Reading Avenue Woods

YARDLEY BOROUGH >> The borough council on Tuesday night, March 19 voted unanimously to approve a conservation easement that will preserve a small patch of Borough-owned woodlands on Reading Avenue in perpetuity.

The vote brought immediate applause from a handful of residents in attendance at the meeting, including several residents who had fought for years to save the Woods from development.

“There are a lot of people on both sides of the railroad tracks in Lower Makefield as well as in the town of Yardley who will breathe a large sigh of relief and have a lot of gratitude for your actions tonight,” Harper Avenue resident John Bachalis told the council. “We finally have a Council which is accommodating to the will of its citizens and willing to act for the long term quality of life benefits in Yardley Borough.”

For more than a decade prior councils had attempted to sell the land for residential development, a move strongly opposed by neighbors who fought to preserve the wooded property, which acts as a sound and light barrier between their homes and the railroad tracks.

“This has been a heartache and aggravation for 25 years. Since the middle 80s we’ve been fighting this battle. And a couple of years ago I didn’t think we’d ever see this,” said Bachalis. “But I gotta tell you, I feel like we got our Yardley back because of you.”

Councilman Ryan Berry, who broke ranks with the previous council over the sale of the property, took the lead on the issue asking the current council last year to change direction and to pursue the preservation of the land instead of its sale.

At a heavily attended meeting last spring, council followed through on Berry’s motion, passing a resolution expressing its intent to preserve the property and directing the council president to form a committee to “consider, analyze and develop options and alternatives for the preservation - in perpetuity - of the Reading Avenue property.”

On Tuesday night, it was Berry who brought the motion to the floor for a final vote after hammering out the legal language of the conservation easement with the Borough solicitor and holding numerous meetings with the Reading Avenue Woods Committee and most recently with the Planning Commission, which recommended approval of the document.

“That wasn’t right,” said Berry of the efforts made by past councils to sell the property. “This is right,” he said of the easement.

The easement, which will now be officially filed with the county, essentially limits what can be done with the property, located just to the west of the train station.

According to Berry, the restrictive covenant will prohibit the construction of any temporary or permanent building, structure or improvement on the nearly one acre wooded tract.

But it would permit passive outdoor recreation improvements, including anchored benches, multi-use trails, anchored trash and recycling receptacles, native and non-evasive landscaping including tree plantings, roadside sidewalks, wildlife habitat enhancements such as bird and bat houses and flagpoles.

The easement also would permit utility and site improvements including irrigation systems, stormwater management facilities, water and sewer lines and cable, communication, telephone and electrical lines that are reasonably required for permitted passive outdoor recreation improvements.

Maintenance and additions to the barrier features of the property would also be permitted, including cleaning up debris and trash, removing and reducing invasive growth and planting trees, bushes or other reasonable landscaping to maintain and/or increase the natural sound and/or light barrier and/or water collection characteristics and qualities of the property.

“I am absolutely elated,” said Berry of the unanimous passage of the easement. “This is the best step forward. There’s more work to do. But this is a very good first step to preserve the property.”

Berry said with the conservation easement now in place “we know what we can do with the property. Now it will be up to the community to decide what to do with it moving forward. We’ll be looking at beautifying it, enhancing the light and sound buffer and what else we can do to make it aesthetically enjoyable for residents.

“Nothing has been done with it significantly for years,” he continued. “We can at least make it better by cleaning it up a little bit and maybe plant trees, take out invasive plants. It will be the committee’s decision. I will work with them and whatever other community groups that wants to be involved.”

Berry said the longer term vision for the property also will be a topic of discussion during the coming year, including whether a potential partnership with a conservancy organization makes sense or the creation of a new nonprofit to fund-raise and advocate for the Woods similar to the Friends of Lake Afton.

“I’m very pleased with the outcome,” said Reading Avenue resident Brian Welsh, a member of the Reading Avenue Woods Committee and a longtime advocate for the preservation of the Woods. “This is the first step forward. We talked the talk now we have to walk the walk. Our goal is not just to sit down now and let the world go by. We now have to make our efforts worthwhile.

“We’re going to continue meeting on a monthly basis,” Welsh continued. “There are a number of options to explore. We’re not going to rush into anything, but we’re going to start the wheels rolling.”

In other action, council approved the following special event applications:

- Carry the Load Rally on Wednesday, May 1 at East Afton and Delaware Avenues. The rally is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. The rally will cheer on the East Coast Relay of Carry the Load as it passes through town. The Carry the Load relay provides an active way to connect Americans to the sacrifices of the Military, Veterans, first responders and their families.

- The 12th Annual Yardley Beer Fest sponsored by the Yardley Business Association on Saturday, May 11 at FitzGerald Field. The event features live music, games, food and tons of craft beers. Tickets are on sale now at yardleybeerfest.com

- The Olde-Fashioned Christmas Parade sponsored by the Yardley Business Association on Saturday, December 7. The parade takes place on South Main Street stepping off at the American Legion Hall and heading north to Afton Avenue.

Council also approved two date changes for the following events:

- The Yardley Car Festival, "Roadsters Along the River,"  presented by the Morrisville-Yardley Rotary Club on Saturday, May 4 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at FitzGerald Field. The rain date is Sunday, May 5.

- The Yardley Friends Flea Market on Saturday, Sept. 7 with a rain date of Saturday, Sept. 14. The flea market is held on the grounds of the Friends Meeting at 65 North Main Street.

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