Bill to Halt Eminent Domain on Preserved Open Space Sent to the Governor
HARRISBURG – Legislation sponsored by Reps. Warren Kampf (Montgomery/Chester), Kate Harper (R-Montgomery) and Marcy Toepel (R-Montgomery) to enhance protections for preserved land in the Commonwealth has passed the Senate and was sent to the governor for his signature.
House Bill 2468 was introduced in response to efforts by the Lower Merion School District to use eminent domain to take land from the 42-acre Stoneleigh Garden and use it to construct a new middle school. The land was donated by the Haas family to the Natural Lands Trust and designated to be preserved as a public garden forever. It is covered by a conservation easement and recently opened to the public.
“We urge Gov. Tom Wolf to sign this bill as a way to save not only Stoneleigh Garden but other properties like it across the Commonwealth that are intended to be preserved in perpetuity with the protection of a conservation easement,” the lawmakers said.
The legislation would amend the Eminent Domain Code to add a new section that would require certain government agencies, including school districts and townships, to obtain Orphans’ Court approval before using eminent domain to take permanently preserved land.
The procedure is similar to that found in the Agricultural Area Security Law, which requires additional scrutiny before condemnation of agricultural lands. The Orphans’ Court is given authority in the Donated and Dedicated Property Act over certain transactions related to publicly owned lands held for public uses.
It passed the Senate by a bipartisan majority of 38 – 11 on Friday afternoon and was given final approval by the House Friday evening by a vote of 177 – 15.