In Ongoing Pursuit of River Trail, Council to Employ Eminent Domain

With progress stalled for years, the council voted 5-3 to use eminent domain to acquire the right to build a Phoenixville section of the Schuylkill River Trail

After a lengthy debate, the borough council voted 5-3 on November 14 to condemn, via eminent domain, certain easements and rights of way on a property that's long stood in the way of its plans to expand the Schuylkill River Trail.

The property, formerly a rail line along the French Creek Corridor, extends north across High and Fillmore Streets. 

The members who voted in the affirmative claimed that using eminent domain was a last resort. Borough manager E. Jean Krack said he attempted on multiple occasions to contact Valley Forge Railways, the owner of the parcel, but to no avail.

“The railroad abandoned the property,” he said.

Solicitor Andrew D.H. Rau added that the borough was at a “dead end with the property owner” and emphasized that it wasn’t attempting to take the property as taxable land, but just seeking an easement to allow for the trail.

The decision had its detractors. While councilman Jim Kovaleski called eminent domain “heavy handed” and suggested that there were other, better, alternatives, Karl Bucus was the most vocal critic of the proposal. He suggested the council would be wise to table the issue for a month; during which time it could develop a preliminary budget outlining the legal cost of the maneuver, while enlisting the aid of trail-supporting legislators Jim Gerlach and Andy Dinniman in the hopes of acquiring the right to build through less controversial means. The suggestion was voted down 6-2.

The advocates of eminent domain downplayed the problem of its cost.

While Rau said he couldn’t provide any estimate of what legal fees the borough would incur in the course of the eminent domain action, he said that if it becomes apparent the cost will outweigh the benefit, the borough could withdraw its request.

Council president Richard Kirkner added legal fees shouldn’t be the only financial consideration. The grant to develop the trail isn’t, he said, open-ended.

“If we don’t get this done at a certain point the grant could go away and the cost of building a trail is on us…it could make the legal fees seem trivial,” said Kirkner.

“Do we want a trail? Or do we want to talk about eminent domain here?”

Councilmen Christopher Bauers, Jim Kovaleski and Karl Bucus voted no.

Richard A Breuer November 29, 2012 at 01:11 PM
A few comments: 1. The cost of condemnation is not simply the legal fees. The property owner (condemnee) must be compensated for the property that is taken. 2. Condemning an easement still involves the payment of condemnation damages, to the extent that the easement reduces the value of the property. 3. The condemnor must be prepared to pay estimated just compensation to the condemnee upon taking possession of the property. The condemnee can also force the condemnor to make payment after 60 days from the filing of the declaration of taking. 4. Even when the condemnor makes payment of estimated just compensation, the condemnee can still file a claim for compensation within six years of the declaration of taking. 5. Revocation of condemnation is limited to two years. 6. If the easement reduces the property's value, the owner could seek a reduced assessment, i.e., reduced taxes. The net of all this is that: (a) the condemnor ought to have an idea of the all potential costs; (b) we may not know the actual costs for years after the project is done, since the time for filing a compensation claim is six years; (c) there is a potential on-going tax reduction.
Ken Buckwalter November 29, 2012 at 06:44 PM
Reading Mr. Breuer's assessment of condemnation proceedings, makes me wonder why Council didn't take the suggestion of Councilman Bucus and enlist the aid of trail-supporting legislators Jim Gerlach and Andy Dinniman. Waiting another month might have produced positive results but now we might see a compensation claim six years down the road if Council goes the condemnation route.
Peter C. Brown December 05, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Condemnation should be used only as a last resort. It never pays to threaten people with it. It is disrespectful and can cause a lot of problems, challenges, and costs. Doesn't it seem more appropriate to be nice to the property owner and give them what they want, as long as it is reasonable? This is the problem with government entities - they push their weight around and the rest of us pay for it!
Keith Jensen December 08, 2012 at 03:51 AM
Even in New Jersey our Mayor and Council are having a similar affect. Here, our town's leadership decided to purchase a $2Million piece of land to allow a major developement to better occupy the land. Now our taxes increase. Your article here is so similar to our situation. Please comment if you see the similarities: http://fortlee.patch.com/articles/fort-lee-to-acquire-main-street-property-for-2m-to-build-park


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something
See more »