Jeff Koons hopes to preserve several hundred acres of land in eastern York County. He wasn’t pleased to hear about a proposed power plant in the
Jeff Koons hopes to preserve several hundred acres of land in eastern York County. He wasn't pleased to hear about a proposed power plant in the area. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- File)
In Chanceford Township, there's a place by the river where fields for corn, wheat and soybeans blend together, punctuated by rustic farmhouses and narrow country roads.

To some, it's a work of art, crafted by generations of farmers, people of the land. It's one reason some residents cringe at the recent proposal by Free Flow Power Corp. to erect a dam across nearby Cuffs Run, flooding a reservoir for a pumped storage hydroelectric project spanning 1,300 acres next to the Susquehanna River.

On the cusp of the proposed site sits Old Bridgeville Road. Residents there point to a gated-off cross path, Eagle View Lane, where a millionaire artist from New York City, they say, sometimes descends by helicopter to his weekend escape.

In 2006, Jeffrey Koons, an internationally known contemporary sculptor, began scooping up what now totals nearly 600 acres in Chanceford Township, tax records show. He's on a mission, he said, to preserve the agrarian heritage of the county in which he was raised and shield it from development.

He isn't fond of the Massachusetts company's idea to nestle a 700-foot-long, 95-foot-high dike near his rural, natural oasis. He described it as almost artistic persecution.

"We already have a dam in the area. We already have a landfill in the area. Enough's enough," Koons, 56, said Thursday from Portugal. "If you want people to come to Pennsylvania, you have to keep it an attractive place."

Though he stopped short of saying he'd actively fight the hydropower plant, Koons said he wants to learn more about it.

It's one of several things he refers to as "exploitation." Just across the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, the two white wind turbines at Frey Farm Landfill at Turkey Point are visible to motorists on Old Bridgeville Road.

Koons doesn't like that, either.

"I'd have to say, in general, the exploitation of the land taking place is bothersome," he said. " ... The exploitation is making this an unattractive place."

Koons hopes to own parts of that place -- jagged-shape plots scattered along Douglas, Green Branch and Furnace roads -- for the rest of his life.

"This could be something tied in with my own legacy," he said. "We would just like to have a nice cushion around the place so we can protect it, preserve it, and have it be a beautiful place to go. Someday, possibly, this area could be part of some foundation. It's part of my cultural history, and I'd like to continue to share it with people."

'A special place'

The neighborhood landmarks in Koons' slice of Americana -- a few mobile homes and Camp Echo Trail Girl Scout camp -- aren't shiny or glamorous.

But they're fitting, perhaps, for an artist known for finding beauty in the ordinary. His works, some reproductions of everyday objects, often sell for millions at auction. In 2007, his "Hanging Heart," inspired by a Christmas ornament, sold at Sotheby's New York for $23.6 million. At the time, it was the most expensive auctioned work by a living artist.

Since 2006, he's spent about $9.6 million on a farmland deed collection, according to county tax records.

In May 2009, for example, deed records show Koons paid $2.5 million for four parcels totaling 167 acres. Those properties are valued at $148,470, according to tax assessment data.

Locals, many of whom are farmers, scratch their heads at the lofty price tags.

Jeff Koons’ sculpture "Hanging Heart" sold for more than $23 million at auction.
Jeff Koons' sculpture "Hanging Heart" sold for more than $23 million at auction. (Daily Record/Sunday News -- File)

"We're trying to figure that out ourselves," said Randall Patterson, who lives on Old Bridgeville Road. Koons, Patterson said, has made offers on his more than 400-acre farm, parts of which are inside the Cuffs Run project area and similar hydropower plant proposals before it.

"He's been buying up property all over the place. He pays outlandish prices for it," said Jim Jones, who owns a 67-acre farm, including a vineyard south of Eagle View Lane on Old Bridgeville Road and Kaiser Road.

"He started buying property, and I said to myself, 'How does this guy know? How did he find this little place out in the boondocks?'"

Koons has known for a while. Some of the land he's acquired, including a homestead, once belonged to his maternal grandfather, Ralph Sitler, who owned a millinery store on North George Street, he said.A one-time city treasurer, Sitler, Koons said, retreated each weekend to the 40-acre country getaway, Stone Fence Acres, where he rode horses, tended cattle and coveted the solitude.

In 1959, Sitler sold the farm. Koons was 4 years old.

Years later, Koons was in the market for a farm of his own. He and his wife, Justine, looked "all over," he said, in New York and elsewhere.

The search brought him home to York County.

Since then, he's expanded his lands, buying property under a name close to his heart. And Stone Fence Acres L.P., he said, isn't done yet. He's always looking to add to the portfolio.

Meanwhile, Koons leases his land to its previous owners, so they can continue the agricultural tradition, enjoyed frequently, he said, by his seven children and two grandchildren.

"Eventually, we'd like to learn how to farm the land properly ourselves," Koons said. "We're in the process of learning. The interest is really to protect the environment and heritage. It's a special place to celebrate and rejoice in nature."

Koons' works

Here are some of Jeff Koons' most popular and recognizable works:

1985: "Equilibrium," a series of works that included basketballs in tanks and framed Nike posters

1986: "Statuary," a series of readymade novelty items recast in stainless steel

1988: "Banality," a series of porcelain sculptures of cult figures such as Michael Jackson, Buster Keaton and the Pink Panther

1991: "Made in Heaven," a series of erotic photographs of Koons and his ex-wife, Ilona Staller

1992: "Puppy," a 43-foot topiary sculpture of a West Highland White Terrier puppy done in flowers and steel that's now outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

1994-2006: "Celebration," a series of works that celebrate happy occasions in life, which includes " Balloon Dog" and "Hanging Heart"

MORE ON KOONS: www.jeffkoons.com

About the plant

In November, Free Flow Power Corp. filed an application for a preliminary permit with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Free Flow Power will likely spend the next three to five years trying to secure a full license for the project, the company said last week.

If approved, the project would generate roughly 990 megawatts of electricity, according to the application filed with FERC. One megawatt can power 800 homes.

Mid-Atlantic Energy Engineers proposed a similar project in the 1990s, but it never materialized.

Between now and mid April, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is fielding public comment on the project.

To comment, go to www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp to fill out an eComment card. The project number is P-13880.

Also, you can send comments to: Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20426.

Also of interest

· Start Your Engines: World-renowned artist Jeff Koons drives into center of York's art community