Family continues fight to stop Newmarket from using eminent domain: Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover NH, 2/7/07

By Michael Goot

The family whose land the [Newmarket NH] school district is considering taking through eminent domain to build a new school campus tried to block any such attempt during the town's deliberative session on Tuesday.

School officials are considering using 13 acres of wooded property behind a home at 231 South Main St. to construct a $20.6 million, 100,000-square-foot high school and allow all the town's schools to be together in a campus-style setting. The property belongs to Mike Weit and Debbie Hale, a married couple who do not wish to sell.

Hale tried to amend two separate warrant articles to bond $1,279,200 for architectural and engineering fees to design the new school and to appropriate up to $1,650,000 to purchase land. Hale wanted language that would have required the district to build a school "only on land purchased by the district or town by agreement with any selling landowner."

"How would you feel if you suddenly found out that town officials decided to take over your property and build a school on it without your knowledge or your consent and they wonder why we're upset," Hale said before a crowd of more than 60 people at the school district's deliberative session at Town Hall.

"We have been physically ill every day for the past two months. We have had to hire an attorney to protect our rights in a town that has been home to four generations of our family," she added.

Hale said the family simply does not want to sell regardless of the money. The couple intends to enjoy the land with their horses when they retire. She promises never to give up this fight.

The amendment failed both times it was offered. Following the vote on the warrant article to appropriate $1,650,000 from capital reserve funds to buy land, Hale asked for a recount. Moderator Bob Madea rejected the idea but a majority vote overruled him. Hale then asked for a secret ballot and her proposed amendment narrowly failed 34-31.

School Board Chairman Chris Hawkins said while the school district has not ruled out using eminent domain to accomplish its expansion plans, it has not evoked this option. First, the district must make a good-faith offer for the land. The initial appraisal was $52,000. However, Hawkins said on Tuesday the district has since received an updated higher number.

"I don't want to get into the specifics of it because we have not had an opportunity to share it with Ms. Hale and Mr. Weit," he said.

Foster's Daily Democrat, Dover NH: http://www.fosters.com