‘I don’t want to sell this ground’

By on January 31, 2018

Manheim Central may seize 18 acres of Graybill family farm using eminent domain

Ann Louise Graybill, an 83-year-old Penn Township resident with a soft spot for nature’s simple pleasures, has witnessed her farmland and the surrounding area transform in the past three decades.

What once was a serene landscape with farmland as far as the eye can see from either direction has become a target for development.

To the north sits Brookshire, a sprawling 55-and-over community with 230 single-family and attached homes. Next door to the south, there’s Ephrata National Bank. The 57,000-square-foot Manheim Brethren in Christ Church is to the west. And to the east: 18 acres of athletic fields, leased to Manheim Central School District from Graybill, and Doe Run Elementary School, which houses more than 400 students.

Manheim Central now wants sole ownership of the 18 acres of leased property, but Graybill isn’t interested in selling — not yet at least.

“I would cooperate with them,” Graybill said of the school district. “However, I don’t want to sell it. I don’t want to sell this ground.”

If Graybill doesn’t budge, the school district is likely to seize the land through eminent domain.

“We have a need now to take the next step and further invest in the property,” Manheim Central Superintendent Peter Aiken said. “It is not wise to continue to invest in leased property.”

Aiken said market value for the property is $1.4 million.

Ann Louise Graybill works on her family farm in the 1970s. (Submitted photo)

‘Our hand is forced’

The land in question is under a lease agreement, signed in 2005, and set to expire Dec. 31, 2020.

Manheim Central has paid at least $20,700 annual rent to the Graybill family since 2005, according to the agreement.

Factoring in rent, maintenance and development, the school district has invested nearly $3 million into the property, Aiken said.

The property has been converted to grass athletic fields. The Manheim Central school board in December presented options to improve the fields with additional lighting and a parking lot with up to 440 spaces.

Manheim Brethren in Christ Church, across the street, has heretofore provided parking access in its lot.

Despite the lease agreement expiring in 2020, Aiken said he feels it’s time to purchase the property and continue developing.

“We feel as if we have a duty and obligation not only to the district but to the taxpayers of Manheim Central,” Aiken said. “Our hand is forced to develop the property now.”

Adjacent to the leased property is Doe Run Elementary School. The newly constructed facility is on a 21-acre plot Manheim Central purchased from Graybill and her late husband, J. Clair Graybill, for about $367,500 in the late 1980s. The original Doe Run was built in 1992 but was torn down in 2015 due to structural damage.

An aerial view of the Graybill family farm from the 1960s.

‘It’s a beautiful farm’

The Graybill family farm has rich history dating back to 1898, when the family purchased the land. It was used to plant potatoes, corn, soybeans and wheat.

“First of all, it’s a beautiful farm,” Graybill said, “but, beyond that, the Graybill family made its living off this farm for over 100 years.”

Graybill married her husband in 1961. They began leasing the land from Clair’s parents that same year. They bought it 10 years later.

Back then, the land was surrounded by farmland. It even had a landing strip for an airplane owned by Clair’s father.

They also bought 40 acres of adjoining farmland where their son, Jeffrey, 55, now lives. Their daughter, Gail Carson, 54, lives in Manheim Township.

The Graybills made a living by selling its crops, particularly potatoes. They delivered bags of up to 50 pounds of potatoes to local stores and restaurants. The money generated put both Jeffrey and Gail through college at Penn State University.

“I always enjoyed working on this farm,” Ann Louise Graybill said. “I have precious memories, and that’s nice to say. I’ve had a very good life on this farm.”

Ann Louise Graybill shows the area just north of her farmhouse at 41 N. Penryn Road, Manheim. Manheim Central School District currently leases the land for use as athletic fields. The school district is considering obtaining 18 acres of this land through eminent domain. (LNP file photo)

Moving on

Ann Louise is now considering moving on from the four-bedroom farmhouse, built in 1883, on the property’s west side.

Despite collecting so many fond memories over the years, she said, she’s about ready to move from the farmhouse and into a retirement community. But she doesn’t want to sell the farm while she’s, as she put it, “still here.”

She said she’d rather pass the land onto her son and daughter so they could sell it to the school district.

But, in the end, she might not have a choice.

Manheim Central has already set in motion the eminent domain process. School officials have met with representatives of the Graybill family seven times since 2014 to express interest in purchasing the land, though no offer has been made, Aiken said.

The 3-acre plot of land containing the farmhouse, Aiken said, isn’t being considered for eminent domain.

Aiken added that he hopes the two sides can still come to a sale agreement.

Whatever happens, Ann Louise Graybill said, she’s thankful for all the farm has provided for her and her family.

“I do appreciate all the years the good Lord gave us on this farm,” she said.

Alex Geli is the education reporter for LNP and LancasterOnline, covering grades K-12 in Lancaster County.

Record Express correspondent Rochelle Shenk contributed to this report.

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