Use of Property Key Factor in Determining Appropriateness of Taking

In Marple Twp. V. Marple Newton School Dist.[1](2004), Marple Township filed a declaration of taking against property owned by the school district and used to house the district’s maintenance trucks, lawn mowing and plowing equipment, and snow removal materials. The Township intended to use the property for erecting public buildings, public works, parks, playgrounds and recreational facilities. The School District objected to the taking. In ruling in favor of the Township, the court focused on the use of the property by the School District at the time of the taking.

The Court disagreed with the School District’s argument that the taking was improper, as the First Class Township Code prohibits condemnation of property used for any public school, educational institution or charitable organization. The Court noted that the property had not been used for truly educational purposes for more than 20 years, and that although various charitable organizations have used the property for fundraisers, these activities were not consistent in nature to support the assertions that charitable institutions were using the property.

Next, the School District argued that the Public School Code requires districts to provide grounds and buildings to accommodate all students who attend the school. The Court agreed; however, it found that the district did not need use of the property to stay in compliance with the Code. In support of its determination, the Court cited the fact that the district, immediately prior to the condemnation proceedings, had placed the property on the market with a real estate agent.

Finally, the Court reaffirmed the rule providing that property devoted to one pubic use may be taken for another public use as long as the taking “will not materially impair or interfere with or is not inconsistent with the use already existing and is not detrimental to the public.” Again, the Court found that the School District’s use, or non-use by its intent to sell, was evidence that the taking of the property was neither inconsistent with the existing use nor detrimental to the public.

The Marple Township decision requires a school district or any other public or charitable institution to be fully aware of the nature and use of its property at the time a condemnation proceeding is instituted. Although a public or charitable institution may own property, this may not protect the property from a taking.

[1] 856 A.2d 225 (Pa.Commw.2004).

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