Long before I moved to Chester County I had heard of Greystone Hall. Probably because the Jerrahian family live on the Main Line. At least some of them do. In 2001 they were subjected to an attempted eminent domain taking from the West Chester school district. Yes, shades of Stoneleigh.
“Before taking such and extreme step, the school district should go out of its way to be careful, fair and beyond reproach,” said Dean Jerrehian in a statement sent to area newspapers Sunday. “It is bad enough for the government to take someone’s property, but it is even worse to take it on a few days notice …and especially if they are not even sure they really want it.”
Jerrehian, one of the members of the Jerrehian Partnership, which owns the 400-plus acre property in West Goshen, was referring to an announcement made last week that the West Chester school board intends to discuss possible acquisition of a portion of the property for its proposed new high school.
He raised several objections to the possible move, including that it may not be the best site for the school, that its cost is uncertain, and that the district “has not fully explored all feasible alternatives.”
Jerrehian also said Sunday that by making its announcement on the heels of the Jerrehian Partnership’s application to create an Agricultural Secuirty Area for the property, which he referred to as his family’s farm …..The district said the action was taken because the Jerrehian owners recently filed an application with West Goshen to create an Agricultural Security Area protection. If that application is granted, the district could have a more difficult, lengthy and costly road to eventually buying the land through eminent domain.
Explaining his family’s decision to set the agricultural district up, Jerrehian said corn and “other field crops” are being grown on parts of the property. He did not know how many acres were under cultivation, however……All that was mentioned was that the district is interested in roughly 108 acres near the Greenhill Road and Route 100 intersection, he said.
Mind you that was not the only property at that time the WCASD tried to take. There as also the Singer Farm. Unrelated, but the same time frame would have been the Saha Farm in Coatesville.
During at least a month or better in the winter of 2001, The Daily Local wrote a series of articles on eminent domain that I thought were quite powerful. Here is an excerpt from one of the 2001 articles:
….America’s frontier has been closed for well over a century now. Its citizens, though, still need roads, schools and utilities. Its leaders develop plans for land improvements and economic revitalization. And the two groups face potentially bitter conflicts, here in Chester County and across the nation, over the locations of these projects on the one-time frontier and over the means by which those in charge carry out their plans…..In Valley, more than half of Dick and Nancy Saha’s 45-acre farm is under threat. The city of Coatesville, in an effort to revitalize its economy, is attempting to take the land for a recreation center and 18-hole golf course. The Sahas, vowing to fight the city’s condemnation to the Supreme Court, are seeking allies among public officials and the public. The Valley board of supervisors has joined their cause.
In East Bradford, the West Chester Area School District’s proposal for a new high school led to rushed efforts to take 102 acres of Philadelphia real-estate developer Michael Singer’s 172-acre farm on Route 322. Singer and his attorneys successfully fought off the school district’s plans earlier this year, with an assist from East Bradford officials who opposed the location of a large high school on the land.
Yes, I digress. But a point is coming. I have no clue what happened to Michael Singer’s 172 acres after they beat back the West Chester Area School District in 2001:
“In an opinion issued Tuesday, Court of Common Pleas Judge William Mahon ruled that the school district’s April 6, 2000 meeting — at which it voted to acquire 105 acres of Michael Singer’s 172-acre farm to build a new high school and athletic fields — was “void and of no effect” because it violated state “sunshine,” or open meeting, laws.”
I remember cheering the Jerrehian family’s victory over the West Chester Area School District. But when I saw their plans for Greystone years later filed in West Goshen Township, I almost regretted cheering them on because I wondered for what did we cheer? So they could develop hundreds of ticky tacky new construction boxes? (Greystone-NID-Plan-Presentation-11.3.17-rev._2)
In late 2017, Bill Rettew wrote about this Greystone Development:
The article quotes West Goshen Supervisors. Specifically FORMER Supervisor Ray Halverson and still existing Supervisor Chris Pielli. I will be honest that I think West Goshen is one of the more problematic Chester County municipalities and are part of the lovely Mariner II pipeline ground zero as it were. Them approving this is sheer lunacy and am I alone in this opinion? And yes, I understand all too well the realities of development but when will more municipalities in PA do what is right for residents?
I had put Greystone out of my head until up popped an article this week in the Philadelphia Business Journal by Natalie Kostelni.
The week before the September 5th Philadelphia Business Journal article, there was also an article in the Daily Local on August 29 about construction starting. It featured heart wrenching photos of construction equipment digging up the earth.
All of this comes on the heels of Crebilly in Westtown news from Mindy which I will share :
Dear Friends,Crebilly Farm/Toll Brothers Conditional Use appeal court date is quickly approaching and I hope you are planning to attend:MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 17TH, 1PM, Chester County Justice Center, 201 West Market Street, West Chester COURTROOM #1 (Not #15).We are coming upon what could be the final moments of what will set the tone for a long time to come. Our national history is in jeopardy and all of us will pay a dear price in traffic congestion and environmental damages if the Judge grants this appeal.Last week, I attended the Chester County Commissioners Meeting and asked the Commissioners ‘What can the public do between now and the court appeal to keep this fresh in the minds of others? Can we write letters to the Judge?’ I learned this is an option and it is up to the discretion of each judge whether they will read them or not.FRIENDS, THIS IS A CALL TO ACTION– for each and everyone of us; all those reading this message and all those you can share this message with. I am calling on everyone for a new letter writing campaign- ASAP! Please send a mailed letter in opposition of the proposed development via snail mail- yes, snail mail– one to the Judge and one to the Commissioners! Please be polite. If it’s too much to write a letter, that’s okay, then just write a sentence- and please mail it snail mail. If it’s too much to write a sentence, that’s okay too, then please mail an empty envelope with the following message on the front at the bottom:PLEASE PRESERVE OUR NATIONAL HISTORY ON CREBILLY FARM!*Every letter/sentence/envelope needs to have written on the front of the envelope at the bottom:PLEASE PRESERVE OUR NATIONAL HISTORY ON CREBILLY FARM!We need to flood the Judge and Commissioners’ mailboxes, office and desks with letters from all over West Chester, the county, the state and the country! Make copies of the same letter and send numerous copies to both. Flood them like the Brandywine River last week! Whether the letters are opened or not, I think our message on the front of the envelopes will be pretty hard to miss and talked about by all.SEND YOUR SNAIL MAIL TO:The Honorable Judge TunnellJustice Center201 W. Market StreetWest Chester, PA 19380*Remember to include on the front of each envelope at the bottom:PLEASE PRESERVE OUR NATIONAL HISTORY ON CREBILLY FARMChester County Commissioners313 W. Market StreetSuite 6202West Chester, PA 19380*Remember to include on the front of the each envelope at the bottom:PLEASE PRESERVE OUR NATIONAL HISTORY ON CREBILLY FARMFriends, this is MASSIVE PUBLIC OUTCRY. And I promise- it’s now or never. I thought it one of the silliest ideas ever to ride my horse through the nearby neighborhoods of Crebilly Farm almost two years ago to raise awareness, but it was all I could think to do at the time. To my surprise, it woke people up. And then together, we woke up the Westtown Township BOS. And they heard us. And they voted ‘NO.’ Time to wake up the Judge and Commissioners before it is too late.If not you, then who?Sincerely,Mindy Rhodes
So back to Greystone. It is over 400 acres, right? And it has how many homes ultimately planned? 598 houses? So even if this development is built in stages, it is the same school district as Crebilly, so if Crebilly goes through where is West Chester Area School District going to go to get more land now? How will THAT school district handle all of these new district families?
Kind of ironic, and bitterly so, isn’t it? The Jerrehian family saves their property from eminent domain via a school district to turn around and sell to a developer? Makes you wonder if this is the ultimate FU to a school district, doesn’t it?
But it’s not just the school district which will suffer, is it?
Chester County collectively needs to seriously wake the hell up. And that includes that misbegotten Chester County Planning Commission headed by a Lower Merion Township Resident, doesn’t it? Pick a school district. Pick a municipality. All the land is going under developers’ collective shovels and I am still asking how this insanity is sustainable?
What about the farm land that was on Greystone property?
Now for the history. My dear friend Sara’s grandfather was the architect Charles Barton Keen . Mr. Keen was the architect on Greystone Hall built for Philip M. Sharples. I found some great history on a blog called Hackberry Hill:
Philip M. Sharples (who often went by P.M.) was a fourth-generation Pennsylvanian and from an influential Quaker family in Chester County. Not surprising that one of Sharples predecessors was the first mayor of our town. In 1881 Sharples established the Sharples Separator Works Company with plants in Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, Canada and Germany. At its peak, Sharples Separator Works was the largest industrial company in our town, employing 600 workers and turning out an average of 3700 separators a year (West Chester University Archives). He was clearly a big deal.
The company did exceedingly well for over 30 years and Sharples became a rich man. In 1907, he finished construction on Greystone Hall, an incredible house that sits just north of town designed by architect Charles Barton Keene. Coincidentally, just after looking at the Sharples’ city house, I attended a lecture at Greystone Hall, not initially realizing that this was a Sharples’ house as well. I am not sure P.M. lived in or owned the city house though – it was possibly a relative. There are a lot of Philip Sharples in the family tree! I need to look into that further. In any case, by 1907 P.M. Sharples was living quite grandly at Greystone Hall with his wife and three children.
…..P.M. and his wife moved in and a mere four years later his wife passed away leaving Sharples and his three children alone. He later remarried and had 3 more children. His second wife and 6 children lived at Greystone until 1935.
Sharples fell victim to the Depression and ended up losing Greystone to foreclosure in the early years of World War II. Greystone was pledged as collateral on loans and about half of the original nearly 1000 acres of land were sold off in small parcels starting in the late 1930s. Sharples relocated his family to Pasadena where he lived for 9 years before passing away in 1944 (www.greystonehall.com).
Pennsylvania is a private property rights state. It is what helped defend Greystone from eminent domain, after all, wasn’t it?
But where do we draw the line on developers and politicians and their visions for where we call home? When did the rest of our collective private property rights as extended community stop mattering?
Chester County is literally disappearing and soon you won’t be able to tell if you are in Chester County, or say some bland subdivision in Oklahoma.
Today an Inquirer article by Vinny Vella made me pause and decide to write something about this. It’s not like we can stop it. The plan is approved and the construction has begun.
While I was researching and hunting for the old articles on the eminent domain play which occurred, I also came across this thing from Temple University about restoring the Greystone lands I guess. (Haven’t read through it all but have also uploaded MLArch 2015_Greystone Hall 2_Web here.)
Here is one page from that PDF showing the trees on Greystone:
Greystone was mentioned in another post I wrote in 2017 about the still missing Toni Lee Sharpless .
I think this development will create havoc. It will overwhelm infrastructure, a school district, and so on, won’t it? Can you imagine the traffic when all of the houses are built? I was told that land that was probably undevelopable was given to West Goshen Township for parkland or something? Hopefully that saves a good chunk of the forest, right? There is supposed to be some road cut through the development. Friends say it will be a narrow windy 25 MPH road?
Sign me sad. I am glad the mansion is staying, but am totally bummed that all those acres will become plastic houses. For any number of reasons. Hope the ratables were worth it, West Goshen. In the Philadelphia Business Journal, West Goshen’s Manager was quoted:
West Goshen has been dealing with developer interest in Greystone for years. “We couldn’t stop the development but we could manage it,” said Casey LaLonde, township manager of West Goshen.
I had to laugh because Casey LaLonde? Y’all GOT managed versus managing anything didn’t you?
Other interesting tidbits from the Philadelphia Business Journal article include:
…Other developments Reiser was involved with include Atwater, Muir Wood in Newtown Square and Carriage Hill in Doylestown……As it did with those projects and will do with Woodlands at Greystone, Reiser will serve as the master developer and has partnered with NVR, which builds under Ryan Homes and other brands, to construct the houses. Under that arrangement, Reiser plans to prepare the lots for development, install the infrastructure and then sell them to NVR on a scheduled basis over the next six years.
Atwater? It’s in East Whiteland, right? Large and kind of unattractive? Hmmm isn’t that the development which has already caused some elementary school redistricting within Great Valley School District?
More than 400 acres of land, the largest remaining undeveloped tract in West Goshen Township, Chester County, were sold last month to make way for hundreds of houses in a deal that was a decade in the making.
But the origin of the $38 million sale of land surrounding the historic Greystone Hall traces to the 1950s, when the Jerrehian family, its owners, first started courting developers.
Their vision was finally realized Aug. 23, when half of the property surrounding the mansion was sold to Reiser Land Development. The other half, according to Drew Reiser, a managing partner at the company, is expected to be sold in a separate deal, the details of which, he said, are private.
Reiser’s plan for the Woodlands at Greystone calls for the construction of 598 homes….The Jerrehian family has owned the land, once the property of West Chester manufacturer Philip M. Sharples, for nearly 80 years. The main building, Greystone Hall, frequently used for corporate retreats and wedding receptions, will remain under their ownership and will not be part of the subdivision.
Sharples, who built Greystone Hall in 1907, founded the Sharples Separator Co. but lost his money during the Great Depression. The Jerrehian family, which immigrated to the United States from Turkey in the early 1900s, bought it in 1942.
Read the entire article. It is informative and interesting.
Bah Humbug. I am glad the mansion is surviving but why all the houses? I will never understand. Kind of disappointed in the Jerrehians on this, have to be honest. I don’t know what I thought they would eventually do with all of the land, but it wasn’t this.