Another eminent domain hurdle for new Lower Merion middle school site

Law sails through Pa. General Assembly to protect conserved lands.

Jim Melwert
June 28, 2018 - 12:24 pm
Stoneleigh is a 42-acre property near the Villanova Law School.

Jim Melwert-KYW Newsradio

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LOWER MERION, Pa. (KYW Newsradio) — A new law in Pennsylvania will make it harder for Lower Merion School District to take all or part of Stoneleigh Garden in Villanova. The district has targeted that site, the former Haas Estate, in its search for a location for a new middle school or for athletic fields if the school is built on a nearby property.

State Rep. Warren Kampf, R-Chester County, says the Haas family worked for decades to preserve the land, donating it to the Natural Lands Trust to be preserved as a public garden. So the new law says if land is covered by a conservation easement, a municipality or school district trying to use eminent domain to obtain it must go to county court to show they have no other option.

The bill, which is designed to halt eminent domain proceedings on preserved open space, flew through the Pennsylvania General Assembly.

“We introduced it very early June, and it’s now law as of Sunday night, signed by the governor,” Kampf said. 

He says the new law sets a high bar for a school district or municipality that tries to use eminent domain to seize land covered by a conservation easement. 

“They have to convince a judge at the county court that there’s no other suitable place within the boundaries of the school district for this project.”

In response, the school district said they will continue to work to find the best site for the new middle school and athletic fields. District representatives say using eminent domain to obtain the Stoneleigh site was "always a last option.” And, they add, if forced to that last option, they feel they could “satisfy the requirements for court approval.”