Delaware County Park Coming to 213-Acre Don Guanella School Site in Marple

This rare 213-acre open space in Marple is Delaware County's newest park.
Image via Save Marple Greenspace Facebook page.
This rare 213-acre open space in Marple is Delaware County's newest park.

Delaware County Council has introduced an ordinance to acquire the 213-acre parcel at the former Don Guanella School for use as a county-owned park, the biggest in its system.

If the ordinance is adopted, it will allow the County to use Pennsylvania’s eminent domain law to take the property and compensate the site owners.

The decision to acquire the property came after the Marple Township Board of Commissioners unanimously rejected proposals for development of the site twice.

The county will pay fair market value for the property as part of the process of eminent domain.

Saving open space

 “We are enormously pleased that we will be able to secure one of the last large tracts of open space in densely populated eastern Delaware County for use as a public park,” said Delaware County Council Chairman Brian Zidek. “Even prior to the COVID pandemic, we knew that open space – including parks, trails and bike paths – bring real economic and environmental benefit to our community and this park will dramatically improve our County’s quality of life.”

Protecting a forest

The new park guarantees protection of the site’s old-growth forest as it brings recreational benefits to the 14,000 who live within a mile of the property and the other 53,000 residents who live within a two-mile radius.

“For almost a decade, area residents have waited anxiously to see what was going to happen with the land at Don Guanella, especially since our community is nearly completely built out. Saving these amazing woods will be welcome news for everyone,” said Richard Jones of Marple Township. “I know that everyone who enjoyed this natural space previously could not be happier that the County is going to secure this land permanently as a public park. It’s the best possible outcome.”

Good for the local economy

County officials hope a park at that location will also spur tourism dollars, related employment, and provide benefits to nearby retail businesses, as well as increase the value of surrounding properties.

Flood control

Two streams on the property are tributaries to the Darby Creek.

Conservation of the land will prevent increased flooding downstream, according to a county press release.

Parks are popular

“Over the past fifteen months, people in Delaware County have turned in unprecedented numbers to parks, trails, and preserves for solace and safe places to exercise,” said Oliver Bass, president of Natural Lands, a regional land conservancy headquartered in the county. “This desire to spend time in the outdoors demonstrates how vitally important preserved open spaces are to the wellbeing of local communities. The addition of Don Guanella to the County’s park system will expand recreational opportunities and preserve one of the largest remaining natural areas in the area.”

Development plans

Proposed development of the land for housing, retail, and institutional space would have required a clear-cut of a majority of the forest. That proposal was unanimously rejected for the second time by the Marple Township Board of Commissioners this spring.

An earlier development proposal to develop the land into a mixed-use development with retail, residential, office, and recreational spaces was rejected in 2016.

Good for community 

“This decision shows that Delaware County is thinking about what it takes to be a place where people want to live and work,” said Councilmember Elaine Schaefer. “Public space doesn’t just protect our environment and create economic value, it builds stronger communities and will help Delaware County remain a place where people want to live, work and raise a family.”

The price for the parcel will either be negotiated between the County and the owners or as determined by the County Board of View. If either party appeals the Board of View’s determination, the case will be determined in the Common Pleas Court of Delaware County via jury trial.

Based on an introduction of the ordinance this week and the requirements of the legislative process, the required Notice of Taking could be filed as soon as the latter half of July.

Check out this 2016 video from Save Marple Greenspace about the Don Guanella forest told from a child’s point of view.

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