WEST CHESTER — A Chester County judge decided against a group of Meadow Brook Golf Club’s owners who filed objections against Phoenixville Area School District’s acquisition of their property through eminent domain.
Bruce Campbell and Patricia Young make up the CY Group, which owns 50 percent of the golf club and filed their objections in December against the attempted acquisition of their 50.1 acres.
“Because CY Group, Inc. has failed to prove that the taking by the [Phoenixville Area School District] is overbroad and excessive, their preliminary objections are overruled,” Chester County Common Pleas Court Judge Jacqueline Carroll Cody wrote in her decision.
The ruling was filed Friday afternoon but neither the school district nor Meadow Brook’s owners said they had received a copy of the decision.
As such, Campbell said he had no comments.
Joshua Gould, president of the Phoenixville Area School Board, said he’d “heard word of a judge ruling which overturns the preliminary objection,” but nothing official.
“We’ll wait to see the official documents before we determine the next steps in the process,” he said Monday.
Cody’s decision came approximately 1½ months after a hearing was held in her West Chester courtroom.
The night of Nov. 14, the Phoenixville Area School Board voted 7-2 to acquire Meadow Brook Golf Club’s property for the purpose of constructing a combined early learning center and elementary school.
Gould and Dan Cushing were the two votes against the eminent domain decision, with Gould saying at the time that he “[didn’t] think we’ve reached that point yet.”
With enrollment figures rising and projected to do so for the rest of the decade, the school board members who voted in favor of the decision indicated that they felt the district needed to make a move, quickly.
Cody’s decision cited the district’s demonstrated need for increased capacity within her decision.
“The evidence of record shows that it is necessary for the [school district] to take the entire 50.1 acres in order to sufficiently house its elementary school students,” Cody wrote. “Although evidence was presented that there were other properties considered for the [school district’s] plan, this does not provide grounds for sustaining the preliminary objections.”
In the hearing, Stan Johnson, the school district’s executive director of operations said the district sought out properties of more than 30 acres. Ultimately, 90 properties were narrowed down to five properties, which then was narrowed down to Meadow Brook and a 61-acre tract of land containing the Technical College High School-Pickering Campus (CAT-Pickering).
Ultimately, neither the Chester County Intermediate Unit, which owns CAT-Pickering, nor the district could decide on who would be responsible for liabilities at the site, so Meadow Brook became the district’s target.
Cody’s decision said there were negotiations between the two sides in 2008, 2011 and 2013, but a price could not be agreed upon.
William Hagner, who represented the CY Group, accused the district of “stockpiling land.” His main argument was that the district was taking more land than it actually needed.
“Contrary to CY Group, Inc.’s argument, [the district] is not ‘stockpiling land’ for eventual use, as was found,” in a case involving the Octorara Area School District in 1988, Cody wrote. “In that case, the court found that the taking of private property by the Octorara Area School District was abusive where the vast majority of property being taken would not be converted to educational use for six to 12 years. At bar, [Phoenixville Area School District] has an immediate need for this property.”
Additionally, Cody said the district “did not condemn more property than was necessary due to the need to comply with Schuylkill Township’s requirement of having a ratio of 70 percent permeable space to 30 percent impermeable.
Last week, Johnson explained that the district was building athletic fields on the western end of the property to bring back most of the 19 sports teams in the district that go off-campus for practice and/or games.
Cody noted that in her decision.
Those fields will also account for a large part of the permeable space that is required.
“CY Group, Inc. failed to provide that all of the property did not need to be taken by [the school district] in order to meet the zoning requirements,” Cody wrote.
As in the hearing, Cody acknowledged that there is a “high burden of proof” against the owner of the property that is condemned via eminent domain. Her decision held that CY Group did not meet that burden.
It’s unclear whether or not Meadow Brook’s owners may appeal the decision.
Hagner could not be reached for comment Monday. Andrew Bellwoar, who represented the school district, was not in his office and did not return an email.
As far as settling on a price for the property, a court-appointed board of viewers will come up with a price. It is possible for the district to also negotiate out a price with Meadow Brook before that board of view makes a decision, a source said.