Airport Attempts to Seize Operator's Property in PA
By Stan Cramer
The following was provided by Stan Cramer. He is fighting an uphill battle against the local airport that he says is attempting to drive him out of business through the use of eminent domain. As defined, eminent domain allows a government to take private property for public use with just compensation to its owner. Editor
Stan Cramer, a lifelong resident of the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, area, purchased a 17-acre piece of property on West Harrisburg Pike in Lower Swatara Township in 1967. After following his father into the family car dealership business for many years, Stan recognized the need for a small alternative parking lot for people traveling out of what was then known as Harrisburg York Airport. Stan decided that with great service - offering a free carwash and providing customers with extra help with their baggage and van service for their cars - he could build a loyal customer base. Today, the business serves about 50,000 customers a year.
Stan first became familiar with eminent domain six years ago, when Harrisburg International Airport (HIA) seized 5.5 acres of the Cramers' land. That land, taken through eminent domain, remains undeveloped. In 2003, he began hearing rumblings of another issue with his land.
He believes the airport authority wanted him out of the parking business so there would be a monopoly on airport parking. Others have suggested the authority did so because the Middletown Area School District proposed taxing airport parking businesses, something opposed by the Susquehanna Area Regional Airport Authority (SARAA), which runs HIA. If Stan were no longer in the parking business, SARAA could argue that the school district was unfairly singling out one business for its tax.
Stan also believes SARAA took steps to try to make certain no one else took over his parking business should he decide to sell it. In late 2003, SARAA passed a resolution changing the way it collected money from airport parking facilities. Instead of charging $337 per month/2003, the authority said it would take 10 percent for its fee.
This made it difficult for Stan to sell his business to anyone, knowing they would owe more fees to SARAA. The fees for Cramer increased from $4,044 in 2003 to $70,112 in 2004.
About the same time, Fred Testa, the Executive Director of SARAA, asked Stan if he was planning to retire and expressed interest in buying his land. Stan said he had no intention of retiring.
Then in 2004, Stan's wife, Lynn, was at a meeting with Testa about the rent-a-car businesses at the airport. (The Cramers own a Budget Rent A Car franchise at HIA.) After the meeting, Testa told Lynn Cramer that he wanted the Cramers out of the parking business, and that if they did not sell their land to the airport, SARAA would seize it.
Stan Cramer and Testa then had a few meetings to discuss the issue, and Testa said he would offer Stan money for the land, but the Cramers had to get out of the parking business. Stan decided he did not want to sell his land to SARAA.
On March 30, 2005, SARAA notified the Cramers that it was taking the parking lot land through eminent domain. Cramer hired an attorney and is fighting the move in Dauphin County Court.
At the same time, Pennsylvania Atty. Gen. Tom Corbett began looking into the issue, saying it appeared that SARAA was violating state and federal antitrust laws. On Sept. 8, 2005, after a thorough examination, Corbett filed an antitrust lawsuit in federal court to stop SARAA from taking the land of Cramer Airport Parking.
The complaint states that the airport authority's action to acquire a competing business would create a monopoly and likely force customers to pay higher prices and receive fewer services by eliminating customer choice. The attorney general's office also said SARAA has no legitimate intentions for use of the piece of land.
Unfortunately, the federal case was dismissed by the District Court and has been appealed by the attorney general. Corbett also has filed a request to intervene in the Dauphin County Court eminent domain proceedings that Stan brought against SARAA.
The case has drawn regional and statewide attention. Stan has been interviewed by many reporters and was asked to speak at a Pennsylvania House committee hearing on eminent domain. National organizations, such as the property rights organization Castle Coalition, have used the Cramer Airport Parking case as an example of the unfair nature of eminent domain.
Currently, Stan Cramer and his family are waiting for the courts to rule and hoping to retain their business.
Article Abstract from June, 2006