the process was introduced before the County Council Wednesday night. On July 7, the measure will get a second reading, and the council plans to vote that night. Upon adoption, there will be a 10-day waiting period before the county can declare it is taking the property by eminent domain.
“And then it’s really going to be a matter of price,” Madden said.
Pennsylvania’s eminent domain law requires “equitable just compensation” be paid to the owners of the site.
“They are entitled to fair market value and the county will be paying that,” Schaefer said.
What fair market value equates to is yet to be determined. If the county and the Archdiocese can’t reach agreement on the price, the matter will go before the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas.
In a statement to WHYY News on Friday, Ken Gavin, a representative for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, said it was caught off guard by the County Council’s action.
“We had no prior knowledge of the county’s consideration of taking the Sproul Road property through eminent domain until late Monday afternoon, when we were contacted by the Delaware County Solicitor’s Office. We are in communication with the county, but have no position on the matter at this time,” Gavin said.
Assuming the county obtains the property at Sproul and Reed Roads— most of which is mature forest, with the exception of the former Don Guanella building and its grounds — the forest will stay forest.
“It’s like a sponge and absorbs floodwater and stormwater. It cleans the air and purifies the air. It provides recreation,” Schaefer said.
But plans for the area near the old school are not yet set, and the council is open to ideas, Madden said.
“It’s just an incredibly important piece of land to the residents that surround it, and now it will be a county park that will be available to all of the residents in Delaware County,” Schaefer said.
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