Neighbors for Crebilly

Terrain is essential to understanding why and how a battle unfolded. Left, after leaving the "defilade" of the northwestern side of Crebilly Farm, the Hessians were exposed as they marched towards the Continental right flank. Right, General Stephen's men would have clearly seen the Hessians and British from Sandy Hollow when they reached the point shown in the left picture. Middle: Mike Miller (click to watch his testimony) Inset: Click to view Sean Moir's animated map of the battle.

One example of what military officers would consider on a staff ride: the terrain on the northwestern side of Crebilly Farm would have served as "defilade" for the Hessians. This side of the farm cannot be seen from the American position at Sandy Hollow.

Toll's colony would create 50 acres of impervious surfaces yet 

We should not just preserve battlefields for practical reasons, either, Mr. Miller said. There is no better way to honor the ultimate sacrifices made by soldiers than to preserve the place where Americans, Hessians, and British men died. Those brave early Americans did not risk everything for freedom so that Adelman and Toll Brothers could later cash in on developing the land on which they sacrificed. While it didn’t come up during his testimony, Mr. Miller also made it clear to us that armies at the time frequently buried their dead right on the battlefield. So Crebilly Farm is not just hallowed ground because of the actual fighting. It is also possibly a final resting place for some of the fallen.


At an earlier conditional use hearing, Toll’s attorney wondered what all the bother was about considering how much of the battlefield has already been lost. Toll’s bewilderment at the push to preserve Crebilly hits exactly on our point. You don’t give up on the patient because gangrene has taken both of his legs. Because so much of the battlefield has been lost, the remaining unprotected pieces are that much more important. This is a national problem, too. In its 2007
report to Congress on the state of Revolutionary War and War of 1812 battlefields, the National Park Service delivered disturbing news: “only about 38 percent [of Revolutionary War battlefields] are in good or fair condition, with more than 60 percent in poor condition or gone completely.” This disturbing fact was echoed by the Civil War Trust president Jim Lighthizer, who just two weeks ago wrote an open, nationally published letter to Westtown Township calling for the preservation of Crebilly Farm: “revolutionary War battlefields, including the historic Brandywine Battlefield, have paid the toll over 240 years of development and expansion, and the ground that witnessed the founding of America is at risk of being passed only into memory.” If Toll is allowed to desecrate Crebilly, their “virtual reality” tool won't allow future generations to experience this lost battlefield.

Of “staff rides” and the Immaculate “Conceptual”

Tuesday's hearing was an avalanche of revelations

"The plans lack essential information including detailed information on stormwater management. However, the preliminary information that is provided proposes a site design and stormwater system that will create significant disturbance in the project area, with a stormwater system that will fail to manage the increase in runoff volume and rate, fail to recharge groundwater, and unquestionably will adversely impact the downstream water quality of receiving streams and wetlands."

The penultimate conditional use hearing for Toll’s Colony at Crebilly started off on a bad note this past Tuesday night. Neighbors for Crebilly had three witnesses ready to testify, but the Westtown Board of Supervisors objected to and refused to hear one of them, Dr. Sam Watson. An American history professor at West Point Military Academy and nationally recognized expert on staff rides and the Revolutionary War, Dr. Watson was to testify to the various practical reasons a battlefield should be preserved. But as an extremely busy man teaching, writing, and editing journals for Planet Earth’s premiere military academy, he could not break away from his heavy schedule to drive down from West Point to join us in person.

Next up for Neighbors for Crebilly was nationally recognized water quality expert Michele Adams whose credibility was impugned by Toll attorney Adelman by suggesting that her testimony was biased because she frequently consults for environmental defense groups. But one supervisor, Carol DeWolf, clarified in her comments that Ms. Adams has also worked for such obscure organizations as the federal government and the world-renowned Stroud Water Research Center. As hypocrisy is great fodder for comedy, it was hysterical that Adelman attacked Ms. Adams knowing that Jeff Madden, his own stormwater management consultant, is fed through a Toll Brothers umbilical cord. In other words, Toll is Madden's only client.

Toll Doesn't Want You to Know

Madden's stormwater plan has much of it supernaturally 

Supervisor Mike DiDomenico enjoys a laugh before the meeting with Toll attorney Adelman. It's not clear what they were discussing. 

After the kerfuffle, we then offered our next witness, Mike Miller, retired director of the Marine Corps’ archives and an expert in the modern physical interpretation of historical battlefields. Previous testimony at an earlier hearing by Michael Harris and Sean Moir established that Crebilly Farm was indeed part of the battlefield, yet no one to date had spoken to why it is important to save this battlefield or battlefields in general. Over Adelman’s objections (surely he would have objected during the Resurrection), Mr. Miller testified about “staff rides,” i.e., tours of battlefields by military staff of all branches to learn why and how a certain battle played out the way it did vis a vis the terrain. Mr. Miller’s expertise in staff rides is so highly regarded that for one full year the Marine Corps made staff rides his sole responsibility. Over the course of his career, he has conducted as many as 200 rides on scores of American and foreign battlefields, leading many famous generals on tours to offer his insights into how the lay of the land influenced the battle’s unfolding.

Madden's fealty to his master was plain for all to see as he channeled the "Dutch boy" trying to plug the holes in his leaky report on stormwater basins and their infiltration capabilities. Tough questions from the board and our attorney Mark Thompson had him resorting to bizarre, evasive, and at times garbled responses leading ultimately to an admission that his stormwater report was “conceptual” and “rudimentary,” the very point that our expert Michele Adams argued in her direct testimony. Not only would he not clearly answer simple questions from the board (such as how he could determine the efficacy of an infiltration basin when they didn’t conduct tests in that specific location), he advanced his “conceptual” stormwater management plans (SMP) as accepted doctrine. “Conceptual,’ in Madden’s mind is not different from stone tablets being hand delivered by the Judeo-Christian deity. But angry Gods would not be the cause of added downstream flooding along Radley Run and the Brandywine Creek. Toll’s inadequate stormwater basins would take care of that. And as Ms. Adams made it abundantly clear, Toll’s SMPs were inadequate not merely because they it was incomplete:

What if Toll eyed Gettysburg?

“One of the reasons why I do this is to honor the men who fought out there. That to me is an important thing after spending my career with people who do that today. It’s important that these warriors are not forgotten.” ​​

                                  -Mike Miller

October 27, 2017


Instead, we (and WCASD’s excellent technology staff) went to great lengths to pipe his testimony in via “Zoom,” a video teleconferencing app which allows for both parties to clearly see and hear each other. The Board and Toll’s lawyer Adelman would have been able to raise objections and cross examine him without difficulty. While remote testimony is not expressly prohibited by the PA MPC*, it was not to the liking of the supervisors and so they inexplicably refused to hear Dr. Watson. Toll's lawyer's knee jerk objection to Dr. Watson’s remote testimony was laughably absurd and hypocritical considering that Toll Brothers is actually piloting a “virtual reality” tool which allows “home buyers to use virtual reality to envision design selections in their homes, and make changes that reflect their preferences.” In other words, Toll objects to remote video conferencing tech interfering with their plans to sell "product" via remote tech.

The Big Swindle

Photo: Tom Maher

Written by Ken Hemphill

Mr. Miller made no secret of the fact that his area of expertise was not the Battle of the Brandywine but rather battlefield interpretation in general. As a student of military history, however, he is quite familiar with details of the battle and is therefore able to connect the established history to the topography of the battlefield. Nevertheless, Adelman would not go behind his objection that Mr. Miller had no right to testify since he wasn’t an expert on the Battle of the Brandywine.


The board overruled Adelman’s objections and Mr. Miller got right to the point: weapons may have changed but people and undeveloped battlefields have not: “Terrain doesn’t change. This is critical terrain. It’s life and death.” The topography of a battlefield dictates in most cases how a battle unfolds, he said. Applying this to Crebilly, Mr. Miller cited the advancing Hessians’ need for “defilade” (i.e. protection from enemy fire), which they would have had on the northwestern side of Crebilly which slopes substantially upwards from West Pleasant Grove Road towards the center of the farm, providing the advancing enemy with the initial cover they needed to move against the Continental’s right flank. According to Mr. Miller, the American defense of this flank was one of the most important moments in the entire Revolutionary War. If the Brits and the Hessians had gotten around it, they would have “rolled up” and decimated Washington’s army, possibly ending the war on September 11, 1777.

Top: Michele Adams. Bottom: Toll's Jeff Madden

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A Seventh Heaven

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Additional coverage of the meeting can be found at the Daily Localand Chadds Ford Live.

*PA Municipal Planning Code

But Madden was not discouraged, even stating in his rebuttal that the township engineer approved his plan. The Planning Commission’s solicitor, Kristin Camp, reacted to this by pointing out what the engineer’s report actually said:  

disappearing into the ground.

Adams also explained that excessive runoff – laden with chemicals and lawn fertilizers – is a threat to aquatic life. Fish eat insects which feed on leaf debris, so polluted stormwater would reduce insect larva populations which would have a ripple effect up the food chain. Moreover, nutrients in the stormwater would promote algae growth and soil erosion downstream, a direct cause of dead zones in our bays and oceans. Additional silt loading from Toll’s colony would also affect drinking water quality in Wilmington and its treatment costs.


Without getting too far into the bullrushes, it’s important to understand how high Toll’s and Madden’s “loading ratios” are. A loading ratio is the area of impervious surface in relation to the size of the stormwater infiltration basin. The Pennsylvania Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual recommends a loading ratio of no more than 5. In other words, 5 acres of impervious surface to each acre of infiltration basin. Yet the ratios of Toll’s “conceptual” basins range from 7 to 120! Madden had to reluctantly admit that he’s not aware of PA DEP appoving ratios higher than 30 or 40 to 1. Unfortunately for Madden, there’s no getting around the fact that Toll’s colony would add roughly 50 acres of impervious surface to Crebilly Farm. It would take divine intervention to make that tsunami of stormwater disappear to get his “immaculate conceptual” approved by the PA Department of Environmental Protection.

News from your Neighbors

The Immaculate “Conceptual”

“we caution that the system may warrant reconsideration during the land development process to incorporate a more multi-structured system of stormwater management by adopting more non-structural and structural design concepts as outlined in the PA Best Management Practices Manual.”

This is not just a fight to save a battlefield. It’s a fight to defend our state constitution of which Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment is a part. It begins: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.” Toll’s Colony would degrade our water, ruin an iconic viewshed, and destroy a piece of our history.