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What Will Become of the Boy Scout Tract? Civic Associations Engage

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On Thursday, June 30, 2022, the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education’s plans to sell a 24-acre parcel of land called the Boy Scout Tract met with sharp questions and numerous objections from neighbors at a public virtual meeting of two local civic associations, the Upper Roxborough Civic Association and the Residents of Shawmont Valley Association.

In 2021 a prospective buyer approached the Schuylkill Center with an offer to buy the tract in order to build two houses and one outbuilding on the property and preserve the rest. The Schuylkill Center’s board decided to solicit more bids via a request for proposal.

The Schuylkill Center had previously reported on its blog that the two local civic associations had met to discuss news of the proposed sale. The meeting on June 30 was the first opportunity for the public to hear directly from the Schuylkill Center and to pose questions to the organization’s representatives.

The Boy Scout Tract is a 24-acre parcel of land that the Schuylkill Center does not currently use for programming. According to the blog post, the Schuylkill Center worked with Natural Lands in 2014-15 to get state funding to sell an easement to limit future development on the tract but was not successful.

The Schuylkill Center is planning to sell the land in order to raise money for capital improvements on its core 340-acre property, according to Mike Weilbacher, the Schuylkill Center’s executive director.

Schuylkill board of directors members John Carpenter and Joanne Dahme said that the Schuylkill Center would only consider proposals that included strong stormwater management plans. Half of the property is too steep to build on without a zoning variance, and the Schuylkill Center representatives said that they would require developers to include a conservation easement to prevent any future construction on those hillsides.

Members of the civic associations submitted their questions through the meeting’s chat, along with several comments opposing the sale.

Attendees asked about how much money the Schuylkill Center sought to earn through the sale as well as exactly how many houses they would permit on the site. Based on the current zoning, about 60 houses could legally be built on the site. The Schuylkill Center representatives said that the organization had not made decisions about a revenue target or how many houses it would allow, though it would not consider proposals with the maximum allowable density.

Several attendees questioned why the Schuylkill Center would sell the land rather than use it for programming. Weilbacher said that the Center had faced challenges using all of its core 340 acres for programming, and that in 50 years it had not used the Boy Scout Tract.

Jamie Wyper, president of the Residents of Shawmont Valley Association, responded, “In actual fact the land is used, by wildlife.”

To one question about whether the Schuylkill Center had solicited staff for programming ideas for the Boy Scout Tract, Weilbacher said that staff often volunteered programming ideas for the Schuylkill Center overall, but to his knowledge had never volunteered programming ideas for the tract.

Several comments asked for an in-person meeting in addition to the Zoom Q&A. Weilbacher and the civic association leaders said that there would be in-person meetings in the future to discuss the proposal. In addition to those meetings, the Schuylkill Center has created a dedicated email address (boyscouttract@schuylkillcenter.org) for questions and feedback and a web page (https://www.schuylkillcenter.org/news/the-boy-scout-tract/) for Boy Scout Tract news.

The Schuylkill Center’s request for proposals will be released in July, with submissions from developers due in September.

Anyone with more information or perspectives they would like to share can contact Grid at news@gridphilly.com.

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