Tuesday, June 19, 2018

House Passes Bill To Limit Eminent Domain Use On Land Protected By Conservation Easements

The House Tuesday voted 179 to 18 to pass House Bill 2468 limiting the use of eminent domain by government agencies on land with conservation easements for parks and open space purposes.
Two school districts in the state-- Cumberland Valley in Cumberland County and Lower Merion in Montgomery County-- have decided to use eminent domain to condemn privately-owned land permanently preserved by conservation easements held by local land trusts, over the objections of many residents of the communities. Other suitable non-preserved land in each vicinity is available, according to the bill sponsors.
The bill would require any government agency to obtain Orphans’ Court approval before using eminent domain to take permanently preserved land. The procedure is similar to that found in the Agricultural Area Security Law which requires additional scrutiny before condemnation of agricultural lands. The Orphans’ Court is given authority in the Donated and Dedicated Property Act over certain transactions related to publicly owned lands held for public uses.
The bill was introduced by Representatives Warren Kampf (R-Chester), Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) and Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery).
“This is an important step forward in the fight to save not only Stoneleigh Garden but other properties like it across the Commonwealth that are intended to be preserved with the protection of a conservation easement,” Rep. Warren Kampf said. “It’s the right thing to do.”
“The land at Stoneleigh was donated by the Haas family for the benefit of the public and the environment in perpetuity – that means forever – and Lower Merion School Board’s proposed taking of it is a shocking betrayal of the public interest,” Rep. Kate Harper said. “Actions like this need the oversight of the Orphan’s Court to ensure they really are in the public’s best interest."
Rep. Marcy Toepel agreed. “Every effort should be made by Lower Merion School District, as well as other entities across the state, to avoid taking land that is supposed to be protected for the public good. The additional requirements that would have to be met under this bill would serve as a major deterrent to the practice. Eminent domain should be a last resort, a solution used as rarely and reluctantly as possible.”
A House Fiscal Note and summary is available.
The legislation now goes to the Senate for action.

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