Eminent domain debate plays role in Republican primary campaigns: York (PA) Dispatch, 4/26/05

By Melissa Weiler

As debate over the use of eminent domain continues throughout York County, a smaller contest is taking shape in Lower Windsor Township, the epicenter of the argument.

Supervisor William Buser, whose term expires at the end of this year, is again running for the Republican nomination, this time facing Russell Blew and Mary Caldwell.

The winner of the May 17 primary will likely become the next supervisor, unless someone else wins the Democratic nomination through write-in votes.

All three candidates say preserving the township's largely rural nature is a high priority, but have mixed views on a plan by York County Commissioners to use 915 acres of township land to build a park.

The commissioners want to acquire 80 acres through eminent domain, a move protested by the owner, Columbia builder Peter Alecxih. The county is currently in negotiations for another 800 acres of farmland overlooking the river, owned by the Kohr family, but has said it will consider eminent domain if it is not successful.

Blew said that he is in favor of landowners' individual liberties, and opposes the county's plan.

Wouldn't support taking: "I would never support the taking of private property by government, for purposes other than obvious public good," said Blew. "A highway, or a life-saving facility, perhaps but never for a public park."

Blew said he believes landowners in the township are the ones who are best able to plan for the future.

"The planning that goes on at kitchen tables in Lower Windsor Township is probably better than some of the professional planning being done," he said. "None of those groups are in it for the long haul — when you change those plans, you may be screwing up a family's plan that has been going for generations."

Blew said some of the township's recent accomplishments — such as its comprehensive plan — need to be more closely examined.

"Things in the township have changed, and some of those changes I'm not so fond of," said Blew, adding that he feels the board needs to do a more effective job of communicating with residents.

No 'stiff-neck position': Buser, who has farmed in the township since 1956, said he hasn't yet spoken either for or against the county's plans for a park.

"I didn't really take a stiff-neck position either way," he said, adding that he would like to see the issue resolved in the near future.

In the past few years, the township has undergone a sometimes contentious process to create a comprehensive plan, official map and zoning ordinance, designed to control growth.

"We had some pretty nasty meetings for a while there," said Buser. "There's still a little more to be done it's all being done for the betterment of the township."

Buser said the township also has a good farmland preservation program, especially important because the township is zoned to be about 85 percent agricultural.

"There are some issues on the table yet I would like to see be addressed," said Buser, who said he feels that his experience makes him the most qualified candidate.

Dismayed at $2 million: Caldwell said that as a member of the township's planning commission and a staunch supporter of farmland preservation, she was dismayed to see the board give $2 million to the York County Commissioners recently — money which may be used to support the proposed park. The money is to be used for a public park — but not for any land taken through the eminent domain process.

Although Caldwell says the issue of eminent domain is out of the control of township supervisors — it's now between the county and the landowner — supervisors can still control the financial effects of the county's decision.

Caldwell said that the $2 million should have instead been used toward the township's own efforts to preserve open space, instead of being given to a government body that can raise its own money through taxation. "We've lost our ability to follow through on our plan — a plan approved by supervisors," she said. "It was a direction we were going in, to provide services to our residents.

"Having this money leave our community is putting a hardship on us," she said.

Caldwell said the township's comprehensive plan calls for a park on the other side of the township, as well as carefully planned development.

"We need proper stewardship of Lower Windsor Township funds," she said. "I would like to make sure that we have short- and long-range planing practices in place for financial responsibility."

Future plans: On another issue, Buser said that, if re-elected, he will work to ensure that funding for the three fire departments serving the township remains steady, or is increased.

Currently, the board gives $47,000 annually to each of the departments East Prospect Fire Co., Yorkana Fire Co. and Craley Fire Co.

"I am going to see that we donate to those fire companies what they need to keep going," said Buser. "If we have to go to paid service, it will probably cost us much more, and we would have less protection."

Blew said he thinks he can effectively serve the township by providing an engineer's viewpoint and helping to better manage the township's assets.

"There aren't many people in the township that know me," he said. "My main job has always been serving my family and my church, and earning a living.

"Residents might find it useful to have a registered engineer working for them voluntarily on a township supervisor level."

Caldwell calls preservation of farmland and open space a priority. If elected, she said, she wants to make sure the board uses the tools it has available to guide development and recreation in areas that the township has already designated. In addition, Caldwell said that she would like to see the township reinstate the agricultural land preservation program, which uses funding to purchase permanent agricultural easements.

"It's an important program for the entire county," she said. "By preserving farmland, we can maintain a small-town rural community atmosphere here in Lower Windsor Township."

York Dispatch: www.yorkdispatch.com