Family says it will fight to save land from bypass

April 10, 2003|by RICHARD BELISLE

The owners of a 78-acre working farm that has been in the same family since 1816 say they will fight an attempt to take by eminent domain the land that lies in the path of a planned seven-mile bypass around Washington Township.

The Washington Township Supervisors voted Monday to authorize their attorney to start the legal process to take the 187-year-old Shank Farm owned by Barry G. and Annie R. Pifer of Germantown, Md.

"We're going to fight this as best we can," Barry G. Pifer said.

The farm off Country Club Road has been in his family for seven generations, Pifer said. His ancestor, Conrad Bonebrake, bought the property in 1816, he said.


"We don't have a clear understanding of what options we have in eminent domain, but we may have some because it's agricultural property," he said.

The farm, with its 1859 brick farmhouse and 1860 barn, was owned by three heirs until November 2001 when Barry Pifer, 68, bought out his relatives. It is not listed on the National Register of Historic Places, he said.

Pifer was not born on the farm, but lived there from 1938 to 1942 and again from 1945 to 1951.

The bypass will be built in phases and could take years to finish, the supervisors said. Construction of the first phase, a mile-plus long stretch of two-lane road running west from Old Forge Road to Country Club Road, would pass through farm and orchard land owned by Knouse Foods Inc., Dave Layman, George Mason, the Pifers and James Teeter.

Mason has been renting the Shank Farm, which is contiguous to his land, for his farming operation since 1975, Pifer said.

The township needs the Shank Farm as a site for a new municipal service complex it wants to build on 43 acres on the south side of the new road. The complex would include a large administrative center housing local government offices, the Washington Township Police Department and Washington Township Municipal Authority offices. Plans also call for an emergency management center, maintenance center and storage facilities.

The remaining 30 acres on the north side would be dedicated to recreation.

Supervisors President Paul Benchoff said Wednesday that building a road through orchard and farm land with available public water and sewer services would "probably mean development would follow."

The land in the path of the road, including the Shank Farm, is zoned agricultural.

The first phase also calls for extending North Welty Road from its intersection with Pa. 16 to the bypass. That project would include construction of a small bridge over the east branch of Antietam Creek. Land along that road is zoned commercial.

In 1950, the population of Washington Township was 4,700. It grew to 11,559 by the 2000 census, Benchoff said. According to projections, the township's population could be 25,000 by the middle of the century, he said.

In 1966, about 7,200 vehicles crossed Pa. 16 in Washington Township every day. By 1990, the number jumped to 23,000 a day, Benchoff said.

The idea of a bypass around the township has been kicked around since the 1960s. The township's 1999 comprehensive plan shows three alternative routes, including the one announced this week.

The next step is to prepare a $6 million bond issue to buy the Shank Farm and build the first phase of the road, Washington Township Administrator Mike A. Christopher said.

"This is a bold initiative by the supervisors to let the public know that we need to plan for the future," Christopher said.

"We know this isn't going to be popular, but we have to plan for the future," Benchoff said. "We have to plan now for our grandchildren."

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