Eminent domain has gotten a bad name because it's too frequently used against the public good as when for-profit corporations like Sunoco are given the power to condemn people’s land to lay dangerous pipeline, or when Pfizer convinced the government of New London, Connecticut to seize an entire neighborhood for “redevelopment” and then walked away 8 years later leaving behind a demolished neighborhood and a nearly bankrupted town. (See the Supreme Court’s “Kelo” decision). But condemnation is more often used for public benefit like when PennDOT took pieces of several dozen properties for its Route 322 widening project or when our County Council seized a piece of private land along Old Forge Road in Middletown to widen a bridge at Yearsley Mill Road to make it safer.
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Written by Ken Hemphill
Written by Ken Hemphill
Eminent domain should be used to save the last big forest of eastern Delco
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In 1983, in the resort town of Telluride, Colorado, a developer purchased a 572 acre parcel adjoining protected land in order to build houses, hotels, and a golf course. Unmoved by arguments to sell the land to the town in order to keep it open, he moved forward with his plans that would have completely changed the character of the town. So it was with overwhelming public support that Telluride’s town council condemned the land. Their position was that the public good was better served by leaving the land along the San Miguel River as open space and protecting its recreational, ecological, and historical value. The state Supreme Court upheld the confiscation, saying “especially overcrowded mountain towns need to preserve their recreational and natural assets.” What about our overcrowded county? Why should our government not follow the example of many other counties and towns and use eminent domain to protect our environment and quality of life?
Delco Needs an Open Space Bond
Beyond infrastructure purposes, eminent domain has been used in Delco for schools and to create parks. Garnet Valley School District seized 170 acres from the Willits family along Smithbridge Road in the 1970s to provide a central site for district schools. Concord Township later purchased a large piece of that land to be used as a township park. Middletown Township used the threat of eminent domain to create the amazing Darlington Trail system on both sides of Darlington Road then later took 22 acres from the owners of the Sleighton School to create playing fields and walking trails at Forge and Valley Roads. The State of Pennsylvania condemned 2,000 acres owned by the Jeffords family in the late 1960s to create Ridley Creek State Park. East Bradford Township took land for part of a trail system, and Tredyffrin Township used eminent domain to create the 90 acre Wilson Farm Park. Upper Chichester condemned Archdiocesan property in the 90s after they reneged on a lease agreement with a youth ball club which had been using the fields for years. The examples cited here are hardly an exhaustive list of "takings" for open space in our immediate area.
In Hamilton Township, Burlington County (NJ), town officials there actually seized land from a developer who was the equitable owner of 50 acres. Their reasons for condemning the land were same as Telluride’s: they wanted to restrict development to protect the character of their town and limit demand for new township services. A three judge panel in Burlington County agreed with the town finding that avoiding development was a legitimate reason to take land away from a developer through eminent domain. The judges wrote, "We conclude that a municipality's acquisition for open space of properties on which residential development is planned constitutes a proper use of eminent domain power.” The same three judge panel also found in favor of Mount Laurel, New Jersey which took land for similar reasons. The court added that open space better serves the public than development when conserving the land would prevent a decline in quality of life.
December 26, 2016
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Since the Archdiocese cannot be persuaded to protect our environment, the Marple Township Commissioners and Delaware County Council should take the not-so-rare step of seizing the forest through eminent domain, a process used with substantial precedent across the United States, in neighboring counties, and right here in Delaware County to protect critical environmental resources and to further the public good. While condemnation (eminent domain) is used more frequently to make roads wider or build out fossil fuel infrastructure, the use of eminent domain to establish public parks, preserve places of historic interest, and promote beautification also has substantial precedent.
It's not a done deal: January 18th
"The concept of the public welfare is broad and inclusive. The values it represents are spiritual as well as physical, aesthetic as well as monetary. It is within the power of the legislature to determine that the community should be beautiful as well as healthy, spacious as well as clean, well-balanced…”
--The U.S. Supreme Court in Berman vs. Parker
Marple's Commissioners kill Cardinal Crossing
If a corporate polluter and habitual safety violator like Sunoco Logistics can use it to take people's property,
why can't our county take Don Guanella to protect our environment and our quality of life? Turns out, they can.
County Council Blocks an Open Space Bond
Greenwashing the opposition: December 3rd
Why shouldn’t eminent domain be used in the Don Guanella situation? Confronted with an intransigent Archdiocese, horrendous traffic, a lack of parks in eastern Delco, and dangerous air quality, it seems like the only way forward is to take the forest at Don Guanella by eminent domain and then fairly compensate them as per the Fifth Amendment. The price would be determined by professional appraisers and would represent the actual wholesale value of the land, not the astronomical figure some developers were willing to pay. This would be the most equitable solution for the public who, after all, paid the tax bills on this land for a century. Paying a little bit more over a defined term to protect it would certainly be in the taxpayers' best interest, too. Once that debt was retired, Don Guanella County Park would be the gift that kept on giving.
In the end, we will get what we're willing to pay for: we can pay permanently through the nose for reduced quality of life from increasingly worse traffic. We can pay higher taxes for more crowded schools. We can pay more to cover additional county and township services. Or we can do what other townships and counties have done and take Don Guanella to keep these problems from getting worse. Once it's gone, there's no getting it back.
Air Quality Update: December 27