12/19/2005

Berks using eminent domain to take over disputed property: Pottstown (PA) Mercury, 12/16/2005

By Sharon Spohn

Berks County played its "trump card" Thursday and filed a petition in county court to take the Antietam Lake property by eminent domain.

The property has been the subject of much controversy after the Reading City Council voted 4-3 to sign an option to buy agreement with M.B. Investments. The lake once served as a reservoir for Reading and the area is presently used for passive public recreation.

The county commissioners voted unanimously Thursday to file the petition.

"I was probably the one least interested all along in filing eminent domain," said Commissioner Judy Schwank. "My hope is when the new council is seated in January, we can withdraw this and move forward."

Commissioner Mark Scott said the action takes the county to higher ground and gives it a position of strength.

"It’s a trump card that should have been played a long time ago," Scott said. "It has the ability to clear the decks of all parties and assures the city gets fair compensation."

Commissioner Thomas Gajewski Sr. had some concerns about wording in the eminent domain paperwork that said public baths may be one of the things the county can construct on the property.

"I doubt anyone would want to create a public bath anywhere," Gajewski said.

Scott said the document was created by professional attorneys the county hired to make sure it has the maximum effectiveness.

"My concern has always been the cost — the final cost of the property," Schwank said.

Berks County offered $4 million for the property and plans to add it to the county park system.

M.B. Investments offered $2.5 million for half interest in the property with the city with a promise to preserve it for 20 years. After that time, M.B. Investments and the city would jointly decide what to do with the land.

"Let’s not forget this property has increased in value considerably," Scott said. "By doing this now we can freeze a point in time, the appreciation."

The county has a 60-day revocation period where it can halt the eminent domain process.

"Let’s hope we begin the new year with the acquisition of this property," Schwank said.


Pottstown Mercury: www.pottstownmercury.com