UCF settles with Stevens on property

$476,000 deal ends nearly five years of dispute over Doe Run tract

By Mike McGann, Editor, UnionvilleTimes.com
EAST MARLBOROUGH — After years of litigation and some public controversy, the Unionville-Chadds Ford School District and a local property owner have reached a deal with Charles Stevens over a parcel of land next to Patton Middle School.

Although it has been a matter of discussion for more than two decades — first publicly discussed in 1987 — controversy ensued nearly five years ago when Board of Education moved to seize the property under eminent domain, prompting years of litigation to set a final purchase price.

The property had been for sale at the time, and some in the community felt that the school district should have attempted to negotiate a fair-market price to purchase the property without condemnation; those in favor suggested that Stevens had inflated his asking price knowing that the district wanted the tract.

The board announced Monday night that it had agreed to pay Stevens an additional $476,000 to complete the transaction on the 23-acre property near the Rt. 82 roundabout.

Currently, the properly is used for a mix of athletic fields and agriculture — although during Monday night’s work session, the idea was floated to potentially sell some of the property to a housing developer, to offset financial concerns.

The Board of Education voted in June, 2007 to condemn the property — and then following an appraisal, paid Stevens $1.1 million. Stevens filed suit, arguing that the property was worth considerably more.

Current board member Keith Knauss of East Marlborough was a frequent critic of the move and again suggested that he thought the move was in error.

“I hate condemnation/eminent domain seizure of property,” he said. “When you condemn a property, under those terms, you’re basically asking for a lawsuit.”

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  1. D. Randle says:

    Regardless of your opinion on the merits of acquiring the Stevens’ parcel, I’m sure that we will all be interested in learning whether or not the School Board pursues the idea “to potentially sell some of the property to a housing developer, to offset financial concerns.”

    Should the Board make some or all of the land available to a developer, does anyone else believe that the lucky developer will pay less than the $68,500 per acre that the district paid?

  2. Don’t forget to figure out, and add, the costs associated with years of legal fees which the UCFSD incurred in addition to the $476,000 check they wrote recently.

  3. Kristin Hoover says:

    It seems to me that 22 or 23 acres for athletic fields is mighty generous of the taxpayers. It also seems to me to be a classic case of misplaced priority and of the “tail wagging the dog.” Athletics are one important piece of the education and well-being of the whole child. Are we really willing to lay off teachers or cut programs to keep athletic fields? Has sports become everything? Are taxpayers really expected to provide free maintenance and use of these fields to anybody or any group who wants to use them? It’s time to look at priorities and sell the land.

  4. Keith Knauss says:

    Seizing Mr. Steven’s property didn’t make sense.
    Mr. Stevens and the district were unable to reach an agreement before the seizing. The perceived value of the property, of course, was the problem. Taking the property and paying an amount lower than Mr. Steven’s wanted made the lawsuit inevitable.
    I would reluctantly use eminent domain proceedings if the need was critical (schools at capacity) and there were no other viable options. However, the need was not critical; the district had plenty of capacity at the elementary and secondary level. In fact, student enrollment is flat or decreasing due to the recent housing bust.
    And even if the need was critical the land is in the wrong place. The district won’t build a school on those 22 acres. We already have a concentration of schools along Rt 82 and any significant additional capacity needs would trigger building in the eastern part of the district. What the previous school board did was to take someone’s private property for more athletic fields.

  5. Kristin Hoover says:

    Hi Del: Love your quote from Margaret Mitchell and I actually do agree from a personal standpoint. UCFSD is in the business of education; not real estate speculation or land preservation. Eminent domain was a bad idea that made the lawyers some money and sucked up 1.576 million dollars that can’t be used for textbooks, computers, salaries, support staff, building maintenance or paying down the debt from the enormous wrap-around funding catastrophe that bought the high school. Time to sell and get back to the real business of the district.

  6. Del Bittle says:

    Some day and probably not that far in the future, the purchase/taking of the Stevens 23 acre parcel will be praised as the single smartest decision the UCF School Board ever made. Buildings, ball fields and parking lots all need land to be built on and the last time I drove down Rt 82 I didn’t see alot of open ground up for grabs. For the price of 2 “Mc Mansions” on 1/2 acre lots the UCFSD has secured it’s ability to expand in the future…a very smart move.
    I give you, Kristen Hoover, one of my favorite quotes of all time…..”Do you mean to tell me, Katie Scarlett O’Hara, that Tara, that land doesn’t mean anything to you? Why, land is the only thing in the world worth workin’ for, worth fightin’ for, worth dyin’ for, because it’s the only thing that lasts”. Good for you Chuck…..

  7. Kate says:

    “the idea was floated to potentially sell some of the property to a housing developer”

    Say what? The school district could seize property then turn around and sell it to a developer to raise money? Please tell me that can’t really happen.

  8. Kristin Hoover says:

    This is a mess that the taxpayers should never have been stuck with as a legacy of former school boards. Given that we are facing layoffs and reductions in programs, it seems like it is time to dump this “White Elephant” and return 23 acres of land to the tax base.

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