Court compels county to pay for eminent domain seizure
Posted: August 05, 2008
10:20 pm Eastern
© 2008 WorldNetDaily
A county that originally paid $2 million for a tract of land it had seized to construct a park has been found guilty by a jury of greatly undervaluing the property and has been ordered to pay up to an additional $19.25 million to the developer the county seized it from.
The jury decided unanimously that York County, Pa.., should have paid developer Peter Alecxih Jr. a total of $17.25 million for land it took as part of an eminent domain seizure in 2004. With interest of up to $4 million, the $21.25 million price tag for the Highpoint parcel far exceeds the $2 million the county gave Alecxih four years ago.
Alecxih originally purchased Highpoint, a 79-acre tract on a hill with panoramic views overlooking the Susquehanna River, for $1.17 million in April 2002. He bought the land from a family that was selling off portions of its 1,200-acre property to pay down a multi-million-dollar family debt. Alecxih then spent two years working to secure the approvals needed to be the exclusive builder of 51 luxury homes on the land as part of a development he named "The Hill at Lauxmont Farms." Alecxih told the York Daily Record he had obtained the approvals and public water and sewer connections for the project, and he was getting the area ready for construction.
At one point, according to a Daily Record report, Mark Platts, president of the Lancaster-York Heritage Region, a group hoping to turn the land's scenic vistas into a park, offered Alecxih $5 million for the property. Alecxih turned him down, anticipating that the investment of his time and company in the project would eventually earn his business over $17 million.
Then, in 2004, York County commissioners voted 2-1 to condemn the property and claim it under eminent domain for purposes of converting it into the Susquehanna Heritage Park.
"Most people think eminent domain means losing frontage to widen a road or to lay a pipeline," Alecxih told Marianne Clay of the Susquehanna Valley Center for Public Policy. "They don’t know, just like I didn’t know, how the courts have expanded the definition from taking someone’s land to meet a need for a highway, a gas line, or something vital, to taking land to fulfill a want.
"I’ve also learned the law is skewed against the private landowner. They condemn your land, and then they set a price for it. In return, all you can do is try to fight, at your own expense. The law enables them to break you. In my situation, the County Commissioners went out and got my property appraised for $2 million, a sum millions below the real market value. Then they tried to make me accept it," he said.
Alecxih drove his company nearly bankrupt fighting to regain the losses he sustained after the county seized his investment. To his credit, the Daily Record reported Alecxih refused to grow bitter over the perceived injustice.
"I made a sound business decision, and it was a great opportunity," he told the paper. "I still believe, still have faith in the system that there's going to be justice paid."
In the court battles that followed, a board of viewers determined the property to be valued at $10.5 million, an amount the county thought too high and Alecxih thought too low. Both parties appealed the evaluation.
It took a York County jury of nine women and three men less than two hours to decide in favor of Alecxih and order the county to pay the full, $17.25 million price.
"The jury has made its decision," said Platts, whose Lancaster-York Heritage Region organization now promotes Highpoint as part of Susquehanna Heritage Park. "Generations to come will thank us for saving this spectacular and special place."
Local resident Larry Aiken expressed to the Daily Record his mixed feelings about the decision. As a York County resident, he will ultimately have to pay for the jury's decision, but as a member of Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse, the decision is exactly what he advocates.
"I was hoping it wouldn't be quite so high. … We're gonna end up paying for it. … But what's fair is fair," he said. "Eminent domain was never the appropriate vehicle to use. I hope the county will learn from this."
In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, any copyrighted work in this message is distributed under fair use without profit or payment for non-profit research and educational purposes only. [Ref. http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml]