JUNE 11, 2001


Hugh Willig, Chairman, Kevin Kuhn, Vice-Chairman, Paul Hogan, Irene Ewald, Ed Theurkauf, Planner, Linda M. Csete, Township Administrator/Secretary-Treasurer, and those on the attached attendee list.

The meeting was called to order at 7:40 p.m. There were neither announcements nor items brought forward from those in attendance on non-agenda items.

Brightside Farm Visioning Process

Mr. Willig explained that tonight’s meeting was scheduled as a special meeting to begin the process of determining the future of the 75-acre Brightside Farm, formerly owned by the Pyle family and now by the Township.

Background & History

Mrs. Ewald provided a history of the property, which the Pyle family acquired in the 1890’s and was in continuous use as a dairy farm until the family sold it in 1996. They raised a special breed of higher cream-producing Guernsey cows. Although the family didn’t seek the official designation of “Century Farm”, locally it is considered as such. Harold Pyle, son of the original owner, E. Baker Pyle, served the community in many capacities, as Supervisor, Roadmaster, and member of the Great Valley School Board. He is remembered for his remarkable ability to recall past events in great depth and detail.

Following Harold Pyle’s death in 1996, his sister Mildred put the 3-parcel farm up for sale. She was interested in a quick cash sale as opposed to a long subdivision and development process, and sold the 47 acre parcel to a developer, the 55 acre tract to the School District and the 20 acre tract to the Township. Last year, the School District sold their 55 acre parcel to the Township as well. The current Board worked diligently on this acquisition and is now pleased to own a contiguous 75 acres. Mrs. Ewald said the visioning process has been put into motion to invite the public’s involvement in the process of defining what the use of this open space should be.

Overview of Open Space in Charlestown Township

Mr. Willig asked township planner Ed Theurkauf to provide a brief description of other open space in the township, saying the township doesn’t need to duplicate these efforts at the Brightside Farm.

Charlestown Park

Mr. Theurkauf said a similar visioning process took place for Charlestown Park a few years ago, which led to the development of its Master Plan. Charlestown Park, located at Township Line Road and Coldstream Road, is adjacent to the Valley Forge Christian College. It currently has a number of athletic fields (soccer, lacrosse, field hockey), picnic pavilions and a playground. The Master Plan built on these current features and proposes improved picnic facilities and gaming areas, playground areas, parking, and possibly basketball courts at the Northern section. The southern section proposes features to promote environmental education. Trails are planned for construction this summer, which will ultimately tie in with trails at the Christian College and eventually create several miles of paths. Charlestown Park will be handicapped accessible. Other potential future uses include a community center, an administrative center for the Parks & Rec Board/Park Maintenance, classrooms, meeting rooms, and an outdoor amphitheatre.

Mrs. Ewald noted that the park and fields are currently in place, with over 1,000 participants in the athletic programs, which are contracted through the Phoenixville Marion Youth Club and the Phoenixville Area Soccer Club.

Mr. Hogan noted that the Park was originally deeded to the Township from the Federal Government after the closing of the Valley Forge Army Hospital, and there was a proviso that it be developed as a regional park. Mrs. Ewald praised the efforts of Parks & Rec Chairman Mark Connolly, who became involved in the Park project 12 years ago. She said the Park was originally a wasteland and a great deal of its current success is attributable to Mr. Connolly’s oversight and excellent work.

Pickering Creek Open Space

Mrs. Ewald briefly described the 100 acres of passive recreational open space along the Pickering Creek that ends at the historic Ice Dam off Route 29 south of Charlestown Hunt. There are paths through this property, lending to hiking and fishing activities.

How the Visioning Process Works

Mr. Willig briefly described the visioning process, for which Thomas Comitta Associates drafted a proposal dated 1/26/01 that would involve working with the Parks & Rec Board, the Planning Commission, and ultimately the Supervisors to facilitate the development of a Site Analysis Plan and Conceptual Land Use Recommendations Memorandum.

Mr. Theurkauf explained that his firm proposes to start with a brainstorming session such as that planned for this evening, where interested parties can bring forth their ideas to create a wish list for the Farm. No evaluation or debate would take place during this initial stage. This would lead to the following stages in the process: development of a detailed site analysis plan, critical evaluation of wish list items, drafting a list of recommendations, presentation of proposal to the public, incorporating feedback of the public, boards and commissions and advisory bodies, and presentation of final product to the Board of Supervisors for adoption. Thomas Comitta Associates (TCA) proposes to provide the site analysis, visual aids, photos, and maps and to mediate the public sessions.

Mr. Kuhn asked what is the best scenario timeframe, and Mr. Theurkauf said 6 to 8 months would be reasonable. Mr. Connolly advised that this might be too ambitious; the process for the existing park took approximately 14 months. Mr. Hogan said there is a certain urgency due to the vacancy of the farmhouse and condition of accessory buildings. Mr. Kuhn suggested that this be addressed separately from this visioning process. Mrs. Ewald said she sees this process as a 3-5 year project due to the amount of communication needed to the public to invite and encourage their involvement.

Mr. Connolly suggested the Board consider a memorandum of agreement with TCA to contract with them for the visioning process per their proposal at this time.

Open Forum

The floor was opened to proposals, comments and suggestions from those in attendance. The following individuals came forward.

  1. Danny Aquilante is interested in living on site and providing clean-up and maintenance services. He owns an excavating company and would like to store some equipment, including a backhoe, skid loader, and trucks, at the farm. He visited the site and noted that the house is in ragged condition, and some of the smaller accessory structures should probably be demolished. He suggests a proposal of a 6 month to one year contract outlining what needs to be done at the property. Mr. Hogan said he expects that there is approximately 1,000 hours of work. Mr. Aquilante said as a general contractor he has access to electricians, plumbers, etc. and anticipates it would take 1 – 2 months to get the house in a livable condition. Mrs. Ewald asked of his background, and Mr. Aquilante responded that his firm does residential excavation work and he is presently getting into some commercial work as well. He has no historical restoration experience but has construction experience with Toll Bros. Inc. Mr. Hogan suggested a plan to secure the property in stages and ultimately make the house livable. Mr. Kuhn asked Mr. Aquilante to make a proposal with a 12-18 month timeframe of what he would do. Bob Jones (Parks & Rec) noted that financial costs should be considered.
  2. Steven VanVliet introduced himself as former President of the Charlestown Historical Society, and as having done a limited development called Four Oaks in Charlestown that was designed as a low density project featuring a conservation eased area. He proposed a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) project for the farm. He gave a brief definition of how a CSA works: individuals purchase shares of the production of a local farm prior to the planting season and divide the harvest accordingly. Produce is picked up weekly and is typically organically grown. The program fosters community building. He referenced existing CSAs including one in Camp Hill, and the Fair Food Project headed by Judy Wickes in Philadelphia and stated that the role of CSAs is growing fast. Mrs. Ewald asked about acreage requirements, and Mr. Connolly responded that the Kimberton CSA has 10 acres in cultivation, 5 non-cultivated acres and serves 240 families. He also noted that there are a variety of CSA types, including the beef CSA in Charlestown. Mr. Connolly said Charlestown could become a repository for CSAs through the utilization of various privately owned open space, naming the Fisher and Markley properties among others, that could be potential locations for vineyard, orchard, herb and cut flower CSA’s.
  3. Sam Cantrell stated he is dedicated to the promotion of non-profit education, responsible resource management and the development of community through the formation of CSAs and other local food production programs. A CSA serves to preserve farmland and requires farmable land, farmers, a training network in place, and community support. He said there is a growing demand for organically grown food, which promotes ecological and environmental well being. Community development is enhanced through the involvement with the CSA group, which incorporate social events and educational programs into the plan. Visits to the farm instill values in the children of the community. Economically, the CSA is the most viable agricultural marketing model as it guarantees the farmer’s income. He has had success obtaining non-profit status for a CSA based on its educational component. He described his mission as the improvement of the public understanding of conservation and ecological thinking. He advised the Board that to attract a CSA grower and laborers, housing is the key element. Mr. Willig asked how many are needed to staff a CSA, and Mr. Cantrell responded that it varies with the type of equipment used and the size and layout of the farm. The Kimberton CSA supports 240 families and requires 2 growers and 3 apprentices. He said the intern arrangement provides labor at a low cost, and that the sacrifice in efficiency conversely serves to educate future farmers. Mr. Hogan asked Mr. Cantrell if he could operate a Brightside Farm CSA as a satellite operation, and Mr. Cantrell responded that it is a possibility.
  4. Tom McKay was present from the Greater Pennsylvania Area Military Vehicle Historical Society, and said they displayed vehicles at the Valley Forge Christian College in the past and are looking for a new location. They require use of the accessory structures, as the equipment must be maintained inside. He submitted a letter outlining his proposal to establish a military vehicle museum and house offices and a library on the second floor of the cow barn. The group would hold local and regional exhibitions, rallies and open houses.
  5. Dorando Faggioli, representing the Antique Auto Cars Association said his group is likewise looking for storage in the existing buildings on the farm. Their restored antique cars are shown all over the U.S. and the group would be looking for storage space and a workshop for restoration work. Mrs. Ewald asked if there could be an educational component to this use and Mr. Faggioli answered yes. He noted that concerns over liability have been an issue when looking for a base of operations in the past. Mr. Hogan asked if this proposed use is compatible with the Military Vehicle storage use proposed by Mr. McKay, and Mr. Faggioli answered yes.
  6. Bob Elmer submitted a 3-Phase Proposal for a Brightside Farm Coordinator. He sees the coordinator as managing the flow of participants in the visioning process (boards and commissions, planner, committees) and coordinating the proposed activities at the farm. He pointed out that a coordinator would have prevented the recent rye seeding controversy. He sees a variety of possible uses for the farm including the involvement of the historical society, local farms, CSA and equestrian communities, use by art schools, the Nature Center, Scouting groups, 4-H, Chester County Intermediate Unit, Great Valley School District, PSU and Natural Lands Trust. He is familiar with various grant sources. Miscellaneous uses could include the hosting of receptions and reunions (requiring a commercial kitchen facility for caterers), cat, dog, pony and car shows, plant sales, and art and music events as income producers. Phase 1 would include a 3 month process of stabilizing the land and buildings and facilitating the vision process. He estimates this would require 10 hours per week, Phase 2 would be a 9 month process including a cost analysis for building repairs, collection of bids, establishing a field crop plan, and grant funding searches for proposed projects. He estimates this would require 10-20 hours per week and would overlap with Phase I. Phase 3 would be a 1–5 year process to be determined. Mrs. Ewald said one of Mr. Elmer’s great assets is his community building abilities and experience.
  7. Tom Ringwood of the Pickering Creek Pony Club said his organization was established in 1954. He said the Pony Club, consisting of 27 members, 21 years of age and younger, with 30-35 horses brings value to the community and can co-exist with other uses. In response to Mr. Kuhn’s question, Mr. Ringwood agreed to provide a proposal from the Club with further details after looking more closely at the facilities. He will integrate details on grant funding as well.
  8. John Muldoon currently operates Rainbows End Farm, a horse riding program across from the Pyle property, and is interested in additional facilities. He said a roofed riding ring for horse shows would be desirable at the farm. In answer to Mrs. Ewald’s question, Mr. Muldoon affirmed that his program could be run at no cost to the participants through the use of subsidies and fund raising activities.
  9. Louise Cantrell-Kehoe represented the Radnor Pony Club, and said their group maintains their grounds in Radnor by hosting several work parties each year. No horses are maintained on that property but are stabled nearly. She said a Pony Club at the Brightside Farm would provide a place to go for Charlestown residents, as there is nothing else in the area presently. National pony clubs may be a source of grant funding for the maintenance of trails and open space on the property. Bob Jones said a positive consideration to hosting a pony club is that it will attract horse owners to purchase and maintain surrounding open space. Mrs. Ewald asked Mr. Muldoon if joint horse events at the park could utilize parking on his property, and he answered yes.
  10. Alix Coleman introduced Kim Taylor, an instructor at Rainbows End Farm, who proposes to clean up and maintain the farmhouse and live there. She would need help with the cleaning aspect and then would fix up the house. She plans to investigate farmland trust grant funding. Ms. Coleman said she opposes the suggestion that any outbuildings be destroyed as they can all find a useful purpose. She opposes heavy equipment such as military vehicles or antique cars in the barn. Mr. McKay countered that the load of these vehicles is less than the hay loads the barn was constructed for. Mr. Willig said the Board is presently having the barn and other buildings structurally evaluated. She questioned the seeding of the “thistle” field with rye seed. Mr. Merriwether asked about equestrian activities in the evenings and whether there would be speakers and lighting. Mr. Ringwood responded that activities typically don’t take place at night except possibly in an indoor ring, and that there would be speakers for shows but shouldn’t be very obtrusive.
  11. Marcia Solda, representing the Bridlewild Pony Club, said her group is also interested in the site. She said the start-up time for a Pony Club is minimal. She was part of the Farm Committee who presented a proposal to the Board two years ago. She’s recently been elected to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau, which is interested in passing legislation to preserve small farms. She spoke to Rep. Carole Rubley, County Commissioner Karen Martynick, and County Parks & Rec Director Sal Mineo, who all encouraged the Township to proceed with these uses for the Brightside Farm and that funding would be available. She said she is in favor of both CSAs and the Pony Clubs and noted that many adjacent landowners would be willing to open their grounds for joint events. Horse farms surround the Pyle Farm and equestrian uses at the farm would help preserve them. She noted that some of the fields at the farm had been used to grow hay and encouraged that this continue as hay is in demand in the area. Mrs. Solda asked if the developer owning the 47 acre tract across the street is going ahead with his project. Mr. Kuhn said he does have a subdivision plan before the Board.
  12. Mr. Connolly noted that the document produced by the township as a result of the visioning process would be a marketing tool to obtain capital and grant funding, particularly for self-sustaining uses. He said that trails must be designed to create destinations, and the Brightside Farm would be one. The County Planning Commission offers various funding for greenways and trails, and have had no takers thus far. Mr. Connolly suggests holding on to the smaller outbuildings, as they are part of the history of the farm. As other potential uses for the farm, he suggested promoting the arts and a night park for astronomers and casual observers. A resident in attendance said he would be interested in the night sky use, and Mr. Elmer said he has a source for telescope shows.
  13. Sue Staas said she expects some general provisions for use by all residents at the farm. She likes the CSA and equestrian suggestions. She opposes the development of “institutional” uses such as playgrounds or lots of pavement and parking. She said the farm should be kept true to its heritage.
  14. Vincent Kling said this parcel lends itself to the equestrian use because it’s an undulating piece of ground, and that lower density use is desirable. He supports the discussions that have taken place this evening.
  15. Bob Jones said the Board should communicate the need for ideas and input more fully to the residents of the township. He was surprised there was not more participation this evening.
  16. Megan Connolly said she is concerned over the condition and preservation of the house and asked how it can be brought into useable condition economically. Ms. Cantrell-Kehoe said there are cleaning services available that handle this type of house condition. Mrs. Ewald agreed, saying that the County Health Department can refer the Township to these service providers. Mrs. Connolly suggested the house be brought into useable condition and a meeting held here.
  17. Phil Staas said the Brightside Farm could become a model for future acquisitions. If it becomes self-sufficient and goes beyond to making a profit, those funds can be parlayed into future acquisitions.
  18. Saul Kun said the Township has a history with autos and other vehicles; however, environmental problems should be considered along with proposals to house any vehicles at the Brightside Farm. Mr. McKay said he and Galloway Morris could address this: they wrote a museum agreement with the Christian College that addressed these concerns.

Mr. Willig invited all participants this evening to provide formal proposals for use of the Brightside Farm. Mr. Theurkauf suggested that each proposal be structured as a wish list and to describe which facilities will be needed and how the programs will be funded. This information would be correlated so the township can determine which activities fit together. Mr. Hogan offered to conduct tours to interested parties.

Mr. Connolly recommended that the Board appoint a Property Committee to oversee security and maintenance at the farm. Mrs. Ewald asked if an interim coordinator wouldn’t serve the same purpose. The matter has been placed for discussion on the June 18, 2001 agenda.

Mrs. Ewald proposed a second brainstorming session for the second week of August. Mr. Connolly recommended a more formal approach, with the township planner laying out an agenda in a more structured fashion, setting up the presenters and what they should present. Mr. Willig proposed moving forward with the process as outlined by Mr. Theurkauf but repeating tonight’s format in an additional meeting for those who were unable to attend this evening. Mr. Theurkauf said he could begin the site analysis component, including historical assessments, by utilizing the input and discussion material received thus far. No date was set for a second visioning meeting at this time.


There was consensus to adjourn. Mr. Willig thanked all the participants and adjourned the meeting at 10:41 p.m.

Respectfully submitted,

Linda M. Csete, Secretary