Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors to consider spending $3 million on conservation easement on Highlands property

On the agenda of the September 10th meeting of the Whitemarsh Board of Supervisors is the consideration of an ordinance (view) that would have Whitemarsh Township pay the Highlands Historical Society $3 million for a conservation easement for 27.82 acres of the 44 acre Highlands Mansion and Gardens property. The portion that would not be covered by the easement is the property immediately surrounding the mansion and gardens. The funds would come from the township’s open space fund.

If you are not familiar, the Highlands includes a historical mansion, gardens, and a pasture. It is located at the intersection of Skippack Pike and Sheaff Lane in Fort Washington. A review of its history can be found here.

The property is currently used as a historical education site and tours are available, along with the opportunity to rent it for events and weddings. The public can utilize the grounds with certain restrictions. The township has also held a movie night there on occasion.

Tied to the deal between the township and the Highlands Historical Society is an agreement by the historical society to purchase the land from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for $1. Going forward, the society would own and maintain the property and utilize the $3 million from the township towards maintenance and making needed improvements. A member of the Board of Supervisors would also be appointed to the historical society. The historical society would be required to provide regular financial updates and the township would have approval power on large expenditures. The deal would only be finalized with the state’s approval.

What we didn’t see in the agreement was a requirement to have public access continue once the property moves from state to private ownership (with the $3 million in public money for the easement).

You can view the agreement of sale, easement agreement, and other documents here (starting at page 35).

The meeting is at 7:00 p.m. via Zoom. Follow the agenda link in the first paragraph with instructions on how to join the meeting.

Let us know what you think in the comments.

Photo: Google Earth