The dozen or so residents who spoke at Monday night’s Cumberland Valley School Board meeting didn’t hold back thoughts about the district’s plans to acquire through eminent domain a land parcel zoned as agricultural preserve.
On Jan. 23, the school board approved a resolution authorizing the district to negotiate the purchase of a 116-acre lot at 31 Old Willow Mill Road bordering Carlisle Pike in Silver Spring Township around Hogestown. The property, known as the McCormick Farm, is for sale by a real estate firm with an asking price of $1.5 million.
“We’re against it. It’s incomprehensible that you’re breaking that (land) trust,” Scott Mehring, of the Hogestown Heritage Committee, told school board members on Monday.
“Several years ago, this township raised taxes to preserve our land. This (land acquisition) would be a slap in the face to all who voted for it,” Silver Spring Township resident JL Brunner said.
A district statement issued to the media on Monday read, “Cumberland Valley School District continues to experience unprecedented growth in enrollment. ... To that end, the district made the decision to obtain a sizable portion of the 116-acre tract of land located at 31 Old Willow Mill Road. The district will acquire approximately 100 acres of the land, which does not include the historic house that sits on the property.
“We understand that the decision to pursue this tract of land may be upsetting to some residents,” the statement continued. “It is not often that land suitable in both size and location presents itself for educational purposes.”
The site has been preserved since at least 1870 by the McCormick family, who organized with other Scots-Irish settlers the Silver Spring Presbyterian Church, the oldest church west of the Susquehanna River and north of York County.
James McCormick, who was born on the “home farm” in Silver Spring Township, was president of Dauphin Deposit Bank, the Harrisburg Bridge Co., and the Harrisburg Cemetery. He managed extensive real estate properties in the region despite losing his sight around 1960. A distant cousin, Cyrus McCormick, invented the reaper.
Vance McCormick served as mayor of Harrisburg and was instrumental in forming the City Beautiful Movement that expanded the city’s park system, paved roads and provided clean water. He also was president of the Patriot-News, and worked under several capacities for President Woodrow Wilson.
McCormick used the family’s “home farm” location to initiate the West Shore Stock Growers Association. He led this in collaboration with Penn State University to educate farmers on how to raise productive livestock and crops. He also started the Hogestown Stock Show, which later became the “Man Behind The Plow is the Man Behind the Gun” movement during World War I. This encouraged farmers to grow crops to feed the U.S. military stationed overseas.
In 1983, the McCormick heirs donated the farm property to the Natural Lands Trust in Media in Pennsylvania to keep the property under protection.
The district’s enrollment is approximately 9,142 students, an increase of more than 1,700 students since 2010. Much of that growth is attributed to Silver Spring Township, where district officials said they are anticipating more than 200 new residential homes will be available to families for at least the next three years and a strong market for existing homes.
“We are (at) 90 percent capacity already with two new schools. This is our bullseye area right here. They keep building houses here,” school board president Michael Gossert told the crowd.
The district has two schools under construction that are due to open in 2018-19 at Bali Hai and Lambs Gap roads in Hampden Township. Winding Creek Elementary School is scheduled to open in August 2018, followed by the opening of Mountain View Middle School in March 2019.
Portions of land for those schools also were obtained by the district through eminent domain after negotiating cash settlements with landowners. The district also will have to pay a negotiated price for obtaining the parcel on Old Willow Road through this process.
According to the district statement issued on Monday, “The (McCormick Farm) property has been encumbered by a Deed of Grant Conservation Easement, which has been reviewed by the district solicitor. It was written into the deed by its author, the Natural Lands Trust, that once the property, or portion thereof, is taken by condemnation, the conservation easement terminates automatically by operation of the law.”
Hogestown Heritage Committee member Brad Westover offered the school board a more succinct statement on Monday. “I think it’s just wrong,” he said.