Appeal from the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County in the case of In Re: Condemnation of land located in West Bradford Township, consisting of premises "A" described in Record Book 1021, Page 104 (Tax Parcel 50-2-83) and all that land described in Deed Book T-51, Page 588 (Tax Parcel 50-2-81), No. 88-04528.
Guy Donatelli, with him, Theodore O. Rogers, and James E. McErlane, Lamb, Windle & McErlane, P.C., for appellant.
Robert W. Lentz, with him, Robert C. F. Willson, Lentz, Cantor, Kilgore & Massey, Ltd., for appellees.
Judges Barry and Palladino (p.), and Senior Judge Narick, sitting as a panel of three. Opinion by Judge Palladino.
[ 125 Pa. Commw. Page 265]
Downingtown Area School District (District) appeals from a decision of the Court of Common Pleas of Chester County sustaining the preliminary objections of Wayne R. DiFrancesco to a declaration of taking by the District. We reverse.
It is not disputed that the District needed to construct a 600 pupil elementary school in West Bradford Township, one of the municipalities serviced by the District. The District's Board of Directors (Board) hired an architectural and planning firm, Vaughn Organization, P.C., to investigate a possible 20 acre site for the school. Vaughn submitted a report containing 11 possible sites to the Board in March 1988. The sites were listed numerically according to their score on 8 criteria (present and future environment; integration with community planning; role in comprehensive building planning; size of site; accessibility; site characteristics; utility services; cost). Exhibit D-5. A parcel owned by Cozzone and one owned by Wood were, respectively, one and two on the list.
[ 125 Pa. Commw. Page 266]
After presenting its report to the Board and recommending the Cozzone parcel, Vaughn began preliminary submissions to the Departments of Education, Transportation and Environmental Protection to have the Cozzone site approved for the school. N.T. at 65-66. Meanwhile, the Board informed Jack M. Hines, Jr., West Bradford Township Manager, of its preliminary choice of the Cozzone property as the site for an elementary school and of the other sites on its list of possibilities. Hines discussed this information with the West Bradford Township Supervisors. N.T. at 13, Hines Deposition at 6.
In April 1988, Hines met with Dr. Ronald W. Gray, Superintendent of the District, James Watson, Board President, Robert Eldridge, Board member, Robert Steimer, District Maintenance Supervisor, and Jerome H. Taylor, Vaughn representative. Hines Deposition at 5-6. Hines informed them that the Township supervisors did not believe the Cozzone site should be condemned because (1) it was an operating farm, (2) it was on Glenside Road (considered dangerous by the Township), and (3) it was not in the areas slated for installation of public water and sewage. He suggested two tracts of land to the Board that (1) together would provide approximately 21 usable acres of land, (2) were in the area slated for public water and sewage, and (3) were already scheduled for development as opposed to being agricultural land or open space.*fn1 Hines Deposition at 13-15. The two tracts were the Boesler-Wagner tract and the DiFrancesco tract.*fn2
[ 125 Pa. Commw. Page 267]
Based on the information received from Hines, the Board directed Vaughn to conduct an evaluation of the two-tract site, using the criteria Vaughn had used to evaluate the other sites. N.T. at 13-14. Vaughn verbally reported to the Board on May 11, 1988, informing the Board that the site suggested by Hines was as desirable as the Cozzone parcel. A written report was submitted to the Board by Vaughn on June 9, 1988. After Vaughn's verbal report on May 11, the Board authorized condemnation of the Boesler-Wagner and DiFrancesco tracts.
On June 10, 1988, the District filed a declaration of taking for the two tracts. DiFrancesco filed preliminary objections to the taking. After a hearing, the trial court concluded that the selection of the school site was arbitrary and "retroactively justified" and, therefore, constituted an abuse of discretion by the District. The trial court sustained ...