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, mostly single-family residences, he said. Work has already begun, with model homes expected to rise sometime in the spring, built by NVR Inc., according to Reiser.
A major facet of the project is that 162 acres of conservation parkland will be turned over to the township, complete with walking trails for public use. That caveat was crucial in helping to secure $33 million in public bond money for land improvements and ultimately winning the approval of the township to re-zone the area.
"Our philosophy is to work in concert with the local municipality, the local residents, and ourselves to do responsible land planning and development," Reiser said. "We don't look to fight any resistance. We look to work together toward a common goal that makes sense for the community, and the long-term growth of the county."
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.
In 2003, the Jerrehians filed a proposal that called for building more than 700 homes on the land. It stalled when the recession hit in the middle of that decade, and the developer attached to the project, Pulte Homes, pulled out, according to Louis J. Colagreco Jr., a land-use attorney working with the family.
Colagreco said the family continued to seek approval for the sale from the township in the intervening years. Part of those discussions, he said, involved construction of a 1.5-mile connector road between Pottstown and Phoenixville Pikes that the township had sought to build for years.
"West Goshen and the family have worked very closely in developing this plan," Colagreco said Thursday. "There are a lot of ancillary traffic improvements the developer is making, and in return, the developer got the zoning to make this whole project possible."
By 2007, the township supervisors had approved a conditional-use plan that included the conservancy park, the connector road, and sewer and storm water infrastructure, according to Colagreco.
The solution to funding the endeavor came last year, when Reiser Land Development and the Jerrehians won approval from the township to pursue public bond money through the Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) program.
Those funds allow construction to begin immediately on the portions of the development that benefit the public, rather than after the homes are developed and sold, according to Kate Sibel, an attorney with Spruce Law who is working with Reiser on the deal.
"There certainly were a lot of considerations and interests that had to be protected from a lot of different angles," Sibel said. "But those interests were all satisfied through the collective efforts of everyone. This was a long time coming, and it's great to see it all come together."
Through the NID program, future buyers of the homes would foot the bill through a special tax assessment, but Sibel said the homeowners in the development "would be paying roughly the same taxes as someone in the surrounding community."