Limerick, Schools Reach An Accord In Winnies Tract Spat Spring-ford Says It Will Pay The Township For The Property And Build A School There. The Township Would Use The Money For Open Space Elsewhere.

Posted: July 15, 1999

LIMERICK — The township and the Spring-Ford Area school board have reached a tentative agreement to end their two-year-old spat over 33 acres on Sunset Road, a battle that in March climaxed in a taxpayer-funded lawsuit.

The school district wanted the property, known as the Winnies tract, for a new elementary school. Limerick fought condemnation proceedings, saying it owned the land and wanted it kept as open space.

Under the proposed settlement, which the involved parties still must sign, Limerick would end efforts to keep the district from acquiring the property. In return, the school district would pay Limerick $530,000, Township Solicitor Joseph J. McGrory Jr. said yesterday.

``The school board offered a price sufficient for the land so Limerick can purchase open space elsewhere,'' McGrory said. He declined to say what land the township might seek to buy instead.

The tract is named for former owner Helen Winnies, who sold it to the township in 1997 for $1.

Spring-Ford sued the township and Winnies in March in Montgomery County Court, saying they had conspired to prevent the condemnation. The lawsuit followed months of closed-door meetings in which the parties failed to reach an agreement.

In 1997, Winnies struck a sale agreement with a developer, Parec Realty Inc. of Blue Bell, under which Parec would buy her 80 acres if the township approved a plan to build 56 homes there.

The township wanted 33 acres as open space, saying the development's density required it. Parec agreed to transfer the land to Limerick in a rezoning compromise.

At the same time, Spring-Ford, which serves Limerick, Royersford and Upper Providence in Montgomery County and Spring City in Chester County, was bursting at the seams and looking for land in northern Limerick on which to build a school.

A Spring-Ford solicitor approached Limerick about buying the Winnies tract but was rebuffed.

Township officials maintained that the development on the property, now under construction, would not have been approved without the open-space provision.

On Sept. 3, 1997, the school board voted to condemn the land.

Sometime that same night or early the next morning, the lawsuit claimed, Parec and Limerick approached Winnies and requested that she deed the 33 acres to the township.

The next morning, the township recorded the deed at the county courthouse in Norristown. Later that day the school district also went to the courthouse to start condemnation proceedings.

``It was always the school district's position that it would pay fair-market value for the property,'' school district solicitor Marc Davis said yesterday.

Last year, the county assessed the property's value at $758,360.

McGrory said some language in the agreement still needed to be worked out, such as a covenant stating that the land could not be used for any purpose except an elementary school for a 20-year period.

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