Not at home with limbo: York PA Daily Record, 1/7/07

Family seeks fair price; official, developer deny consideration of eminent domain

By Angie Mason

For more than two years, they've clashed with a developer who needs their property, trading letters through lawyers and testifying at Penn Township commissioner meetings in what the couple feels is a fight for their home.

They'll go, they said. But they want a fair price for the two-story, century-old home where they live with their six children. "We just want to be paid to move," Bill Heston said. "We're not going to give them our house."

The Hestons said they were initially approached about their home at York and Center streets by local developer Paul Burkentine in 2004. Burkentine & Sons Contracting is building a housing development behind the Hestons' home. Related traffic improvements,namely a traffic light at the intersection, would require widening Center Street and removing the Hestons' home.

"At the very first meeting we had with him, the builder told us that if we didn't take his offer ... he would get the township to intervene," Bill Heston said.

But Burkentine said he never mentioned eminent domain. The traffic light is something the township needs, not the development, he said.

"We're kind of there to work with the township. (But) we only go so far. Then it goes in the township's hands," he said.

The Hestons also claim they were told by the township manager that eminent domain was being considered, but Penn Township Commissioner Joe Klunk said township officials have never considered eminent domain. He said the manager considered it, but the commissioners would have to take that action.

In the past two years, the developers have floated a few numbers as offers for the home - $132,000 and $160,000, according to the Hestons. Bill Heston said those offers were based on fair-market value, but the family wants more since they're being asked to uproot.

Burkentine said the family wants more than twice what the home is worth. He recently sent another letter to the family, reaffirming the offer of $160,000, he said. The ball is in their court now, he said.

Worried about the possibility of eminent domain, the couple garnered community support and showed up at a recent Penn Township commissioners meeting with a crowd, including York County Commissioner Steve Chronister. He said last week he told the commissioners the process would only cost taxpayers.

Chronister said that he just wanted to emphasize to the parties that "things really can be worked out without using the iron hand of eminent domain."

But Klunk said the township doesn't want to intervene.

"We'd like to see this resolved between the parties," he said. "I think there's been some miscommunications. I think it can be resolved."

The Hestons are still uneasy. A recent meeting with Burkentine left them without any new offers or answers, Bill Heston said.

The family's tired of being in limbo. "It's been really tough. We haven't been able to make a move or make a decision with that kind of lurking in the background," he said. "It's been really stressful. It's like people are sitting around with bated breath waiting to take your place."

Dana Heston said she's open to moving, provided she can get a home as good as the one they have, where they lived when five of their six children were born. They made improvements, adding central air conditioning and building a detached garage with a finished second floor her husband uses as a music studio.

"I'm tired of it," she said of the struggle. "We never wanted this."

Her husband said he doesn't feel welcome in the township anymore. Everywhere they go, they're recognized. A few people have called them greedy. They were heckled at a York mall once because Dana wore a shirt with a slogan against eminent domain abuse.

"This is not the way you want to become famous," Bill Heston said. "We are actually pretty private people. You feel like everybody's looking at you."

What's the issue?
Burkentine & Sons Contracting is building a residential development on land to the rear of Bill and Dana Heston's home at the corner of York and Center streets in Penn Township.

Plans call for a traffic light at the intersection, which would require widening the intersection and removing the Hestons' home.

The Hestons said they've been threatened with eminent domain, though the developer and township officials deny it. The family said they are willing to move if they get a fair price for their home.

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