Portion of Friends Hospital property to be preserved

Conservation agreement protects about 50 acres of open space near Tacony Creek Park from ever being developed.

Nearly 50 acres of land on the Friends Hospital campus will be preserved as open space thanks to a recently announced conservation easement agreement between the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Health Foundation and Natural Lands. SOURCE: MAE AXLEROD

Nearly 50 acres of open space on the Friends Hospital campus will be preserved thanks to an agreement between the owner of the property and a prominent conservation organization.

The agreement, known as a conservation easement, permanently prohibits development on the 49-acre parcel, which makes up about half the land Friends Hospital owns on Roosevelt Boulevard in Northwood.

Natural Lands, a conservation nonprofit based in Media, and the Thomas Scattergood Behavioral Foundation, which runs the mental health treatment facility, announced the easement last week.

“The foundation is thrilled to place the property under conservation easement with Natural Lands,” said Joe Pyle, the foundation’s president, in a statement. “We are committed to being good stewards of the land and honoring our Quaker roots by using the property to promote healing and recovery for all.”

The restriction would remain in effect even if the hospital were to shut down or sell the property, according to Mae Axelrod, a spokeswoman for Natural Lands.

The agreement also ensures that the land, which borders Tacony Creek Park, is open to the public. A trail through the park runs along a wooded area of the hospital’s property.

Friends Hospital has allowed locals to access the trail even though the land was considered private property, Axelrod said.

“This just formalizes what was informal,” she said.

Axelrod said the 49 acres is valued at $1.2 million, but the Scattergood Foundation was paid $500,000 for the development rights. The foundation accepted a below-market price to support the conservation effort, she said.

“They donated the rest of that amount,” Axelrod added. “They were incredibly generous.”

Natural Lands has preserved more than 125,000 acres in the Philadelphia area, but most of its work has been done in the suburbs, according to Axelrod. She said green space in the city is precious and that it was a “big deal” for Natural Lands to secure the easement.

“Urban green space is essential for the health and well-being of city residents, which makes the permanent protection of Friends Hospital’s campus all the more significant,” said Molly Morrison, the organization president, in a statement.

Natural Lands had been working to preserve the land since 2014, according to Axelrod.

She said the easement agreement went into effect immediately, and representatives from Natural Lands will monitor the property to make sure it is enforced.

Friends Hospital was founded by Quakers in 1813 and is the oldest private psychiatric hospital in the nation. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark by the federal government in 1999.

The hospital was designed and continues to operate as a “rural oasis in an urban setting,” according to its website. Its 100-acre campus includes historic buildings, lawns, gardens and a forest.

Funding for the $500,000 easement was provided by the state’s Commonwealth Financing Authority with money from the Marcellus Legacy Fund, the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, Virginia Cretella Mars Foundation and the William Penn Foundation. ••