Planned land sale raises questions for Chester SPCA board

Posted: September 05, 2013

Two years after the Chester County SPCA turned down an offer to sell 20 acres of the nonprofit's land to West Bradford Township for a public park, the shelter's board has agreed to sell the land to a real estate partnership in which board president Conrad Muhly is a principal.

Muhly has been under fire from former staff, board, and volunteers over alleged mistreatment and neglect at the existing humane shelter. Muhly has said current staff members were doing an excellent job dealing with a tremendous volume of unwanted dogs and cats, many of whom are not adoptable.

Muhly is a principal member in Embreeville Redevelopment, a limited partnership that has an agreement of sale to purchase the CCSPCA's unused acreage at West Strasburg Road and Shagbark Drive.

The land abuts the 245-acre Embreeville State Hospital parcel that the partnership purchased from the state for $1.05 million in the spring for potential development.

Muhly declined requests for interviews but did address questions in an e-mail.

In 2011, the township offered to purchase the unused CCSPCA plot to "permanently preserve the property as open space, and incorporate the land within the township park system," according to a grant proposal. The township said it would consider establishing a dog park, ". . . a fitting use given the property's ownership and history."

The offer was rejected by the board, said Tommy Ryan, West Bradford Township manager.

The township had obtained a grant from Peco to improve the property in anticipation of buying the land. But in a June 5, 2012, letter to Peco, Ryan stated: "Unfortunately, the township [and] the SPCA could not agree to a purchase price for this 20-acre property."

Asked why the offer was declined, Muhly said in an e-mail: "There was no official offer to purchase the property."

As for the vote this year on the sale of the 20 acres to his partnership, Muhly stated he had recused himself.

In an e-mail obtained by The Inquirer, board treasurer Frank Sobyak told board members that the sale to the partnership "will net the shelter $300,000 for land we no longer have use for."

Sobyak asked board members to reply immediately. "We will be able to complete the transaction if we are able to reach board approval by the end of business Monday April 8, 2013," Sobyak wrote.

Sobyak did not return calls for comment.

State stipulations

Netting the $300,000 evidently is not a done deal.

When it deeded the 20 acres to the CCSPCA in 2002, the state stipulated that it be used for "programs and services associated with the prevention of cruelty to animals" in accordance with state law.

CCSPCA paid $100,000 for the land, according to an e-mail from Muhly.

The state's conditions could be removed if CCSPCA demonstrates good reason to do so and pays the state the difference in what it paid the price netted at sale.

If the conditions aren't met, the title would revert to the state.

"I am very disappointed that what was intended to be used for a need in the community is not going to be done so," said State Sen. Andrew Dinniman (D., Chester).

He called the undeveloped CCSPCA land an "astounding treasure."

Dinniman said the township still had time to express opposition to the proposed sale. "I hope it does so," he said.

State still in talks

According to Troy Thompson, spokesman for the Department of General Services, the restrictions have not yet been lifted and the state remains in negotiations with Embreeville Redevelopment.

"We'd like to see the land preserved, which is why we offered to buy it in 2011," Ryan said.

This is not the first time Dinniman has dealt with CCSPCA and the Shagbark property.

In 2008, Dinniman secured $25,000 in state money for the CCSPCA to use for the construction of a new kennel and a "public, leash-free dog park," at the Shagbark site, according to an announcement at the time.

The shelter decided not to proceed with plans to put in an annex on the Shagbark land but instead proceeded with a $1.6 million renovation to the 50-year-old main facility on Phoenixville Pike in West Goshen.

According to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the CCSPCA did receive the money and the grant is still listed as "open."

The grant money, Muhly said in a statement, is in an interest-bearing account.

"The $25,000 should be returned if it is not used for the dog park," said Dinniman.

Dinniman said the 2008 grant money was given for the specific purpose of development of a dog park. He said developing the land would be "inappropriate," and it should be used for open space or recreation.

Ryan said he was not aware the CCSPCA received state funding for a dog park.

"It is news to me that the SPCA was given state money to do a dog park and never followed up," Ryan said.

Two years ago West Bradford Township polled property owners and received "overwhelming support from residents to establish a dog park" within the township's boundaries, Ryan said.

"We'd love to have a dog park there," he said.


Contact Mari A. Schaefer at 610-313-8111, mschaefer@phillynews.com, or @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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