Save Marple Greenspace

By Ken Hemphill

to prevent erosion at the site and downstream. Adding impervious surfaces in and around steep slopes prevents rainfall absorption and increases the speed, volume, and temperature of stormwater flow. This contributes to bigger floods, increased downstream erosion, and increased stream temperature, something particularly unhealthy for fish and macroinvertebrates that fish feed on. A wooded slope, on the other hand, absorbs the lion’s share of stormwater and prevents it from entering nearby streams. The price that a conservation coalition pays for the land will have concern for these important features built into the valuation.  

A recent letter to the editor from Rev. Joseph Corley made the point that the Archdiocese of Philadelphia cannot possibly afford to donate the Don Guanella forest to the community. Even though this would be the right thing for the Archdiocese to do given the enormous taxpayer subsidies they’ve received on this land for 100 years, Save Marple Greenspace reluctantly agrees with Reverend Corley. The Archdiocese’s financial distress has been well documented so asking them to give away the land is a nonstarter. However, that fact has no bearing on the true monetary value of the forest at Don Guanella. In other words, the Church’s budget deficit does not increase the price of the land even if some developers were willing to overpay for it (with the expectation it would be rezoned).

Archdiocese should understand that it's in their financial interest to do the right thing.

The Darlington Estate

Buffer for the streams must be much bigger than what "Cardinal Crossing" provided.

The same considerations for stream quality and flood protection need to be recognized with regard to the actual streams themselves on the property. All waterways have state and federal protections which require riparian buffers – preferably undisturbed and wooded to maintain lower water temperatures, maximize absorption, and minimize erosion. Wooded buffers are also essential for fish since leaf litter lies at the base of the food chain. (Fish literally grow on trees.) This forest has two important streams, both tributaries to Darby Creek. One of these is most likely a “high quality” stream, a technical designation which mandates special protection and wider buffers. We’ve applied to PA DEP for a “stream reclassification” to upgrade it from its current designation of warm water fishery to “high quality.” Again, this further limits how much could be built there and drives the price down even more.

own it. We want to form a consortium of parties to purchase it at its wholesale value.​​


What the Archdiocese should understand is that we’re in this for the long haul. We have consultants, attorneys, a good source of funding, and an army of volunteers ready to fight to save this last forest of eastern Delco, for years if necessary. The Church could save itself a lot of headaches, money, and bad press by getting a fair price now for this place and also scoring big public relations points in the process. We would ask that they give us permission to get it professionally appraised and then sit down with us to discuss a price that raises needed funds for the Church’s mission and protects a critically endangered piece of open space in Delaware County. Give us the opportunity to create Don Guanella County Park.

Marple Township’s code contains very specific protections for mature woodlands. It does not permit the wholesale destruction of a forest as Cardinal Crossing would have wrought. U.S. and PA law (as well as Marple Township) also provide protections and significant buffers for wetlands, of which there are several at Don Guanella. It’s especially important to protect a headwater wetland to safeguard the quality of the stream it supplies. “Cardinal Crossing” proposed to build a road through one large and important wetland (and bog turtle habitat) that feeds the “high quality” tributary to Darby Creek. Any price for this land must consider that the wetlands, hydric soils, and streams must be protected with significant buffers.     

It's not a done deal: January 18th

What you can do to help –>

August 8, 2016

There are conditions and circumstances affecting what can be built at Don Guanella that bring the price well within the reach of a conservation coalition, that is, if the Archdiocese were to heed Pope Francis’ encyclical of last summer and help us “protect our common home.” Any appraisal of the forest’s value for development must take into consideration such limiting factors as steep slopes (15% grade), very steep slopes (25% grade), stream corridors, mature woodlands, and wetlands. A significant portion of the site is taken up by these environmentally sensitive features and they severely restrict what can be built there. The last developer's $47 million bid for the land took almost none of these into consideration since, to recoup his investment, he needed to get the parcel rezoned, clear cut it, and build on almost every square inch.


Marple Township’s development codes provide for the protection of steep and very steep 

slopes, as well as the trees that maintain those slopes. The reason for this is simple:

Greenwashing the opposition: December 3rd

Air Quality Update: December 27

Marple's code provides protection for mature woodlands and steep and very steep slopes.

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The so-called “by-right” allowances for what can built at Don Guanella also don’t take all of these facts into consideration. For example, in its analysis of what could be built, Marple Township’s engineering firm (Pennoni) ignored the existence of one of the two streams on the property as well as township restrictions on flag lots and protections for steep slopes. At least one wetland was missed, too, in their inventory of the site. Thus they substantially overstated the allowable number of houses and institutional square footage. The presence of these features drives the price down further.


​The Church needs also to factor potential harm to the community into the price. To date, they have only accepted land valuations from self-interested developers whose bids entirely depend on ignoring the environmental constraints on the property and having the land rezoned. Developing this site in our overly congested county would come at the expense of residents’ health, well being, and quality of life. The Archdiocese needs to consider the community they’re charged with serving. In other words, they need to fulfill their responsibilities as a tax exempt nonprofit and discuss a price for this forest that will allow us to save it. Again, we are not asking for them to donate their land even if we helped them 

We are prepared to fight for years if necessary to prevent this from happening to this forest. The

What the Archdiocese and developers should understand