Commissioners Hit Eminent Domain Decision in York

By Bernard Harris

Three months after exercising eminent domain to take land for public use, the Lancaster County Commissioners this morning condemned their colleagues in York County for doing the same thing. Lancaster County Commissioner Chairman Pete Shaub today spoke in opposition to the York County Commissioners’ vote in May to take a 79-acre parcel near Wrightsville.

The land, formally a part of Lauxmont Farms, a 766-acre horse farm, was slated to be an upscale housing development called “Highpoint.”

The York Commissioners seized the land on behalf of the Lancaster-York Heritage Region board, which hopes to establish a park and visitors center there on the bluffs above the Susquehanna River.

The Heritage Region is a cooperative organization made up of officials from York and Lancaster counties formed to promote tourism and preservation of the Susquehanna River front.

Shaub, a county representative to the Heritage Region board, told his fellow Lancaster County Commissioners today about Tuesday’s Heritage Region Board meeting.

At that meeting, Shaub cast the lone dissenting vote against a resolution supporting the York Commissioners’ eminent domain action.

Shaub said the officials on both sides of the river should be working together to preserve the river landscape. But, he said, he opposed allowing the developer to proceed for two and a half years before the York Commissioners stepped in.

The developer, Peter Alecxih Jr. of Graystone Construction, is based in Columbia. Three of the 51 building lots have already been sold, Shaub said.

“The building industry is our partners in Lancaster County when it comes to heritage preservation,” Shaub said in contrast to York’s action.

The York County Commissioners were in a public meeting this morning and were unavailable for comment.

Lancaster County and York County officials joined in the creation of the Heritage Region, which includes land on both sides of the Susquehanna River.

The two counties are supposed to work cooperatively to develop tourist attractions along the shores.

Shaub said that he supports the development of the Heritage Region park, but opposes the use of eminent domain to take the land.

He said the York Commissioners’ action differed from the Lancaster Commissioners’ vote to seize the Enola Low-Grade rail line.

There was popular support for taking the abandoned railroad bed, Shaub said, and it was done after six-to-eight public meetings to discuss the county’s plans.

Shaub represented the other Lancaster commissioners, Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson, at Tuesday’s meeting.

They affirmed his statements today.

Shellenberger said he is “generally supportive” of heritage preservation along the corridor, but, added: “I get very nervous about being part of that group when this kind of thing takes place, because I think it is fundamentally wrong.”

Shaub said he opposed the Heritage Region board’s vote in February in support of the York Commissioners because it had not been on the organization’s meeting agenda and was brought up and voted on without giving members “appropriate” time to take a position.

Alecxih is being supported by fellow builders in Lancaster’s Building Industry Association, who are reported to be lobbying on his behalf. His legal bills, reported to have reached six figures, are being paid by the Pennsylvania Builders Association.

Rich Brown, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Lancaster County, also criticized the York action.

“The taking of this property after two-an-a-half years of going through the process without ever hearing from the York County Commissioners that they intended to use eminent domain is a hardship to the developer, who is a member of our organization,” Brown said.

He anticipates that the matter will likely be resolved in the courts.
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