Lower Merion School District is front page news over Oakwell, next door to Stoneleigh in Villanova.
Why? Eminent domain….again
We shouldn’t be surprised because Lower Merion School District probably wields eminent domain or the threat of eminent domain more than any institution I’ve ever heard of. I could be wrong, I am sure there are some that do it more but in my worldview they are one of the worst offenders.
Lower Merion School District in my humble opinion has always abused eminent domain powers. It’s like they think they are LMSD and everybody should just bow down. ￼
In their vision quest with blinders they’ve gone after Stoneleigh, Ashbridge Park, etc. I think if they had bought this property with the intention of using the house as the administration building for the school district or something like that I wouldn’t care. But to so wantonly wish to destroy so much green space, so many trees, so much beauty for turf fields for middle schoolers is really kind of tone deaf in today’s world and it’s just wrong, pick a reason.
The house itself is super cool and historic. Things on the grounds are historic. There’s a teahouse with a beautiful giant old terra-cotta warrior who is just spectacular. It’s an amazing property, and once again it’s something that will be destroyed because of this school district if they aren’t stopped.
It doesn’t matter who the superintendent of the school district is, they just think if it’s something they want they can take it. Again, this is my opinion and I’m allowed to have it. I spent 30+ years living in Lower Merion Township.
Something else I find interesting is literally across the road is Delaware County and Radnor Township. How do they feel about this? How do their residents feel?
The whole Oakwell issue has been a slow burn that seems to have ignited. I don’t have a crystal ball on how it will play out, but I don’t think middle schoolers need turf fields and artificial turf as much as they need nature. Kids need to be able to be kids. A lot of kids today don’t want to be on organized sports teams. There are also field alternatives where they can share fields. But the problem with the school district is they don’t do anything nicely, sharing among them.
So once again we’re staring in the face of Lower Merion School District’s misplaced sense of entitlement.
The Philadelphia Inquirer did an amazing job on this article and I think everyone should read it.
Updated Nov. 3, 2022
John Bennett kindled the hearth on a recent day in what was once his 20,000-square-foot brick Tudor Revival manor replete with heavy wooden doors, wainscoted library, and Mercer floor tile.
The 72-year-old physician-turned-medical-device-entrepreneur recalled how he lost the home and its 10 acres off County Line Road in Villanova through eminent domain in 2018 to make way for middle-school athletic fields. The property, known as Oakwell, contains nearly 700 trees, some of which are thought to date back centuries.
“Everything happened so quickly that there was no way to save it,” Bennett said as he recounted stories about the house, including having a ghost exorcised.
The Lower Merion School District — one of the wealthiest in Pennsylvania — paid Bennett $9.9 million for the house and grounds in the condemnation with plans to clear-cut hundreds of the trees for athletic fields for newly opened Black Rock Middle School. Updated plans show it would keep the Oakwell mansion and a pool house, but a teahouse watched over by a terra cotta warrior, stone fencing, and a brick-walled garden complex all dating back at least 120 years would be razed. The $90 million middle school opened this year. The district plans to start breaking ground for the fields in June…..
What is eminent domain?
The taking of Oakwell marks one of several district attempts to build athletic fields for the new school. The board faced an outcry in 2018 when it tried to condemn part of the Stoneleigh estate next door, which is preserved under a conservation easement. Efforts to use the nearby Ashbridge Memorial Park were halted by a long-standing deed restriction. An attempt to use another nearby property also fizzled, while other lots were deemed unsuitable…..
Eminent domain — or the ability of the government to pay landowners to seize their private property for public use — is a power “inherent to the government,” said Matthew Hovey, a municipal attorney with the High Swartz law firm that represents clients in the area.
Typically, Hovey said, the power is used as a last resort as it can prove “politically unpopular” and may lead to costly and lengthy legal challenges.~ Philadelphia Inquirer