Skip to comments.Vehement about domain, family fights for its land
Posted on 05/02/2002 6:25:58 PM PDT by calvin sun
You might say the night Ricky Saha snapped was 30 years in the making.
In 1971, Saha's parents bought 48 lush Chester County acres and poured their souls into making the land a home. Living in a trailer at first, Dick and Nancy Saha raised five children while they restored the 250-year-old farmhouse on the property. Today the farm is a cherished family compound, with homes for children and grandchildren.
It is also a piece of property the City of Coatesville is determined to seize.
Those same 30 years saw Coatesville slide into unrelieved economic decline. Looking for a way out, this steel town of 11,000 has pinned its hopes to construction of a 230-acre playland of golfing, bowling, and ice-skating along Route 30 at Route 82.
To build it, Coatesville needs land. A furious protest erupted in 1999 when the city announced it would condemn nine properties under eminent domain. One by one, the Sahas' neighbors were bought out, agreeing to sell for as much as $16,000 an acre.
The Sahas never gave in. At first, they stood to lose 42 acres, leaving them with the house and six acres. But last week, Coatesville declared it might condemn the entire farm because the Sahas weren't willing to negotiate.
That's when Ricky Saha, 45, snapped. As his 71-year-old father argued with city officials, he said to a council member on April 22: "I'm going to kill your ... family."
Within seconds, the younger Saha was grabbed by the chief of police and taken to the station and charged with making terroristic threats against Councilman David DeSimone. At a preliminary hearing yesterday, Saha, free on $350 bail, was ordered to stand trial.
"I said what I said," Saha explained last week. "Whether it was right or whether it was wrong is hard to say until you're put in this place. ... After you see your father pleading, week after week for three years, for his property."
The Sahas remain determined to stop Coatesville. They spent $125,000 of their retirement savings on billboards; a Web site, called www.saveourfarm.com; and, of course, lawyers. A Chester County Court judge upheld the city's condemnation in January. An appeal is pending.
Oddly, the Sahas don't even live in Coatesville.
Their home is next door, in Valley Township. To condemn their land, Coatesville is exercising a little-known state law that allows a third-class city to take land in a neighboring municipality so long as the property touches its border.
"From a governmental point of view, they [Coatesville] have every legal right to do it," Valley Township supervisor Grover Koon said. "But there's a moral obligation that says you shouldn't take what belongs to somebody else."
Coatesville officials disagree.
"That's what eminent domain is all about. It's the misfortune of a few for the benefit of the many," Coatesville city manager Paul G. Janssen said.
When Janssen was hired in 1998, Coatesville had just lost its last supermarket. The average single-family home here is now worth $56,000, less than a third of the booming county's average.
Ordered by the City Council to save the city, Janssen said the "Coatesville Regional Family Recreation Center" will help do exactly that. The $60 million entertainment mecca will feature two ice-skating rinks, bowling alleys, batting cages, a go-cart track, and rock-climbing walls. A 270-room hotel and conference center are also planned. At the heart of it all, Janssen said, will be the "total golfing experience" - mini-golf, pitch-n-putt, a driving range, and an 18-hole championship course.
The complex, to be paid for by bond issues, should offer 200 jobs. And Janssen hopes all that golf will draw in young corporate executives who might then move to Coatesville's soon-to-be revitalized downtown.
"It's the perfect magnet for executives looking to master that corporate sport," Janssen said. "There's nothing like it in the Mid-Atlantic states."
Janssen sees the city staging a Manayunk-style comeback. "We are going to revitalize this town. We've had 30 years of being a dysfunctional community, and that's plenty."
The Saha home would fall to make way for the golf course. Critics say golf-rich Chester County hardly needs more courses.
"How many jobs can you really supply with golf? Who plays golf in the winter?" asks Winifred Mayo, the lone member of City Council still opposed to the condemnation.
"This is not a school, it's not a sewer line, it's not a road," Mayo said, questioning the city's power to use eminent domain for a golf course. "It's all for play, and we don't need it."
But County Court Judge William Mahon said that golf courses, like public parks, are a legitimate use of eminent domain.
Another point of Mahon's could prevent the Sahas from holding onto even the six acres originally offered: that Coatesville's condemnation cannot violate Valley Township's zoning code. Now Coatesville officials claim they must condemn the entire property unless the Sahas accept the city's offer that they can keep 12.7 acres - if they drop all litigation.
"They won't even sit down with us to discuss it, so we're going to go for the whole thing," said Councilman DeSimone.
The condemnation will be discussed at the next two council meetings, he said. Those are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 13 and 27 at Coatesville City Hall.
Coatesville will not publicly reveal how much it would pay for the Sahas' land. The city condemned and bought the nearby Snyder property, 22 acres with a house, for $350,000.
Walking the perimeter of their farm last week, the Sahas showed no sign of backing down - and their reasons were all around them. They pointed to the spot where daughter Amy was married in 1983. And to a 30-foot white pine tree, carried here in a cup long ago when daughter Joanne was a Girl Scout. Both daughters have houses beside the farm now, each given a few original acres as wedding gifts from Mom and Dad.
"This is our whole way of life," Nancy Saha said. "I can't imagine what we would do without our house."
To Dick Saha, his family's fight against City Hall has become darkly personal. He's sorry his son Ricky got involved. "I think [city officials] have a tendency to bait him, because he's pretty hot-tempered," Dick Saha said of his son. "Now it's just a matter of vindictiveness."
To Mayo, it's a matter of biblical principle.
"Here's a man who has done exactly what the Lord has instructed," Mayo said of Dick Saha. "He has worked very hard. He has supplied for his family, his children and grandchildren. So we definitely should not covet his land."
The main proponent of this condemnation is Coateville city manager City manager Paul Janssen at 610-384-0300 x3128. Mr Janssen's email is firstname.lastname@example.org
That man is an arrogant prick, and a typical government employee. Unfortunately, he is but a drop in the bucket; there are thousands like him in every town in every state in the country.
Could the town next door help them out by condemning the property back?
The worst part of it is that the scheme probably won't work. Things are not the same as they were in 1998 when they started on it.
It is not about golf: it is about economic development, for which golf was chosen as a vehicle.
If not, will private companies be operating these ventures? Hmmmm. I wonder which private companies? I wonder exactly what transactions might be taking place behind the scenes. Use of eminent domain for the purpose of benefiting a private enterprise is highly suspect, in my mind.
Most economic development efforts are boondoggles. Governments pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for every job they create. In this case, virtually every job created will be a low wage, service economy job. Caddies, cashiers, and chambermaids do not a sound economy make.
Firstly, this is a different issue.
Secondly, this is not at the expense of property rights: these rights do not diappear; they get transferred.
If you are against eminent domain, this a different topic altogether. If, however, you think that this is an inaproprite application of the law --- I have not seen support for such a conclusion.
It's also the perfect scam to grab land to give away to connected developers to build McMansions for any yuppie "executives" that want a golf course home. Private property is just a temporary inconvience for our bureaucratic masters.
This is your typical city manager padding his resume and will be long gone when the city files bankruptcy over this pie in the sky scheme.
In addition, I am having a hard time seeing how this proposed recreation center (located outside downtown Coatesville) will revitalize the downtown. They're saying that young professional/executives will be lured by golf, and then move downtown. More likely, in my mind, they will do what they do now: live OUTSIDE Coatesville, in one of the surrounding townships. In other words, this recreation center is lose/lose: Coatesville fails to revitalize downtown, and the family loses its property.
I wouldn't expect to find 22 acres in chester County for anything resembling this price. Even without considering the personal investment the Sahas have in their property, this seems like a very low price.
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