W. Chester puts off payment for Barclay Grounds

Posted: July 03, 2014

West Chester has received an extension on its first payment to purchase the Barclay Grounds, but officials say the move is not a sign that the borough is backpedaling on its promise to save the cherished park from development.

"We're going to get all the money we need to purchase the property. I have no doubt," Mayor Carolyn Comitta said. "It's messy. Nothing is ever a straight line."

The property, a shaded 1.3-acre lot that is privately owned but has long been used as a public park, drew widespread attention last year when a new owner proposed building four homes on the land. Residents rallied in opposition, with 2,000 people signing an online petition and signs reading "Save the Barclay Grounds" cropping up across the borough.

In response, the owner and the borough struck a delicate agreement allowing the borough to buy the land with its reserve funds and pay itself back with grants received at a later date.

That plan suffered a major setback last month when the county commissioners pledged a $125,000 preservation grant - $375,00 below what the borough had requested.

Ahead of Monday's deadline for the first of two $600,000 payments, the borough requested and received a 30-day extension, Comitta said.

She said that there had been no talk of backing out of the project and that the extension was intended to "relieve the pressure in some people's minds."

"Because the county came in so much less than what we had asked for, I think it kind of threw off the fund-raisers," she said. "The Borough Council was, like, 'Whoa, what does this mean?' And it gives everyone an opportunity to review where we are, where we need to be, regroup, and make sure we move forward with success."

Victor Abdala, one of the property owners, said that the borough had not indicated an intention to renege on the sale agreement but that it was contemplating how best to move forward.

"My partner and I get the sense that it's not whether or not they want to [purchase the property]," he said. "It's whether or not they can."

When the county commissioners granted just a fraction of the grant money requested last month, they stressed their desire to see the borough pledge its own funds. The Borough Council has said it does not want to use taxpayer money for the project. Comitta said the council would likely discuss that issue at a later date.




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