Hershey Trust upsets neighbors

Bob Fernandez

In the summer of 2013, Tom and Cindy Royer bought two lots with frontage on one of central Pennsylvania’s premier golf courses, owned by the super-rich Milton Hershey School.

The family wanted to live on a golf course, Tom Royer says. And its 7,900-square-foot dream home on the Hershey Links course would come with a doored-off children’s study, detached three-car garage and a large home office.

The Royers didn’t know it then, but the Hershey School for poor children had other plans that would lower their home’s value dramatically: It would close the Hershey Links course and rezone it for student housing.

Today, Royer looks out his back porch not on grassy fairways and rolling hills, but into a bleak construction site bordered by a permanent 5-foot-high earthen wall of pine trees and shrubs.

“The (Hershey) Trust had a blank check to do whatever it wanted to do,” Royer said. “You have a gorgeous golf course behind these homes. You are going to plow that under and the value won’t change. What drugs are you on?”

Taxes: Royer has successfully lowered his home’s tax assessment twice since he moved into his house in August 2014 — knocking 45 percent off his home’s market value, or about $858,300, county and state records show.

At least five other homes around the Royers’ on the former Hershey Links

also have seen a decrease of 17 percent to 37 percent in their assessed value, county records show.

Hershey Trust spokesman Kent Jarrell said in a statement last week that some home assessments have been revised next to the former golf course but that the overall assessment value of 21 high-end homes close to the former golf course has risen

$1.7 million since 2012 — or an estimated $2.3 million in market value, based on state figures.

“Additionally, two lots were purchased last fall and consolidated with the new owner intending to construct a new home, which will further increase overall value,” Jarrell said. “We believe there will be continued long-term positive overall impact of the value of the surrounding properties.”

South Hanover officials who supported the Hershey School’s plan for a new campus in the town say that the charity can generally do what it wants with its land and that homeowners shouldn’t expect it to operate a money-losing golf course.

While long criticized for its board compensation and cronyism and for failing to do more to educate poor children, the Hershey School has also upset its neighbors and upended politics in South Hanover.

Many residents opposed the 2015 rezoning of the charity’s 200-acre golf course as tax-exempt for student homes and fear a deeper intrusion by the politically powerful school.