The CEO of several companies buying dozens of homes in a York City neighborhood said he will not use eminent domain to acquire more properties, though he believes he "absolutely" could.
Bill Hynes, known locally for his business relationship with members of the rock band Live and their Think Loud Development projects, said the goal is to own all of the properties on the northern side of East Chestnut Street.
Nearby, Hynes and his business partners are in the midst of a $16.8 million project to renovate a former factory at 210 York St. After that project is done, work will begin on the construction of a 40,000-square-foot data center — at an anticipated cost of $30 million — for United Fiber and Data, a fiber optic company with plans to build an information-transmission line between New York and northern Virginia.
Hynes said Wednesday he owns "probably 80 percent, 90 percent" of the Chestnut Street block through several companies, including Saddleback Properties LP, 120 York LLC and Think Loud York LP.
Eventually, Hynes said, the plan is to demolish all of the Chestnut Street homes on the northern side of the street.
"We're revitalizing the area, creating economic development, building a data center," Hynes said. "We need the space for that."
The neighbors: The owners of at least two homes in Hynes' target area said they do not want to sell their homes, however.
A third said she and her husband sold their Chestnut Street home to one of Hynes' companies in recent weeks because "we didn't have a choice."
"They told us we had to sell," said Vickie Dunlap, who has lived at 255 E. Chestnut St. for 44 years.
Sue Boyd, who has lived with her husband at 231 E. Chestnut St. for 35 years, said the couple has been approached several times by a representative of Cash Now, a real-estate company with offices in York and Hanover. The representative, she said, told the Boyds of a plan to build a fiber optic line that would go "through our house."
The Cash Now representative implied, "If we didn't want to sell, eminent domain would take over."
Sue Boyd said the couple does not want to sell their home.
Hynes said he's contracted with Cash Now to "knock on doors and see if people are interested in selling."
"I don't know what their tactics are. I don't really even care what their tactics are. We're just trying to buy the houses legally," he said. "Honestly, would you want to live on a street where you're the only house on that block? It's going to get lonely."
Dunlap, 60, said she and her husband relented after several visits from a Cash Now representative.
"We had to sell our house because everybody had to sell their house," she said. "I didn't want to be the only one that didn't sell their home."
Mary Smith, who lives at 241 E. Chestnut St., said she's also been contacted by Cash Now, which she finds "annoying."
Smith, 54, said she's owned her home for about five years and has invested a lot of money in fixing it up.
"I'm not interested, so I called (Cash Now) and I told him," Smith said. "People have invested money in their homes. What? Are we supposed to just give up our home?"
Cash Now's operations manager declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday.
"I don't know what I'm allowed to comment on or not," Ryan Julius said. "I'd prefer not to answer any questions."
No forced sell: Hynes said he believes United Fiber and Data could use eminent domain because the fiber optic line is a "public utility."
However, he said, the company will not use eminent domain to acquire properties.
"Nobody's putting a gun to anyone's head," Hynes said. "This is America. If somebody doesn't want to sell, you can't force them to sell."
Hynes is a majority owner in United Fiber and Data with Live members Chad Taylor, Chad Gracey and Patrick Dahlheimer.
The four are also majority owners of Think Loud Development, which is renovating 210 York St.
The former factory, known as the Bi-Comp Inc. building, will be used as office space for Think Loud, United Fiber and Data and other companies. On the building's top two floors, the businessmen have built a state-of-the-art recording studio and several apartment suites.
Gov. Tom Corbett recently awarded a $5 million Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program (RACP) grant to Think Loud for its 210 York St. project, which sits to the north of Chestnut Street.
The companies: Hynes, who said he serves as CEO of the three companies acquiring properties, declined to identify other affiliates of Saddleback Properties LP, 120 York LLC or Think Loud York LP.
He said it's possible he owns other companies buying properties in York City. Hynes estimated he owns about 40 companies.
"I don't know all the names," he said.
Hynes' companies have also purchased a significant number of homes and vacant lots near Chestnut Street, including properties on East York, North Pine and East Walnut streets.
In many cases, property owners have been "more than happy to sell," Hynes said. Compensation for those properties has been "way more than fair," he said.
"They shake our hand. They thank us, and they say nice things about the whole process," Hynes said. "I've never heard a complaint at all."
Hynes said many of the sellers are eager to leave the blighted neighborhood, which, Hynes said, is occupied by drug addicts.
"What we're doing is good for York. It's getting that element out of York," he said.
'Good people': Chrystal Sexton-McEachin, who works part time for the Northeast Neighborhood Association, said the neighborhood may have its share of blighted properties, "but we've got good people down here."
Neighbors communicate and help each other out, she said. In fact, there's a food and clothing bank on Chestnut Street.
On Thursday, Sexton-McEachin was supervising a group of volunteer teenagers as they picked up trash.
It seems, she said, like the businessmen are "coming in and just taking over."
She said it's true some people want to sell their homes and leave. But others, especially older folks, don't want to move.
Sexton-McEachin said she feels like neighborhood residents have been left out of the economic-development discussion.
"People are asking me what's going on, and I don't know what to tell them," she said.
— Reach Erin James at firstname.lastname@example.org.