Schuylkill Environmental Center calls off controversial plan to develop Boy Scout parcel.
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education last week suspended a request for proposals that sought “conservation-minded” development ideas for the 24-acre piece of land known as the Boy Scout Tract.
Since the initial announcement of the RFP in July, the Schuylkill Center said, it has been presented with “several potential opportunities for preservation” that allowed it to drop the idea of putting the land on the market.
“We would much rather go this route than develop,” said Schuylkill Center spokesperson Amy Krauss. “The attention has created a buzz of people who might be interested in conservation.”
But neighbors are still skeptical.
“They said we’re suspending the proposal process,” said Jamie Wyper, president of the Residents of Shawmont Valley Association. “They did not cancel it, so at any point they can start it up again.”
Still, Wyper said the suspension is a positive development.
“We feel like the nature center is stepping in the right direction, but they have not given us what we’re looking for yet,” Wyper said. “The community will still keep the pressure on them to do the right thing, which is to steward the land around here.”
The ultimate goal, Wyper said, is “100% preservation” of the land “in perpetuity.”
Rich Giordano, president of the Upper Roxborough Civic Association, said that he was happy the Schuylkill Center “has stepped back from the abyss and decided to withdraw the RFP for possible sale of the Boy Scout Tract.”
“We can now begin to work together with them to create conservation easements on the property, so that it can be preserved in perpetuity,” he added.
The land is home to Green Tree Run, a stream that flows through the property. It’s also a migration route for toads that cross Port Royal Avenue during spring mating season.
In its statement, Schuylkill Center officials said “no proposals have yet been received from conservation-minded developers or individuals,” but that “the date for filing proposal applications is still several weeks away.”
Krauss wouldn’t specify what she considered a “conservation-minded developer'' to be, but did say that it would be a developer who is “respectful of land, respectful of toads that pass through to the reservoir and the neighborhood.”
“What we don’t want is somebody who's going to cut down trees and build an apartment building,” she continued. “We want somebody who’s worked in the field and building within the confines of nature and using that as a jumping off point.”
Krauss said that “several” groups have come forward with conservation ideas for the land, but she wouldn’t put a specific number on it.
“We’re not sure how many will pan out so we don’t want to put a number on it,” she said.
The Schuylkill Center hopes to have more to announce “within the next several weeks,” Krauss said.
The center has twice tried, and failed, to obtain conservation funding to preserve the parcel. In the 1980s, the organization sold off 10 acres of the parcel to a congregation, which built a church. The center also sold a piece of the property to a neighbor, who built a house there.
Krauss said the center, which relies on grants, charitable contributions and program revenue to stay in business, has been deferring maintenance and investment for years and needs the money. The $5 million in upgrades officials estimated the center would need back in 2015 would likely cost even more in today’s economy, she said.
“We are a nature center. Our job is to preserve the environment,” Krauss said. “But we’re also an educational organization, and a wildlife clinic. We need to invest in our buildings, and in our programming, in order to draw people to the center to learn about the forest, ecology, biodiversity, and climate change.”