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Airport wants church land

| Monday, May 14, 2012, 10:03 a.m.

The Westmoreland County Airport Authority intends to acquire through eminent domain almost 25 acres of Unity Township farmland on which a church has plans to build.

Authority Solicitor Gene McDonald said a resolution of intent, unanimously passed by the board Tuesday, would allow him to request a hearing with the state Department of Agriculture to present the authority's case for the land.

The land, part of about 148 acres on Earhart Road owned by Louann and David Brandt of Unity Township, is important to the authority's plans to construct an air cargo support site and make other improvements at the adjoining Arnold Palmer Regional Airport. It is classified as protected farmland by the agriculture department, McDonald said.

McDonald said the authority is 'several steps away' from filing a declaration of taking with the Westmoreland County Prothonotary's Office and is still open to negotiating with the Brandts.

The solicitor does not plan to file the authority's notice of intent with the state Department of Agriculture until Monday and does not expect a hearing until October.

Airport Manager Gabe Monzo said the purpose of yesterday's resolution was to underscore the importance of the land to the authority. The air cargo area and other improvements are in the airport's 9-year-old master plan and its 2001 update.

'The authority board feels the land is important to the growth and expansion of the airport facilities,' Monzo said.

The resolution of intent was not intended as the first step in a bottom-line condemnation proceeding, Monzo said.

'This does not mean that condemnation is the final outcome,' he said.

Louann Brandt confirmed yesterday that there was an agreement of sale for the property with Living Hope Church, which now worships at a temporary site at Adelphoi Village. She said Living Hope planned to build a church on the property, then declined to comment further.

Monzo said the authority would have been interested in the property whether there had been plans to build a church or anything else there.

If the authority can come to an agreement with the Brandts, a purchase could be arranged, he said.

Neither Charles Mason, the Brandts' attorney, nor New Hope Church leader Keith Tucci could be reached for comment.

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