Families worry about schools' eminent domain

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At the end of Easler and Allison streets, along Eden Park Boulevard that neighbors Renziehausen Park in McKeesport, lies the 27-acre Palkovitz property that has been at the center of debate at several school board and city council meetings.

The mere question of its ownership was enough to get Controller Ray Malinchak a police escort out of the last council meeting at the end of May.

The plans for that land could cause nearby homeowners to be displaced this fall.

Bought for $5,200 late last year through the city redevelopment authority's vacant property review process, the city owns it and the McKeesport Area School District wants it.

As part of its $46.4 million construction and renovation plans to consolidate five elementary schools into three, the district intends to use the Palkovitz property to build the new $25.2 million McKeesport Elementary/Intermediate School.

District Solicitor Gary Matta sent a letter to residents last month saying several properties near Palkovitz may be acquired by the district in October to finish construction.

Joe and Helen Dominick have lived on Oliver Alley for 60 years and may have to find a new home if the district follows through with its plans to acquire properties, extending its footprint beyond Palkovitz.

The Rev. Kevin Dominick, the couple's son and pastor at St. Winifred's in Mt. Lebanon, spoke at the last regular school board meeting, urging directors to rethink their plans.

Mr. Dominick said the property has been in his family for more than 100 years and that his father was born in that home.

"My mother hasn't been able to sleep since she got this letter," he said. "My parents live on a fixed income. They're not going to be able to get a mortgage. I'm afraid they'll be left with nowhere to go."

Mr. Matta said if the district plans to moves forward with such acquisitions, he will personally talk to the Dominick family and that they will be "compensated fairly" for the property.

The school district has the right of eminent domain, and there is a process under the eminent domain code that determines fair compensation for acquired land, said Pierce Richardson, a partner at K&L Gates, Downtown, who specializes in real estate law.

"Legally, they can acquire the property if they're willing to pay for it," he said.

"But there's no compensation for the trauma of being forcibly displaced from your home. There's nothing to compensate for the sentimental loss," he said.

Superintendent Michael Brinkos said the district is still moving forward with plans at the Palkovitz property but is exploring all options.

"We want to disrupt as few individuals or families as possible," he said.

That's why the district and city council have tabled the issue for a month, he said.

Mr. Malinchak was called out of order by council President Regis McLaughlin -- and subsequently led out by police -- at the last meeting for repeatedly trying to ask a question about that tabled issue.

Listed as "Bill 49" on the last agenda, it is a resolution that would approve a zoning application for the school district's construction plan at Palkovitz property.

"How can there be a zoning change on a property the school district doesn't own?" Mr. Malinchak said as the court officer led him out of the council room.

The Palkovitz property has been a subject of debate with Mr. Malinchak during several council and school board meetings. He claims the city never considered a bid he and his wife made for the property in July 2008 and that the city's Solictor J. Jason Elash told him his application was lost.

Candy Woodall, freelance: suburbanliving@post-gazette.com .


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