Delaware County Provides Update on Delco Woods

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Released: June 12, 2024

Delaware County Provides Update on Delco Woods

Delaware County, like many counties across the United States, is experiencing a mental health crisis, and there is a desperate need to treat members of our community suffering from mental health disorders. Long-Term Structured Residences (LTSR’s) are licensed, highly structured, therapeutic residences to treat people with chronic mental health conditions who do not require in-patient hospitalization. This is an essential service that is in short supply in our county, particularly due to the closure of LTSR beds at Norristown State Hospital.

The County identified a provider for this service over 3 years ago but is still looking for a location. We have explored more than 25 possible locations over the past three years, most recently an existing building at the Delco Woods property. Earlier this year, as the County was still in the preliminary stages of assessing the viability of the location, Marple Township voted to re-zone the property as open space, which would prevent the County from utilizing the building located on the property.

During Marple Township’s April 15 Zoning Board Hearing, the County’s legal counsel submitted public comment and a five-page document detailing the County’s position to preserve its rights to use the space and buildings as it is currently zoned. The County was vocal and transparent in its position to potentially use three existing buildings – the space for the LTSR as well as two administrative buildings. Because our work was still in very preliminary stages when Marple Township announced a special zoning hearing, it was still undetermined if and how we would use the existing buildings on the property, so we included several buildings in our use permit. The potential use of multiple buildings was openly discussed at the April 15 meeting in front of over 100 attendees.

The County has always been committed to using the Delco Woods land to create a park and preserve open space, as indicated when the County committed $22M to prevent a private developer from buying the 213-acre property and clear-cutting much of the land for development. Using an existing building for an LTSR would not have affected the open space use or our plans to create an extraordinary County park with many amenities.

This week, having received more detailed reports on the building, the County has determined that the building located on the Delco Woods property is not a viable option for an LTSR due to its physical condition and the costs of renovation. The County continues to look at other locations in Delaware County to treat community members and address the mental health crisis in our community. Regardless of the feasibility of this particular site, the critical work of identifying an appropriate location to provide this essential service continues. We must also work to destigmatize mental health treatment.

The County intends to pursue the other challenges to the zoning ordinance to maintain its rights to the property as purchased. The County, however, is willing to work with Marple Township on amending their open space zoning to avoid further litigation and ensure zoning for the property meets the needs of the County in creating a park that serves all of Delaware County for generations to come.

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Delaware County, presently consisting of over 184 square miles divided into forty-nine municipalities is the oldest settled section of Pennsylvania.

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