Citation:

Middletown Twp. v Lands of Stone,
882 A.2d 1066 (Pa. Cmwlth. 2005), app. granted.

Reversed by: Middletown Twp. v. Lands of Stone, 939 A.2d 331 (Pa. 2007)

Summary:
Second Class Townships are authorized to condemn property under the Second-Class Township Code, 23 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 67201, for any legitimate recreational purpose. However, where the fundamental purpose of a taking is not found to be recreational, the taking is invalid.
Case Details:

Second Class Townships are authorized to condemn property under the Second-Class Township Code, 23 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 67201, for any legitimate recreational purpose. However, where the fundamental purpose of a taking is not found to be recreational, the taking is invalid.

 

A 175-acre farm (Property) was partitioned by stipulated order into four parcels. A couple years later the Township’s Board of Supervisors (Board) considered a preliminary plan for a major subdivision. At least one member of the Board was concerned that the smallest parcel would be developed. The matter was tabled, but two weeks later another public meeting was held and the Board authorized the Township to condemn the entire Property. A declaration of taking was filed under the Second-Class Township Code, 23 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 67201 (Code), “to acquire a fee simple interest to the [farm] for recreation and open space purposes.” The Board informed the property owner that he could still farm the Property and that the Board just did not “want it to go to developers.” The Property’s owner filed preliminary objections. The trial court overruled the preliminary objections and the Commonwealth Court affirmed the trial court’s decision.

The Supreme Court reversed the Commonwealth Court’s ruling while noting the Commonwealth Court correctly found that second class townships have authority to condemn property, pursuant to the Code, for legitimate recreational purposes. However, the true purpose of this taking was not convincingly recreational. The goals of the action were stated as to “(1) seek ways to acquire properties to preserve in open space as critical natural environment; (2) maintain and upgrade existing park and recreational facilities; and (3) protect the Township’s remaining valuable agricultural resources.” The Court determined it was “significant that the [Township’s Parks and Open Space] Plan specifically discusses the acquisition of property for the preservation of open space, whereas recreation is contemplated only for existing parks and facilities.” In addition, the Court noted the dissenting Commonwealth Court judge asserted “the totality of the record made it overwhelmingly apparent that the Township’s purpose was to create open space to preserve property values and enhance the aesthetic livability of the Township.” Further, the record did not show that the Township considered or created a plan to develop a recreational use of the Property. For the foregoing reasons, the taking was invalid as it did not serve the Township’s stated public purpose—recreational use.

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