Sporting buttons and T-shirts against the abuse of eminent domain, people crowded into the Penn Township municipal building Monday in support of Bill and Dana Heston.
And one by one, members of the standing-room-only crowd stood up and asked the township commissioners not to use the power of eminent domain to take the Hestons' property.
There were some powerful voices in the crowd, too. Laura Kohr and her brother Ron – whose family farm, Lauxmont Farms, is being taken by York County through eminent domain – joined county Commissioner Steve Chronister in support of the Hestons.
Chronister said he's gotten to know the Hestons and their six children over the past couple weeks. Although there to speak as an individual – and not in the capacity of county commissioner – Chronister asked the township to leave the property alone.
"For (the developer) to negotiate with the threat of eminent domain is ridiculous," he said. "This family has put two years of their lives on hold because of this and have been harassed by the developer.
"I ask that you say no, you are not going to take their home by eminent domain."
Paul Burkentine of Burkentine & Sons Contractors Inc. is planning to build a development called Brookside Heights on a 40- to 50-acre tract to the rear of the Heston property. He has been working on the project for four years.
Burkentine could not be reached for comment this morning.
A traffic study performed during the planning process showed a signal light is needed at York and Center streets, near the Hestons' home.
Penn Township Manager Jeff Garvick has said the need for a traffic light at the intersection dates back to the 1970s.
To install the traffic signal, Center Street would have to be widened, meaning the Hestons' home would have to be removed. Burkentine has already acquired easements and rights of way on three out of the four corners.
Dana Heston has said the family is willing to move, but they want the fair-market value for their home – something, she said, hasn't been offered to them.
"Make the developer negotiate with the Hestons in good faith," Chronister urged the commissioners. "Eminent domain is a long, drawn-out process. The costs will be borne by the taxpayers and not the developer."
Chronister is familiar with eminent domain, the same process the county is going through over Lauxmont Farms.
The county has started the eminent domain process on 411 acres of the Lauxmont Farms property near Wrightsville. The county is proposing a heritage park at the site.
As Laura Kohr got up to make her remarks to the Penn Township commissioners, she couldn't hold back the tears.
"I've been to countless public meetings over the last three years," she said. "I have cried my eyes out at all of them. Eminent domain is a living hell. It is not something I would wish on my worst enemy."
Kohr said the county's proposal to take the farm that has been in her family for 35 years – and where her parents are buried – would take five of the six homes on the property, including the one in which she lives with her three children.
"This has taken a lot from my family," she said. "You have to fight for your children. You have to fight for your home. Don't do that to these people."
Lynn Madison used to live at 10 S. Center St. Burkentine has already taken her property for the widening of the intersection. But, she said, the developer is now renting out the property and might not be tearing it down.
"Is that fair?" she asked.
In a prepared statement read before the public-comment portion of the meeting, President Commissioner Joe Klunk said, "Penn Township has not exercised its eminent domain authority regarding the Heston property located at the intersection of Center Street and York Street for intersection improvements. If the township considers eminent domain, it must do so at a public meeting. The township has not even begun such discussions, and certainly has not decided to use eminent domain powers to acquire the Heston property."
But Bill Heston said he was told otherwise.
"We have already been told you will declare eminent domain," he told Klunk. "What you just said sounds like crazy talk."
Hanover PA Evening Sun: http://www.eveningsun.com