hey radnor, where’s the beef ?

Not a sign you expect to see on the Main Line is it?

Radnor Township hates when you ask questions about Ardrossan and so does a certain Delaware County Commissioner and former Radnor Commissioner, right?

We will start with Radnor Township is just an odd place. Betwixt and between. They want to be super Main Line and forget they are part of Delaware County. (Of course people in other parts of Delaware County have always said they wished they could forget about Radnor, so it is a push me pull you, I suppose?) They were super slim shady politically until it came to a head years ago and the former manager was removed and elections (and scandals) bit by bit got rid of shall we say…interesting commissioners? Then they got another manager who didn’t use a Radnor credit card to buy stuff (like $400K was misspent or something? See this old report also embedded below) and there was a brief renaissance where things in Radnor veered away from slim shady into the sunshine.

But as with all things political, it was cyclical, and now the pendulum seems to be swinging slightly back slim shady or teetering on it, right? The current township manager is the last manager’s finance guy, not really suited to be a township manager either by education or temperament. Nice guy, very intelligent, but doesn’t seem to like to interact with the public much, does he? His assistant is the proverbial gatekeeper, and oh don’t necessarily count on a reply if you email. Control is the name of the game, I think, only who is actually in control these days? A lot of the commissioners are new and they don’t seem to get the basics like of course they might not get a quorum to have a commissioners meeting April 11th (today) which is undoubtedly why they cancelled it…Easter week.

But back to Ardrossan….

Adrossan was the estate legends were literally made of. The inspiration for A Philadelphia Story and High Society. A literally gorgeous and amazing estate. But once Bobby Scott, Hope’s son died, you knew it was only a matter of time until the march of McMansions really arrived. And McMansions were born.

So one has to ask since the McMansions seem to enjoy farming and agricultural perks although none of those people probably even cut their own lawns. The Ardrossan Farm development was approved in 2014. But what I can’t find is if the roads within the development suddenly became private roads? Why do I ask? That photo above. Taken at an entrance point into the nouveau development so are those roads publicly dedicated streets or not? If they are public with Radnor doing plowing, etc, why the “Private Community” sign?

Now in 2013, Radnor inked a deal to buy 71 acres of Ardrossan for $11+ million. Wheeler Field, Quarry Field, Rye Field. “Everyone loves the cows” was a catchy phrase back then attributed to a commissioner then who is on Delaware County Council now, and some say has higher aspirations still. The farmer is also on two other fields nearby supposedly, correct? Not owned by Radnor Township but old Ardrossan Land?

So there is a farmer farming on the Radnor Township land. That started I guess around 2015 as per an old Patch article? In same family that worked for Hope Scott when it was Ardrossan proper, correct? Main Line Media News reported back then that residents were concerned about chemicals being used on the land. At that time, Main Line Media News quoted Commissioner Elaine Paul Schaefer (now of Delaware County Council):

“I believe a license agreement with the current farmer will be on the agenda for one of our next meetings, so we will have the opportunity to hear resident comment and discuss all the issues involved,” said Schaefer. “The current farmer has been farming the Ardrossan land for over 25 years, and his father farmed it for the generation before him. I believe that most residents would like to see this farmer continue to farm the land, as his very unique operation provides the beloved cows that beautify the landscape. As I understand it, the proposed license will require that the farmer utilize best management practices and adhere to the NCRS (Natural Resource Conservation Service) approved soil conservation plan.”

~ Elaine Paul Schaefer to main line media news 3/3/2015

So, I think it’s wonderful part of Ardrossan is still farmed, don’t misunderstand me, but well, what chemicals are being used on the fields? Especially since the farmer who farms there (his farm is called Fern Valley Farm, correct?) also has the cows/steer he tends to, the last of the famous Ayrshire steer, right? So if he is raising feed corn etc. for said cattle, what are they ingesting? Way back when Radnor inked this deal with the farmer, people urged the farmer to be as organic as possible so what today, in 2022 is happening? Is there a correct list of chemicals? You know like Round Up and Round Up laced engineered seed?

Look, there are natural water sources everywhere, so isn’t it important? There is a sign outside the farmer’s farm that says “BEEF” so if he’s selling, wouldn’t you like to know what chemicals the butchered beasts were exposed to? This is why so many people like to buy organic meat today, correct? And people pay big bucks gladly for organic meat, poultry, fish, produce, yes?

So Radnor, where’s the beef? And is there an official farm store, USDA and Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture listing for Fern Valley Farm? I looked and can’t find it. Truthfully, I think it’s great if the farmer can sell his products, as long as it is done right and isn’t meat it’s whole special category? How it’s butchered, stored, etc?

Back to field chemicals. Trout season is now open, right? So wouldn’t fishermen like to know what chemicals the Ardrossan farmer is using right now in 2022 and what they have been using in years past? Again, I looked to see if I could find it listed anywhere and came up empty.

So in addition to trout and the famous Ardrossan “cows” isn’t there a bald eagle now at the Willows nearby and there used to be big blue herons too, right? So what is the beautiful wildlife ingesting courtesy of whatever Radnor’s farmer uses? And kids are all over that area and isn’t that Quarry field slated for being part of the trails there or something at some point?

Sadly, public land requires public answers does it not? So what chemicals are being used on the land where the farmer farms that is owned by Radnor? I am of the opinion that Radnor Township can’t just be environmentally friendly for show, and it’s great they want to ban plastic bags too, but what about this? Why is it such a big deal for their tenant to produce a list of chemicals used?

So this isn’t the only curious part of Ardrossan tales of today is it? The other part is whatever benefits from farming the McMansion dwellers who have bought on Ardrossan land get? This has all swirled in the media for years. In November there was a movement which was defeated to cancel the farmer’s $1 a year lease:

Radnor official says cattle are part of a tax dodge at the former Ardrossan estate
Richard Booker’s motion would end Fern Valley Farm’s $1-a-year lease for land that the township paid almost $12 million for in 2013.

by Jacob Adelman
Published Nov 12, 2021

An elected official in Radnor is pushing for the township to cancel its lease with a cattle rancher on publicly owned land that had once been part of the sprawling Ardrossan estate, saying the deal helps wealthy landowners on other sections of the former estate take unfair advantage of tax breaks for agriculture.

Richard Booker’s motion, which he plans to introduce at a Board of Commissioners meeting on Nov. 22, would end the agreement that lets rancher Richard Billheim’s Fern Valley Farm use 71 acres of township-owned property for its beef cow operation in exchange for $1 a year.

Booker said in a memo with his motion that he decided to take action on the lease after reading an article published earlier this year by The Inquirer about the tax breaks at the former estate enabled by statewide agricultural-conservation programs under Act 319 — better known as “Clean and Green” — and Act 515.

The programs tax land for what it is worth as a working farm and not what its value would be if sold on the open market for housing, strip malls, or offices. Under Act 319, by far the most commonly used of the programs at Ardrossan and elsewhere, the land must produce $2,000 a year in farm goods.

At least two dozen parcels on more than 260 acres are successfully enrolled in the programs, accounting for more than 40% of the former Ardrossan estate’s acreage sold over the last quarter-century, according to an Inquirer analysis of Delaware County records….Properties covered by the tax breaks include homes of a leader at a major real estate firm, members of the family that cofounded the Apple Vacations tour business, and the top-ranking member of the County Council for surrounding Delaware County.

The only known agricultural products coming from the enrolled land are the corn, soybeans, wheat, and hay grown there to feed Fern Valley’s cows...While cows do graze on a portion of that land, most of their grass-munching is done on the township-owned property. To Booker, that means Radnor is helping private property owners get their tax breaks because those cows wouldn’t be there absent the generous lease.

~Philadelphia inquirer november, 2021

Radnor officials defeat measure to cancel ranch lease seen as aiding Ardrossan tax reductions
The decision leaves in place an agreement that Fern Valley Farm has said was vital to its 10-person operation.

by Jacob Adelman
Published Nov 23, 2021

Officials in Radnor have defeated a measure to cancel a lease on township land for a cattle operation that also helps residents on parts of the former Ardrossan estate save hundreds of thousands each year on their taxes.

In a 4-2 vote with one abstention, the township’s Board of Commissioners on Monday rejected member Richard Booker’s motion to terminate Fern Valley Farm’s $1-a-year lease to use 71 acres of publicly owned property for its 60-head Black Angus beef business.

The decision leaves in place an agreement that Fern Valley has said was vital to its 10-person operation, which also relies on feed crops grown on sections of the former estate that are now private homesteads.

Because of this reliance, Booker has argued that the lease is helping some of those private property owners claim property breaks available to land that is farmed.

~ philadelphia inquirer november 2021

So here’s an article about how the Ardrossan homeowners enjoy ag benefits although they aren’t farmers, per se:

Ardrossan homeowners qualify for local reductions, too — courtesy of programs to save farms
Dozens of properties at the former Ardrossan estate are covered under state abatement schemes, including the Act 319 “Clean and Green” program, that give landowners local tax breaks for farmland.

by Jacob Adelman
Published Jul 16, 2021

Thanks in part to 60 cows that they don’t have to wrangle, many of the wealthy homeowners who dot the sprawling acreage of the former Ardrossan estate have found a way to qualify for local tax breaks along with federal reductions.

That’s because the owners are taking advantage of state laws that permit them to pare down the property taxes owed to Delaware County, Radnor Township, and Radnor schools by registering their land as farms.

The tax breaks under state law are open only to parcels at the former estate larger than 10 acres. For lots under that size, the nonprofit that owns the land is arguing in Delaware County Court that it shouldn’t be taxed at all because restrictions on development have stripped it of all value….at least two dozen parcels — accounting for more than 40% of the former estate’s acreage sold by Eddie Scott’s businesses — are successfully enrolled in state agricultural-protection programs that qualify owners for tax cuts, according to an Inquirer analysis of Delaware County records obtained under the state’s Right to Know Law.

Those owners have seen their realty taxes reduced by an estimated total of $490,000 this year, a 30% reduction from the $1.6 million they would have owed without the discount, the analysis shows…

~ philadelphia inquirer july 2021

Yes, there were a LOT of Ardrossan related or touching articles in 2021. It kind of made me sad, in a way. Almost like the whole allure of that amazing estate were being tarnished in some way.

That is the problem with a lot of these large parcels of land. We see it here in Chester County. Not all are under any sort of conservation easements which is causing eruptions in many places in Chester County right now. You can’t make people conserve land, and then there is how do you make it attractive to conserve/preserve land? And developers just salivate at the prospect of these properties everywhere, and what developers can afford to buy versus what farmers can afford to buy versus what land and nature conservancies can afford to buy are all very different and difficult conversations, correct?

But the most bombshell of the Ardrossan related bombshell articles to me was the in depth Inquirer report:

Open Space, Closed Gates
Tax reductions were on offer to buyers in exchange for protecting the land. But the public cannot enter.

Jacob Adelman
Staff Writer July 16, 2021

This is an article that is too extensive to unpack and briefly excerpt, so people have to read it themselves. What makes this whole thing at Ardrossan even more controversial is the involvement of the North American Land Trust, which has found itself in hot water in 2022 for it’s relationship with Donald Trump. (Also click HERE.)

In an effort to bring this post full circle, many people always wondered how things with Ardrossan and what is left of this estate got here to this point today. And I think that is in part because it has always felt dually shielded in secrecy and controversy, right or wrong.

BUT why else would it behoove Radnor Township to lift the veil? It makes it easier for other people, other municipalities, other farmers trying to farm in the tri-county area. Farming is so under siege, and ironically, most often the farmers under siege are the one who play by the rules, correct? No one is saying farmer don’t farm, they just want to know about the chemicals in the fields and the beef of it all, right? However, people are asking questions about McMansion owners doing a modern spin on the whole feudal thing of it all including ag benefits, correct?

Come one Radnor, set the record straight, and is it really that hard to do these days?

Here are some more articles of a more recent past vintage on Ardrossan:

Ardrossan estate’s final chapter by Ryan Richards May 8, 2007

Another Ardrossan tract goes on the block Anthony Roberts April 27, 2005

For sale: A piece of the storied Ardrossan estate Anthony Roberts, April 7, 2005

Residents worry over herbicide use at Ardrossan Farm By Linda Stein March 3, 2015

Calf at former Ardrossan farm in Radnor diagnosed with rabies by Linda Stein April 17, 2018

Development underway at Ardrossan property in Radnor by Linda Stein August 22, 2018

Conservancy raising moo-la to save the cows by Joan Bang November 2, 2011

Ardrossan: Preserving Radnor’s green heart by Mike Weilbacher September 20, 2011

Radnor inks deal with Ardrossan farmer, approves Villanova West End Zone by Linda Stein September 23, 2021

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