Imagine a knock on your door: somebody announces that they intend to purchase your home, and that you will need to vacate it shortly. Imagine, also, that you are told that the value of your home will be established by the purchaser, and that you must accept the offer without objection. Sounds like a nightmare.
Yet, this exact scenario has played out time and time again here in Chester County. It occurs when a local government decides that they want to take someone’s property for a public use that they deemed to be more important than the rights of the property owner. It does not matter how long the property may have been owned, or how the owner feels about being forced to give it up. If the locality wants it, they can take it at a price they alone choose. The process is called eminent domain, a somewhat gray area of law that has been in constant dispute for decades.
In the view of the Libertarian Party of Chester County, eminent domain is nothing more than theft because it is a “sale” to the government by force, outside of normal, accepted legal means. This is wrong.
The latest threat from eminent domain is happening in East Goshen Township. The victim in this case is Goshen View Farm, owned by the Hicks family. The ancestors of this family settled in Chester County back in 1769. According to a family member, this farm was purchased by William Huey Hicks in 1909. William was interested in the land because of the new system of electrification along Paoli Pike. Hicks bought the farm from the Sharpless family the old-fashioned way, by offering the owner a fair price and having the seller agree to the transaction.
In the view of the Libertarian Party of Chester County, eminent domain is nothing more than theft
You may ask what critical need there is for taking a strip of land from a farm along Paoli Pike? Is there a hospital being built? Perhaps some emergency access is needed for a fire department? In fact, this property is being seized for use as a possible walking trail no more than two miles long, according to local residents.
Sometimes referred to as “The Trail to Nowhere,” this strip of land is supposed to meet up with other township trails that may or may not ever exist, or even connect with this section of the trail. Perhaps the prospect of millions in grant money is affecting the decision to invoke eminent domain. By some estimates, the township is spending an astounding $5 million per mile to build the two-mile trail, $10 million in total.
The family that owns the property is not only unhappy with the threat of eminent domain but is also concerned about how visitors may impact their valuable horse stabling business, and the liabilities that may ensue when bikers and hikers cross the vehicle traffic on the farm lane exiting to Paoli Pike.
Fortunately, Pennsylvania’s strong Sunshine laws appear to require the local council to present the plan of eminent domain to the voters and allow them ample time to consider both this drastic action and accompanying expense before seizing the property. Libertarians believe that most Chester County residents would agree that forcing this family to sell their private property is wrong. The LPCC has no doubt that upon learning of this shameful plan, local residents will insist that their politicians act in the same fair and proper way that the voters are expected to behave.
None of us is allowed to knock on a door and force a homeowner to sell their property, and no politician should be allowed to do so either. Theft is theft, no matter what form it takes.
Stephen Wahrhaftig is the chair of the Chester County Libertarian Party.