This story is almost impossible to comprehend but sadly it is true!
Through the wonderful generosity of John and Chara Hass (Rohm and Haas Company, specialty chemical manufacturer) and their children, the family’s Villanova estate Stoneleigh (c. 1877) was donated in 2016 to Natural Lands Trust. The wonderful estate turned garden is set to open its gates to the public starting Sunday, May 13.
Now days before the gates are open to the public, the Lower Merion School District is looking at the estate and gardens as a possible site for a new middle school – property to be taken by eminent domain. Initially, LMSD was looking at purchasing 6 acres (by Villanova Law School) for the middle school but the entire 42 acre Stoneleigh estate is in jeopardy of condemnation!
Natural Land Trust is not interested in selling any of the Stoneleigh property to the LMSD. According to the Main Line Times, the Trust’s attorney has stated, “the Natural Lands will not entertain the board’s offer to purchase a portion of Stoneleigh Garden and that the Natural Lands will oppose any effort by the board to take any portion of Stoneleigh by eminent domain,”
I’m struggling with the takeover of private property — because Lower Merion School District needs more sports fields — it is just plain wrong! With great generosity, the Haas family donated the land for public use, how can Lower Merion School District do this? Doesn’t the Natural Land Trust have rights? Not my idea of how elected officials should “lead by example”!
In a recent comment on Community Matters, Ray Clarke (local resident and member of Open Land Conservancy Board of Directors) points out that the attorney writing to the Natural Land Trust on behalf of Lower Merion School District is none other than Ken Roos of Wisler Pearlstine, LLP — this is the same Ken Roos representing T/E School District. As Ray noted, Roos billed T/E $60K in April alone!
I certainly hope that the potential eminent domain condemnation by Lower Merion School District of a Natural Lands Trust historic estate doesn’t give our T/E school board any ideas. The many new land development projects in our school district has meant more families moving into the area. As a result, there has been discussion over the years about whether a new elementary school is needed to meet the possible student enrollment increase. The condemnation of Open Land Conservancy property in T/E School District is not an option!