Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County in case of In Re: Condemnation by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Harrisburg of Certain Parcels of Real Estate in Various Wards of said City in connection with the Cameron-South Harrisburg Flood Project, Project Pa. R-608(c). Carole R. Brown and Donald L. Brown v. Redevelopment Authority of the City of Harrisburg, No. 604 June Term 1975.
David A. Wion, with him Reynolds, Bihl and Schaffner, for appellant.
Joseph A. Klein, for appellees.
Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr. and Mencer, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Mencer. Judge Wilkinson, Jr. concurs in the result only.
[ 35 Pa. Commw. Page 417]
This appeal has been taken by the condemnor from the denial of a motion for a new trial by the Court of Common Pleas of Dauphin County. We are faced with the narrow question of whether the trial judge committed reversible error in sustaining an objection to a question asked of one of the condemnees regarding the purchase price of the property some 3 years and 9 months prior to the condemnation. The objection was sustained because of substantial changes which had occurred to the subject property in the interim, primarily as a result of a major renovation which followed the property's submersion in the flood associated with Hurricane Agnes in June of 1972. Although the question is a very close one, our narrow scope of review compels us to affirm the court below.
On January 3, 1975, the property of Carole and Donald Brown (condemnees) was condemned by the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Harrisburg (condemnor). When the condemnees purchased the triangular-shaped corner property in April 1971 for $35,000,*fn1 it was being used solely as an outmoded carwash. At the time of its condemnation, the Browns used their land as a fully automatic, full-service carwash
[ 35 Pa. Commw. Page 418]
where gasoline and oil were also sold. Experts for both parties agreed that this was the highest and best use of the subject property.
When Agnes vented her wrath on Harrisburg in 1972, the condemnees' property, located near Paxton Creek, was flooded, and part of the original building on the land was washed away. A major renovation effort followed which included sandblasting, steam cleaning, regrouting, and repainting the building with water-resistant paint. The front and rear doors were also replaced, and new restrooms were installed. All of the plumbing and electrical equipment was replaced, and a special cinder-block equipment room containing the new electrical system was added. Outside, a cashier's shed was constructed, and a new retaining wall was built.
The changeover to a modern facility was completed by the addition of machinery and equipment stipulated by both parties to be worth $102,425 at the time of condemnation. The new, fully automated carwash equipment operated on a conveyor system, with a viewing area where customers could watch their cars being washed. Pumps and storage tanks for gasoline were installed, and the condemnees were selling approximately 30,000 gallons per month at the time of condemnation.
This case was originally heard by a board of viewers. When both sides appealed, a jury trial was held. After a view of the property was taken, four people gave opinions as to its value at the time of condemnation: condemnee Donald Brown and his expert, William Daylor, and condemnor's experts, Arnold Saft and Charles Orberg. Their opinions were roughly as follows:
[ 35 Pa. Commw. Page 419]
Land $120,000 $81,800 $38,200 $32,745
other improvements 70,000 57,900 41,400 37,991
(by stipulation) 102,425 102,425 ...