Normal Files Suit to Buy Property

Sites sought for downtown redevelopment

By M. K. Guetersloh

Efforts by the town of Normal to negotiate the purchase of several downtown properties apparently ended Thursday with the town filing four eminent domain lawsuits in McLean County Circuit Court.

In the lawsuits, the town said it wants to acquire 103 Broadway, 207 S. Fell Ave., 211 and 213 North St., 104 Parkinson St. and 201-203 W. Beaufort St. as part of its downtown redevelopment plan.

"This definitely is last-resort action," said Normal City Manager Mark Peterson. "The town certainly does not enjoy doing this, but it's our only remaining step."

Earlier this summer, the city council agreed to use eminent domain powers to get the properties if negotiations failed. Under eminent domain, the town has asked that a judge or jury set the fair market value of the property and compel the owners to sell the property at that price.

"It's not about the money; it's about the land," said one of the owners, Orval Yarger. "I can't replace the land I have for what they want to pay me."

Yarger, his brother, Bill, and Alec Wade have negotiated with the town over the properties they jointly own at 103 Broadway and 211 and 213 North St. The town offered $1.25 million for the properties and rejected the owners' counteroffer of $3 million.

The town and Orval Yarger also could not work out a satisfactory agreement over an exchange in land. A piece of town-owned property Orval Yarger was eyeing for the swap is not for sale.

"What is wrong with this picture?" Yarger said. "The town can tell me that their property is not for sale or that if it was for sale, it would be too expensive, but yet they are telling me I have to sell."

Yarger, who owns the Broadway Mall at 103 Broadway, earlier said the sites the town offered along Main and Willow streets were too far west for his clientele -- Illinois State University students.

A hotel/conference center is planned on land bordered on the west by Fell Avenue, on the south by Beaufort Street, on the east by Broadway and on the north by North Street.

A parking garage is planned at Fell and Beaufort, across from the hotel.

The town owns half of the property but needs to acquire 201-203 W. Beaufort St. from Jeff Brock.

The Yarger property at 103 Broadway would be used as a site to relocate the Citizens Savings Bank branch now at the northwest corner of Broadway and Beaufort.

Peterson said the town already has acquired about 12 properties for the downtown project.

Town attorney Steve Mahrt said it could take six months or more to settle the property dispute.

He said he believed it will be completed ahead of when construction is expected to begin on the hotel/conference center in July 2005.

The Pantagraph: www.pantagraph.com

Court Hands City Victory in Property Seizure Case

By John Nickerson

City [of Norwalk CT] officials are claiming a legal victory in their attempt to seize Maritime Motors as part of a massive urban renewal project, but the car dealership's owners are vowing to continue their fight.

In a 12-page decision released yesterday, the state Appellate Court affirmed the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency's right to condemn Maritime's two-story car showroom at 51 West Ave. and storage lot at 31 Putnam Ave.

The 10-judge appeals court unanimously upheld a Superior Court judge's 2003 ruling that the city acted within its rights to claim under eminent domain the property to make way for Riverwalk — the largest piece of the $350 million Reed-Putnam urban renewal project.

Peter Morley, owner of Maritime Motors, said yesterday it was "wrong" to use eminent domain to force out his business to make way for another, adding that he intends to take the fight to save his property to the state Supreme Court.

"It is everything to me. I don't take my responsibility lightly. I have to answer to all of my (33 full-time) employees," said Morley, who bought the properties in April 2000, nearly 17 years after the Reed-Putnam plan was adopted by the City Council.

"I'm not going to let them rob me," he said.

Redevelopment Agency Executive Director Timothy Sheehan said he was pleased by the court's finding.

"The court carefully considered each of the three areas that Maritime Motors appealed the lower court's decision on and I think we laid out a clear case that resulted in the affirmation of the lower court's finding," Sheehan said.

City officials have said throughout the 14-month legal battle that Morley's two properties are essential to developing the largest portion of the Reed-Putnam urban renewal area. Known as Riverwalk, the project calls for a 13-acre development of office buildings and retail stores just southeast of the Interstate-95 overpass at West Avenue.

According to state law, Morley and his Hartford attorney, Michael Taylor, have until Oct. 4 to petition the state Supreme Court to review the appeals court ruling.

Taylor said the decision erodes property owners' protections against eminent domain and he is "strongly" advising his client to take the case to the next level. Eminent domain law allows a municipality to purchase land if it proves a public use that outweighs a landowner's property rights.

If the Supreme Court decides to review the case, it would be expected to render a decision before the end of the year, according to Jonathan Bowman, attorney for the Redevelopment Agency.

The court fight over the property stems from the inability of Morley and Riverwalk's developer, Fred French, to come to terms on the price of the two properties totaling 1.6 acres.

Timon Malloy, president of Stamford-based Fred F. French Investing LLC, said yesterday that Morley was offered the appraised value on the property plus a premium. Malloy declined to disclose the amount of that offer.

Plans call for using part of Morley's showroom property to widen West Avenue to provide two eastbound turning lanes onto Reed Street, which will be widened from two lanes to five. Morley's smaller Putnam Street storage property will be used to extend Reed Street to run under the Metro North railroad tracks, which will connect Riverwalk with the city's waterfront.

The appeal held that the city did not attempt to integrate Maritime's property into the redevelopment plan; that reasonable steps had not been taken to acquire the properties by negotiation; and a new finding of blight was needed in the area after the 1983 redevelopment plan was amended in 1998.

In its decision, the Appellate Court sided against Morley on each of the three issues.

The court noted that under the Reed-Putnam plan, property within the area cannot be used for an automobile showroom; as a result, the city had no responsibility to try to include such a building in the plan.

"To require a redevelopment agency to consider the integration of property that contains a prohibited use under the redevelopment plan would defeat the intent of redevelopment," the opinion stated.

The court also found that the Redevelopment Agency "exhausted all reasonable efforts to obtain the plaintiff's properties by agreement."

Finally, the Appellate Court found that the Redevelopment Agency was not required to make a new finding of blight when it amended the 1983 plan "because the modifications were not substantial."

When asked about the case going to the Supreme Court, Sheehan declined comment, except to say that he looked forward to engaging in dialogue with Maritime Motors on the settlement.

Sheehan would not speculate on what the city plans to do if Morley does not turn the property over.

Taylor, however, said he was "troubled by the decision."

"There are supposed to be safeguards to protect people from the government taking their property. And I think with this decision, the Appellate Court has substantially weakened those protections," Taylor said.

Specifically, Taylor said the court's ruling that the Redevelopment Agency had no responsibility to include Maritime Motors in its urban renewal plan simply because it was not an approved use was shortsighted.

"We say that is wrong. The check on the Redevelopment Agency's authority is gone if all it has to do is decide existing uses aren't in the plan area. . . . There is no limit to their authority," Taylor said.

Redevelopment Agency attorney Jonathan Bowman, said he believed the Appellate Court did not erode any landowner safeguards with the decision.

"I think the decision was correct on all three issues. And this is the second court to find the exact same way. These issues were raised at trial court. We now have four judges seeing it the same way," said Bowman, from his Cohen and Wolf PC office in Bridgeport.

Bowman added that if the Supreme Court were to take the case, they should have a decision a few weeks later.

"If they run out the string (of appeals), it won't take a long time here," Bowman said.

The Stamford Advocate: www.stamfordadvocate.com
LA Lawyer

Beware 'Grass-Roots Tyranny'

By Bill Steigerwald

Any citizen who has run afoul of a zealous township zoning officer knows local government can be just as dangerous to liberty as the federal government. What most people don't realize is that local government has been growing exponentially in size, scope and power.

Clint Bolick is all too familiar with what he calls "grass-roots tyranny." An attorney, he spent much of the 1990s working for school choice and defending property owners in Pittsburgh and elsewhere from eminent domain abuse with the libertarian Institute for Justice, which he co-founded.

His new book, "Leviathan: The Growth of Local Government and the Erosion of Liberty," details how freedom of speech, economic freedoms and private property rights are endangered by the very level of government that we often feel the most but monitor the least.

Bolick, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, is president of the Alliance for School Choice in Phoenix, which organizes support for school choice programs for economically or otherwise disadvantaged kids.

Q: Just how big is local government?

A: Local government now dwarfs the size of the national government. Starting in the 1960s, it began to surpass the size of national government and it is now roughly 50 percent larger. So when Bill Clinton said "The era of big government is over," he was wrong. It just moved to the suburbs.

Q: You say it is "voracious, far-reaching and recklessly deployed" -- how so?

A: Local government has gone beyond the types of services that we ordinarily expect, like police, fire, schools, snow removal, to take on all sorts of powers. (L)ocal government is operating services that were never imagined, such as water-slide parks and other recreational facilities that are properly private-sector activities. The streamlined local government that provided basic services is really an obsolete notion.

Q: But we always hear local government is better than federal.

A: Right, and I think generally speaking that is true. The trouble is, most people don't pay attention to their local government. Turnout in local elections, whether for bond issues that can seriously raise our taxes or school boards that affect the quality of our children's education, are abysmally low.

Q: What is the gravest threat to individual liberty posed by state and local governments?

A: The greatest threat is what I would call "the invisible governments." The hugest growth in recent years is in the form of special districts and regional authorities that are not even elected bodies, and most people don't realize that they exist. They are supposed to provide specific services, like water, or electricity or transportation, but these governmental entities have the power to tax, to issue bonds and to confiscate property. There is no one watching over them.

Q: You are also talking about school boards?

A: Definitely so. It's hard to imagine a governmental entity that has more power over the lives of real people than school boards. And yet in many school board elections, you'll see a 10 percent turnout. That makes school boards very susceptible to capture by special interest groups like teachers unions.

Q: Is this growing power of local governments something liberals and conservatives, and not just libertarians, should be equally worried about?

A: Absolutely. Oftentimes local governments violate civil liberties in ways that liberals would find offensive. Oftentimes they impose social engineering schemes that conservatives oppose.

Q: What's an example of how zoning can do harm to individual freedoms and cause trouble?

A: Zoning can be used to exclude people with moderate means from communities. Minimal lot sizes and other restrictive zoning efforts raise the price of homes and often place them out of reach for middle- or lower-income people. So zoning is a legitimate government power than can be abused. ... We probably would not have to subsidize housing for the poor if we were more careful about what types of zoning we allow, because it is zoning that dictates the price of housing.

Q: What about metropolitanism? It almost sounds like you are arguing in its favor.

A: No. On the contrary, I think that although some services probably could be provided more efficiently on a regional basis, what we have seen in recent years is that local government has grown bigger, and the larger the local government, the less responsive it will be to the needs of individual citizens. So the blurring of city lines and the adoption of powers by regional governments that often are mysterious to the average citizen is, I think, an alarming trend.

Q: How do you fight this "grass-roots tyranny," as you call it?

A: In a couple of ways. People need to pay as much if not more attention to their local politicians as they do their national politics. Your local school board member and zoning commissioner probably have a greater impact on your life on a day-to-day basis than the president of the United States. The more sunshine we can put on local government, the better. Beyond that, though, when local government violates people's rights, people need to take their local governments to court and show that they will fight back. The court system often acts as a restraint on the overzealousness of local government.

Q: And privatization and homeowners associations and things like that are ways to supplant local government control?

A: That's right. Government should be looking for ways to privatize services rather than to expand the behemoth of local government.

The Tribune-Review Publishing Co: www.pittsburghlive.com/x/tribune-review/trib/

eminent domain


Make Way for $40M Mall

By Jaime Marine

The proposed building of a $40 million shopping center — near the Millville Town Center on Route 47 — has some local business people in that area concerned.

Over the past few months, city officials have prepared an ordinance which authorizes condemnation proceedings in accordance with local redevelopment and housing laws and eminent domain.

This ordinance — which would deal with approximately eight parcels along the highway including land where Pizza Hut, the Animal Hospital of Millville and the Goodwill now occupy — was tabled, but it is expected to be revisited at a later date.

The condemnation of these parcels would make room for the new shopping center and this ordinance would be a proactive measure to ensure the shopping center project continues should an agreement not be reached by the developers and business owners, officials said.

Michael Shaw, vice-president of retail operations for Goodwill, said he is upset at the prospect of losing the Millville store because it is an essential part of Goodwill's operation.

"It is a successful store for us," he said. "Eighty-three percent of the profits (from this location) go back into our mission for job education and training. We are not pleased that we could be losing a location."

Shaw said to his knowledge no one has contacted the Goodwill about this issue and he feels it would be possible, but improbable for the organization to do the same business at a different location.

"I don't know if we can serve the community as well at another location that is so convenient," he said. "We don't want to sell, our intention was to stay here and create revenue for the mission. At this point, I turn it over to the attorney and we will do what is necessary to protect our property or maximize what is due to us."

Council for the animal hospital could not be reached Wednesday, but a petition has been sent out which speaks against using eminent domain and says there is no reason the animal hospital and the shopping complex cannot co-exist.

Steve Durst, director of site acquisitions for Goodman Properties (which is looking to construct the shopping center), said the group has no intention of forcing businesses out.

"The issue is about fairness both ways," he said. "We should pay a fair price and they should accept a fair price. Our track record in the county is one of fairness and our reputation for that is beyond question."

Durst said the company does not want to see anyone hurt or sell for less than what the property is worth and he said they will continue to talk and negotiate with the parties involved and offer fair market value or above for the properties.

The group — which said they have received interest from stores such as Target, ShopRite, Kohl's, Pet Smart, Office Max, Office Depot and other smaller units — is expecting to submit a preliminary site plan within the next 30 to 60 days and then things will start to move forward, Durst said.

"At that point, real meaningful conversations will take place and hopefully lead to agreements," he said.

As for the issue of eminent domain that is something the city will have to decide on its own, Durst said.

As for Goodman Properties, the organization has sent a letter to the city relating their intentions and Durst said they will continue to have an open policy in regards to the property.

Vice Mayor Jim Parent said the city respects all its residents' opinions, but progress has to move forward.

"You are talking jobs (approximately 1,000) and ratables, and that is something we need in our city," he said. "It (the ordinance) is not an ultimatum by any means. It is a business decision that has to be made by the city and it is an option for every municipality. I think we have to sit at the table and further negotiate and that is why the ordinance was pulled."

Bridgeton News: www.nj.com/news/bridgeton

Egregious Misuse of Eminent Domain

EDITORIAL: Eminent domain

Within the next three or four weeks, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide whether to hear a case involving the egregious misuse of eminent domain by the city of New London, Conn.

As has occurred in many places around the country — including Las Vegas — the Connecticut city used this awesome power, traditionally reserved for the advancement of public projects, to transfer property from 15 private homeowners to a developer.

Connecticut's highest court upheld the clearly unconstitutional land grab. But state supreme courts around the country have been split on the issue — and in July, the Michigan Supreme Court unanimously reversed its 1980 Poletown decision that municipalities around the nation had cited to justify using eminent domain to seize private land and turn it over to a third party.

"The bottom line is this," noted Dana Berliner, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that fights for the sanctity of private property rights: "Homeowners and small businesses will not be safe until the high court issues a clear ruling that will end eminent domain abuse, once and for all."

Indeed. Let's hope the Supreme Court takes the case — and then rules that this pernicious practice does indeed run counter to the ideals of freedom and liberty.

Las Vegas Review-Journal: www.reviewjournal.com

City Threatens Eminent Domain

By Fred Guarino

The city of Columbiana is attempting to have the Summer Classics property rezoned from light industrial to a retail shopping district. And the city is threatening the use of eminent domain to get the property at what it considers a fair price.

Columbiana Mayor Allan Lowe said the city is in need of public parking for its retail district. He also said the city does not want a manufacturing operation in the heart of downtown.

Toward that end, Lowe said, a public hearing has been set by the city for Monday, Sept. 20 at 7 p.m. at City Hall to rezone the Summer Classics property from M-1 (light industrial) to B-1 (local retail district).

The city council will also hold its regular Sept. 21 meeting at 7 p.m. on Sept. 20 as well.

Lowe also said he has made a real estate agent representing the property (Henry Seibels) aware of the city's intentions to use its right of eminent domain if the city and the company cannot agree to a price.

Lowe said the City Council has already given him the authority to begin eminent domain procedures if necessary. And he said, the city has taken the first step, which is to make sure their are no liens or encumbrances against the property.

According to Lowe, the city had the entire 4.66 acre Summer Classics site appraised for $320,000. But he said the city only wants three of the total acres for public uses including parking, a small park and a community center for such public use activities as plays, pottery and art classes. He said those three acres should cost the city less than the total appraised value. And he said all of the facilities placed on that property will be for 100 percent public use.

Lowe said Summer Classics is asking $1.1 million for the property which he said is owned by the wife of Summer Classics President Bew White.

Summer Classics representatives did not return repeated phone calls

Lowe said there was such a difference between the city's appraisal of the property and the asking price that he called Seibels to make him "aware" that the "property could be subject to condemnation."

According to the finance office for the Shelby County Commission, the county paid $452,835 for an adjacent 1.68 acres. That land, between East College and Walton streets, is now used for additional courthouse parking.

That property was taken by the county through a condemnation proceeding and was purchased Sept. 1, 2001. The city of Columbiana has erected an electronic display information sign on that property as well.

The county's purchase price amounts to $269,544.64 per acre.

When asked about the county's purchase price, Lowe said he could not comment because he didn't know what basis was used to determine that value.

Lowe said the city's appraisal of the Summer Classics property is a "fair value" based on the sale of "comparable" property in the city.

Lowe announced the city's intentions to rezone the property and to use eminent domain if necessary following a meeting with a Seibels last Thursday.

He said Seibels tried to discourage the city from use of eminent domain and said of that meeting, "It didn't go well."

According to Lowe, the $1.1 million asking price for the Summer Classics property is based on the sale of properties in the Birmingham area. He said he tried to explain to Seibels that Columbiana property is not as valuable as that in Birmingham, Trussville, or even Calera or Chelsea.

"But it was apparent after a few minutes, we would not be able to reach an agreement," he said.

Also according to Lowe, Evan Dorman, representing Summer Classics, first asked if the city would consider taking the property and bearing the expense of debris removal if the company just walked away following the fire that destroyed facilities there.

"I told him we would consider it, but the offer was withdrawn," Lowe said.

Lowe said at a later meeting he asked White and Dorman if the company would consider rezoning the property to retail because it was located right in the heart of downtown Columbiana. He said Dorman went to Columbiana Public Works Director Hilry King to make application for rezoning.

Lowe said Dorman subsequently withdrew that application.

"On behalf of the city and for the good of the city," Lowe said, he requested the city's Planning and Zoning Commission hold a hearing to rezone the property. He said the Commission held the hearing and there was no public opposition.

"No one showed up," Lowe said.

According to a legal notice published in the Reporter, the public hearing on the rezoning request to be held by the city on Sept. 20 will be to receive oral or written comments for or against rezoning the property from M-1 to B-1.

Lowe said the city could not justify acquiring the entire property for city needs. However, the mayor said, once the property is rezoned, residents will be assured there will not be another manufacturing operation in the middle of Columbiana's retail district.

Lowe said he spoke to Seibels to make him aware that the appraisal the city received was "so much less" than the $1.1 million asking price that the property "could be subject to condemnation."

Lowe said the next step would be to get an appraisal by both parties (city and owners) to determine a fair market value.

He said if the parties can't come to an agreement, the matter will go to a board of condemnation to determine an appropriate value.

Lowe said the city has the funds to buy the three acres at a price less than $320,000. He said the city also has funds that could be used in conjunction with grants to build the parking space, the park and the fine arts center.

Shelby County Reporter: www.shelbycountyreporter.com


East Jackson Plans Worry Some

By Tiffany S Jones

East Jackson resident Catherine Haynes is concerned that the city wants to buy both of her Phillips Street properties even though they are not for sale.

"I don't want to relocate," she said.

Haynes' home is paid for and she has lived on Phillips Street for 20 years. She lived at 225 Phillips St. until last year's storms damaged her home. Then she bought the property next to it. She tore her house down and built one home on both lots.

The city is in the process of buying the homes on the odd-numbered side of Phillips Street as a part of the tornado redevelopment plan. Haynes, along with 24 more concerned residents, voiced her opinion to Councilman Johnny Dodd and Paul George, a planner for the city of Jackson, in a Tuesday night meeting in the Mount Moriah Baptist Church fellowship hall.

The city has been buying the properties on the west side of Cartmell Street, the north side of Chester Street to Camp's grocery store and both sides of Phillips Avenue, between Chester Street and the U.S. 70 Bypass, since July. The plan also includes Parkview Courts.

The plan will bring single-family homes and town homes to the area. George announced in the meeting that about 35 percent of the properties in that target area have been contracted or closed on.

"I've been contacting people on an individual basis and trying to work out arrangements to buy the property," George said.

If an agreement can't be reached, the city could still acquire the properties through eminent domain, where fair market value would be offered to the property owner.

The plan deals directly with areas in Dodd's district. He explained to his constituents that he felt the city's plan was a good plan and he did vote for it. He does, however, understand the people's concern.

"When you start telling people you are going to take away their property and they have been here for 40 or 50 years, that is hard to take," Dodd said.

Dodd said he is being the mediator and is trying to make this work for everyone involved.

"We needed to get some dialogue, so everybody could voice their concerns," he said.

The consensus of the group present was, "We're not accepting."

The next step Dodd plans to take is another meeting, but this time with Mayor Charles Farmer.

"They said they wanted to meet with the mayor," he said. "So I am going to talk to him to see if we can schedule a meeting with them."

Haynes and her neighbors still question the city's motives behind the plan.

"If it had not been for the storm, would they have been interested in fixing up Phillips?" she asked.

The Jackson Sun, 245 W. Lafayette Street, Jackson TN, 731-427-3333: www.jacksonsun.com
What is eminent domain?

Redevelopment Authority Said to Have Overstepped Its Authority

Allentown's Redevelopment Authority overstepped its authority when it condemned the decaying Colonial Theater on the city's main street in 2003, an attorney for the former theater owner argued Tuesday.

Richard DiMarco told a three-judge panel of Commonwealth Court that the authority had no right to take title to the building without a specific plan for its re-use, and had acted in bad faith.

"Is it appropriate for a government entity to exercise the awesome power of eminent domain when it has no intention of acquiring the property, as an enforcement tool against its owner?" DiMarco, attorney for Mark Mendelson, asked the panel.

Collins Brown, attorney for the redevelopment authority, said the property has been in decay since 1988.

"It still remains decayed and vacant," Brown said. "It lacks heating, air conditioning and plumbing. It is infested with cockroaches and rodents."

Commonwealth Court President Judge James Gardner Collins said there would be a quick decision on Mendelson's appeal.

Authority Executive Director Mike Rosenfeld has said the authority hopes to knock down the building to redevelop the Hamilton Street site, next door to the historic Old Lehigh County Courthouse.

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader: www.timesleader.com

Commissioners Hit Eminent Domain Decision in York

By Bernard Harris

Three months after exercising eminent domain to take land for public use, the Lancaster County Commissioners this morning condemned their colleagues in York County for doing the same thing. Lancaster County Commissioner Chairman Pete Shaub today spoke in opposition to the York County Commissioners’ vote in May to take a 79-acre parcel near Wrightsville.

The land, formally a part of Lauxmont Farms, a 766-acre horse farm, was slated to be an upscale housing development called “Highpoint.”

The York Commissioners seized the land on behalf of the Lancaster-York Heritage Region board, which hopes to establish a park and visitors center there on the bluffs above the Susquehanna River.

The Heritage Region is a cooperative organization made up of officials from York and Lancaster counties formed to promote tourism and preservation of the Susquehanna River front.

Shaub, a county representative to the Heritage Region board, told his fellow Lancaster County Commissioners today about Tuesday’s Heritage Region Board meeting.

At that meeting, Shaub cast the lone dissenting vote against a resolution supporting the York Commissioners’ eminent domain action.

Shaub said the officials on both sides of the river should be working together to preserve the river landscape. But, he said, he opposed allowing the developer to proceed for two and a half years before the York Commissioners stepped in.

The developer, Peter Alecxih Jr. of Graystone Construction, is based in Columbia. Three of the 51 building lots have already been sold, Shaub said.

“The building industry is our partners in Lancaster County when it comes to heritage preservation,” Shaub said in contrast to York’s action.

The York County Commissioners were in a public meeting this morning and were unavailable for comment.

Lancaster County and York County officials joined in the creation of the Heritage Region, which includes land on both sides of the Susquehanna River.

The two counties are supposed to work cooperatively to develop tourist attractions along the shores.

Shaub said that he supports the development of the Heritage Region park, but opposes the use of eminent domain to take the land.

He said the York Commissioners’ action differed from the Lancaster Commissioners’ vote to seize the Enola Low-Grade rail line.

There was popular support for taking the abandoned railroad bed, Shaub said, and it was done after six-to-eight public meetings to discuss the county’s plans.

Shaub represented the other Lancaster commissioners, Dick Shellenberger and Molly Henderson, at Tuesday’s meeting.

They affirmed his statements today.

Shellenberger said he is “generally supportive” of heritage preservation along the corridor, but, added: “I get very nervous about being part of that group when this kind of thing takes place, because I think it is fundamentally wrong.”

Shaub said he opposed the Heritage Region board’s vote in February in support of the York Commissioners because it had not been on the organization’s meeting agenda and was brought up and voted on without giving members “appropriate” time to take a position.

Alecxih is being supported by fellow builders in Lancaster’s Building Industry Association, who are reported to be lobbying on his behalf. His legal bills, reported to have reached six figures, are being paid by the Pennsylvania Builders Association.

Rich Brown, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Lancaster County, also criticized the York action.

“The taking of this property after two-an-a-half years of going through the process without ever hearing from the York County Commissioners that they intended to use eminent domain is a hardship to the developer, who is a member of our organization,” Brown said.

He anticipates that the matter will likely be resolved in the courts.
Lancaster Newspapers, Box 1328, Lancaster PA 17608, (717) 291-8811

Lancaster Newspapers, Box 1328, Lancaster PA 17608, 717-291-8811: www.lancasteronline.com

Toledo, Ohio, Tears Down Auto Shop as Owners Await Court Ruling

City crews demolished an auto shop as the owners waited to see if the U.S. Supreme Court would decide whether the use of eminent domain to take the land was legal.

The auto shop was the last building standing on an area of land the city purchased or acquired through eminent domain to clear the way for DaimlerChrysler AG's Jeep assembly plant.

The city and automaker want to acquire the auto shop's corner lot, which is a few hundred yards from the factory, which opened in 2001.

The automaker said the land may be used for a new parts plant.

Herman Blankenship, the shop's owner, said city workers should have waited until the court decided what to do.

The Supreme Court twice refused to delay the demolition.

The Blankenships are challenging the city's use of eminent domain, which gives governments the authority to buy and take private property for public projects such as highways.

A city law official said there was no injunction preventing workers from moving forward with the demolition Tuesday.

"We're under no obligation to wait for any further decision," said Adam Loukx, a senior attorney in the law department.

A Lucas County jury two years ago determined the property was worth $104,000. The Blankenships refused the city's offer to pay that amount plus moving expenses. They said rebuilding their business at a lot they own across the street would cost at least $500,000.

The city's agreement to provide land for the Jeep plant was part of an incentive package worth about $300 million to keep the automaker in Toledo.

The payoff, the city has said, was the 4,000 jobs that stayed at Jeep and spinoff jobs created by parts suppliers and other companies.

Detroit Free Press: www.freep.com

Use of Eminent Domain Threatens Property Rights

Book Review

Few phrases in the American lexicon seem as ominous, regal and potentially frightening as "eminent domain." And that's as it should be. The government's power to condemn and forcibly take a person's private property, even if compensation is paid, isn't something to be taken lightly or used in a frivolous or indiscriminate way. The right to one's property is a bedrock American principle. It should be waived only under narrow and rare circumstances - and when the power of eminent domain is invoked, it should be for clearly recognizable public benefit.

Private property rights are today under siege in many ways. But perhaps no more so than in the misuse of eminent domain by government officials dealing favors to private companies and interests. Evidence of these abuses has been anecdotal and fragmented until now. Thanks to the publication of Steven Greenhut's "Abuse of Power: How the government misuses eminent domain," we now have the most comprehensive, up-to-date look yet at this American scandal. Published by Seven Locks Press, it's available through amazon.com.

Greenhut is a senior editorial writer and columnist at a sister paper, The Orange County (Calif.) Register. He casts a wide net in trying to get a handle on a national problem. "Eminent domain creates an avenue for corruption," Greenhut points out, "as government officials get to play God with other people's neighborhoods and businesses, and can therefore punish enemies and reward friends."

"Abuse of Power" not only effectively illustrates the problem, but includes sensible recommendations about what can be done to curb government's land-grabbing enthusiasms. They include: requiring that any condemning agency undertake a rigorous cost-benefit analysis before using eminent domain; provide pre-taking appraisals to property owners; ensure judicial review of whether the taking is truly for a "public use;" making jury trials available in contested cases; and requiring full compensation for a condemnee's legal fees.

The Michigan Supreme Court recently sought to narrow the definition of "public good" to its original meaning, but it's far from certain the ruling will end such abuses nationwide. Surely, Greenhut's book will help strengthen the case for doing so.

Freedom ENC Communications

Kinston Free Press: www.kinston.com
la attorney


A Heated Dispute in Newark

Mulberry Street Landowners Fight $550 Million Project

By Marc Ferris

Almost every building along the Mulberry Street corridor near City Hall
here prominently displays signs protesting a proposed redevelopment plan.
Some state, "Let's Build Tomorrow Together" or "Save our Homes." Another
series features a red circle with a slash slicing through the words
"eminent domain abuse."

At issue is a plan by the Newark Redevelopment Corporation, a private
entity, and Hoboken-based builder Metro Homes to condemn 14 acres in the
shadow of City Hall and build an "urban village" of 2,000 condominium units
and retail stores with 180,000 square feet of space.

The development has been the subject of heated hearings before the City
Planning Board that are expected to continue later this month. The board is
authorized under the state Local Redevelopment and Housing Law, enacted in
1992, to recommend whether the area is "in need of redevelopment," the
statutory standard required to embark on proceedings involving eminent
domain, which is usually defined as the right of a government to seize
private property for public use. In this project, however, private property
is to be taken for use by private entities.

The Newark Municipal Council has the final say over the matter and can
modify the developers' proposal.

More than half the 65 property owners in the area have organized the
Mulberry Street Coalition to fight the project, calling it a land grab by
politically connected developers that would destroy a rebounding
neighborhood. Proponents of the $550 million project say, however, that it
will provide a shot in the arm for the decaying city center and populate the
downtown area after dark.

If the condemnation plan proceeds, the law requires the developers offer
just compensation, or fair market value, to the landowners.

"We will offer existing businesses compensation above and beyond what law
requires," said John Inglesino, a lawyer who represents the developers. "We
want them to be part of the project and welcome the opportunity to
incorporate them into our plan as long as it makes sense."

But George Mytrowitz, spokesman for the Mulberry Street Coalition, said
that trust was lacking and that no signed contracts had been offered. He
owns three buildings in the area, including one that houses Market Body
Works, an auto body shop that his great-grandfather opened as a carriage
repair establishment 90 years ago.

"There is a difference between fair market value and open market value
and we get nothing for the taxes we've spent or for future business," he

"The developer makes a lot of promises, but we don't want to leave."

Mr. Mytrowitz said that the project's history included some interesting
turns. In May, 2003, The Municipal Council voted 7 to 0 (with 2 abstentions)
to reject a request for the Planning Board to consider the proposal. But on
Jan. 5, the council voted 5 to 2 (one member abstained, and another was
absent) to reverse the original decision.

Records at the New Jersey Election Law Enforcement Commission show that
after the May 2003 vote, the developers, along with associates and family
members, contributed money to two councilmen, one of whom then changed his vote, and to Mayor Sharpe James, who supports the project.

The Newark Redevelopment Corporation, the records show, donated $750 to
Councilman Hector Corchado on Aug. 3, 2003, and $500 on Oct. 23, 2003. On
Jan. 5, he changed his vote as the council reversed its opposition to the
plan; that day, the records show he received $ 1,000 from Mr. Inglesino, the
developers' lawyer. On Feb. 4, he received an additional $300 from the
corporation, and on Feb. 5 he received $2,200 from Dean Geibel, a principal
of Metro Homes. On May 5 he got $150 more from Mr. Inglesino.

Mr. Corchado did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Augusto Amador, the neighborhood's Municipal Council representative, who
originally voted to reject the development plan but abstained from the vote
in January to re-introduce it, received $1,000 from Newark Redevelopment
Corporation on March 24 and $1,000 from Emilio Farina, a principal of the
corporation and a former aide to Councilwoman Bessie Walker, on April 4.

Mr. Amador, who said in July that he was considering returning the money,
said last week that he had no intention of doing so.

"It doesn't play a role in that decision or any other decision," he said.
"I'm not in favor of the project, but I will make my decision again if the
owners are not properly compensated."

Mr. Mytrowitz said of the donations and the votes: "This is all legal,
but what does it say? Pay-to-play."

Mr. Inglesino said, however, that "there are certainly no quid pro quos
of which I am aware."

Eminent Domain cases have been the subject of scrutiny statewide, in part
because the law gives broad powers to municipalities, said John Buonocore, a
lawyer for the Mulberry Street Coalition.

"The problem for property owners is that the law and the courts attach a
presumption of correctness to any municipality's decision," he said. "What's
going on in Newark is that they're putting the cart before the horse: the
developer saw an opportunity, got the city to go along, and then they're
trying to make this conform to the redevelopment law."

Scott Bullock, a senior lawyer at the Institute for Justice, a
libertarian legal group based in Washington D.C., argues that municipalities
abuse their constitutional powers when they take property from private
owners and give it to a private entity in the name of economic and tax

The legal tide may be turning, he said, citing a decision last month by
the Michigan Supreme Court that overturned a case in which the City of
Detroit was allowed to clear the Poletown neighborhood for a General Motors
plant. The court called the use of eminent domain for private purposes "a
radical departure from fundamental constitutional principles." The case,
originally decided in 1981, had been cited by other courts around the
country to justify broad application of eminent domain proceedings.

In Newark, where hearings on the redevelopment proposal began in July,
the Planning Board has heard conflicting opinions from consultants hired by
the developers and by the coalition regarding the neighborhood's condition.

The developers say that the neighborhood is blighted, meeting a criterion
of the law that allows municipalities to condemn property because of a "lack
of proper utilization" of land that is "potentially useful and valuable for
contributing to and serving the public health, safety, and welfare."

Along the Mulberry Street corridor, which consists of nine blocks and 166
properties, 60 percent of the area consists of surface parking lots, vacant
land and storage yards. Mr. Inglesino said the developers' case was
bolstered when the Appellate Division of New Jersey Superior Court ruled in
June that surface parking lots represented evidence of underutilization.

The area is sandwiched between the downtown business district and the
Ironbound neighborhood, which has experienced a renaissance in recent years.

The Mulberry Street area used to look "like a war zone," Councilman
Amador said. Though it is not a garden spot, however - broken glass and
litter cover some sidewalks on the side streets - signs of life abound. New
stucco sheaths several buildings and satellite television dishes perch on
windowsills and rooftops.

Mr. Mytrowitz questions the need to seize any buildings in the area,
arguing that there are plenty of undeveloped parcels on which to build. But
Mr. Inglesino says that the parking lots and other empty spaces are not
contiguous and that any meaningful redevelopment cannot be done in a
hodge-podge basis.

Jose Criado, a member of the coalition who owns the Pick-It Laundromat,
which inside the redevelopment zone said: "If you can condemn this place,
you can condemn all of Newark. Our roots are here, and we stuck it out when
no one else cared about the neighborhood."

In the end, coalition members may be fighting a losing battle, given the
siren call of redevelopment.

"My dilemma right now is that Newark is on the threshold of moving
forward, and a project like this could plant the seeds for change that will
lift the city for the next 30 or 40 years," Councilman Amador said. "But no
one should be treated unkindly by this process. The project is going to be
done, ultimately, but I just hope it will be done in a manner that is fair
to everyone."

The New York Times: www.nytimes.com

Residents in Limbo

Newark redevelopment stymies homeowners

By Jeffrey C Mays

Elly Martins says the six-family apartment house her family owns on Walnut Street in Newark needs a little work, and being good landlords, they want to do it.

"The stucco is chipping a bit around the sidewalk, the stucco on the stairs of the entrance is starting to deteriorate. I want to redo the fence because it's old. I wanted to give the place a face-lift," said Martins, whose family has owned the building for 27 years.

But for almost two years now, Martins says her family has been in limbo because the home is located within the Mulberry Street Redevelopment area, a 13-acre parcel of land the city wants to turn over to developers to build a $550 million, 2,000-condominium project.

City officials say the area is underutilized and could generate more property taxes while growing population by bringing in young, middle-class people to the planned condos, trendy stores and tree-lined boulevards. The plan is being called Newark's first "comprehensive urban downtown neighborhood development project."

The city's planning board is now determining whether the land should be declared an area in need of redevelopment, the first step in the condemnation process.

But this is the second time the planning board has started condemnation proceedings. The first was in 2003. Midway through the proceedings, the city council rescinded the planning board's authority to perform the investigation.

In January, the city council once again authorized the planning board to hold hearings to determine if the area was blighted.

Martins said the uncertainty has been maddening.

"I put new windows in two apartments, but what's the sense of doing the rest if the building is going to get knocked down?" she said. "My neighbors talk about this all the time. We just want to know. Should we or shouldn't we? None of us know."

City Business Administrator Richard Monteilh said he understands the residents' concerns, but he's thinking about the well-being of the entire city.

"There have been delays but it's worth it. In the end, this thing is going to be there for 70 to 80 years as a tax ratable to the city. It's frustrating not to have things move quicker, but it is better to do it this way," said Monteilh.

Current planning board hearings will continue on Sept. 27, but that's not much comfort to Elizabeth Rasteiro. She and her 72-year-old mother live in a seven-family apartment building on Cottage Street.

"Ever since this whole thing started, we have been debating outside work," said Rasteiro. "My fear is that I will lose the building and the property will be devalued. Throughout the years, a lot of money has been put into this house."

John Inglesino, an attorney who represents Metro Homes and Newark Redevelopment. Corp., the companies that will develop the project, says the Mulberry Street Coalition, a group of area property owners, and their attorney are prolonging the process by purposely delaying the blight hearings with unnecessary arguments.

"We empathize, but the reason they are in limbo is ... they are prolonging a process that need not duly be prolonged. We have been willing and able to meet with property owners and offer fair value for property," said Inglesino.

The 13-acre area is located near Route 21 and the federal courthouse. It is a mix of industrial businesses, small shops, parking lots and residential homes.

The city is arguing that the area is blighted because the abundance of surface parking is an underutilization of the space. In addition, the value of the structures compared to the value of the land is low enough level to be considered blight.

"There's the gross economic deprivation that the city suffers from the underutilization of this property," Inglesino said.

Lack of economic potential is one of the arguments governments have relied upon to use eminent domain to turn land over to developers for privately owned projects. Historically, eminent domain was used to take land for a public purpose, such as schools or roads. A few decades ago, cities and governments began arguing that taking blighted land so that more economically lucrative private developments could be built was a valid reason for condemnation.

But a recent decision by the Michigan Supreme Court reversing a case often cited to justify use of eminent domain for private development may help change that, said John Kramer, vice president of communications for the Institute for Justice in Washington, D.C.

The 1981 Poletown decision allowed Detroit to bulldoze a neighborhood so General Motors could build an automobile factory. The court's recent Hathcock decision overturned the Poletown ruling.

"Public use is now seen as a private use. Private use constitutes public use. Blight is in the eye of the developer and the government and not a useful term. It's a term of convenience," said Kramer.

The Institute for Justice found that from 1998 to 2002, there were more than 10,000 instances nationwide of government using eminent domain to take land for private use.

In Newark, eminent domain has been used to redevelop the city. The 24-acre Downtown Core Redevelopment plan includes an 18,000-seat arena for the Devils and plans for a hotel and office building. A plan to build an 11-acre Home Depot on Springfield Avenue is also the result of eminent domain. Residents of the area are being relocated.

Monteilh said the projects are necessary because Newark has no choice but to "grow or die."

"They are going to be better off than now. The residential projects and retail will make the quality of life better for those who stay. It doesn't take rocket science to see that the area is blighted," said Monteilh.

Residents of the area say it also easy to see that the deck is stacked against them.

The city already had developers in place before the area was declared in need of redevelopment. During James' last race for state Senate, the developers, their friends and families donated more than $10,000 to his campaign.

"How do I know it's a done deal? I know how tight developers are in City Hall," said George Mytrowitz, head of the Mulberry Street Coalition.

Inglesino said campaign contributions are not illegal. "It's not uncommon for people with stakes in issues to contribute to political folks," he said.

In addition, as a representative of property owners, Inglesino says he has a right to speak at the hearings and raise objections.

"This is an attempt by the opposition to divert attention from the issue before the city, and that's whether the area is in need of redevelopment," he added.

The Michigan Supreme Court case has given the Mulberry property owners more hope, said Mytrowitz.

When the condemnation hearings resume, the group's expert, planner Peter Steck will testify that the area is not blighted. If the area is blighted, Mytrowitz said his group may head to court.

On Cottage Street, Rasteiro said she felt the once-barren area her family moved to in 1975 had begun turning the corner.

"Everybody pours their heart and soul into this neighborhood," said Rasteiro. "These are working-class people who keep up with their homes and do the best they can."

The Star-Ledger: www.nj.com/starledger


Home, Safe Home

By Dana Berliner

Anyone who owns a home, a small business or a piece of property became much more secure in those possessions on July 30. That day the Michigan Supreme Court released a unanimous decision ruling unequivocally against government use of eminent domain to take private property because someone else's use of it might be more profitable.

And D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams isn't happy. At a press briefing, he regretted the D.C's power to take property might be limited and said he believes it appropriate to take economically viable businesses for "higher" economic uses.

In Wayne County vs. Hathcock, the Michigan Court unanimously overruled the infamous Poletown decision and caused a seismic shift in the legal battle between home and business owners on one side and an unholy alliance of tax-hungry bureaucrats and land-hungry developers on the other. Decided in 1981 by the Michigan Supreme Court, Poletown was the first major decision in the United States upholding use of eminent domain for "economic development" -- increasing tax revenues, jobs and the local economy generally.

In that case, General Motors convinced Detroit to condemn Poletown -- a neighborhood of more than 1,000 homes, 600 businesses, churches and a hospital -- so GM could build a new car-manufacturing facility. GM and Detroit's mayor claimed the project would produce more than 6,000 jobs and help restore economic health to the city. A divided Michigan Supreme Court agreed bolstering Detroit's economy was so important Poletown could be destroyed. As it turned out, the GM plant never came close to living up to its promises. At its height, it employed less than 60 percent of what it had forecast.

The Poletown decision rocked the country when it first came out. The U.S. Constitution and all states limit eminent domain to condemnations for "public use." Until 1981, that included condemnations for roads, public utilities, and to eliminate slums or severely blighted neighborhoods. But Poletown allowed cities to condemn property to give it to a private business to increase its private profits, on the assumption that business' success would economically benefit the area. The decision could be used to justify condemning any property at all. Whose home wouldn't produce more taxes and jobs as an industrial plant or large retail establishment?

Poletown was cited by other state courts in upholding eminent domain for private businesses. As Mr. Williams remembers from law school, it is cited in every property law textbook as one of the three most important and influential eminent domain decisions in U.S. history.

For 23 years, it has been the foundation of the most oppressive eminent domain practices sweeping the nation. And on July 30, 2004, the Michigan Supreme Court admitted it had been a terrible mistake, a "radical departure" from the protections written into the Constitution to protect individuals from abuses of power and the taking of their properties for other private parties.

The Michigan Supreme Court finally recognized what should have been obvious at the start: Every business produces taxes and jobs and contributes to the economy's health, but that does not and cannot mean all private businesses are now "public uses" for which others' property may be condemned.

Mr. Williams wants to use that same rationale to remove the current Skyland Mall in Southeast on the unsupported theory the city can come up with some higher economic use than the current functioning and viable businesses.

The mayor recognizes the tide is turning against him. The last few years have seen a growing trend of greater judicial scrutiny of government's use of eminent domain. The Illinois and South Carolina supreme courts recently held eminent domain could not be used for economic development. And other decisions from Arizona, Colorado and New Jersey also have struck down condemnations for private parties.

Yet other courts, in Nevada and Connecticut, recently upheld condemnations for private business development, relying on the Poletown precedent. The U.S. Supreme Court will decide this fall whether to hear the Connecticut case and if the U.S. Constitution allows razing a neighborhood for economic growth.

Mr. Williams sees the opposition to eminent domain for private parties as a conspiracy of property rights advocates. It is not. Instead, it's a movement of people who have put their sweat and their dreams into their homes and businesses and don't want to lose them so that someone else can own a home or run a business on the very same property.

In the wake of the Michigan decision, textbooks will be rewritten. Cities, including the Washington D.C., will be forced to reconsider plans to seize homes and businesses because maybe someone else could make more money there.

With this decision, the nation took a giant step for protecting people's rights to keep the homes and businesses they love.

Mr. Williams should embrace this decision as strengthening the rights of D.C. home and business owners. If the District wants true economic development, it should start removing obstacles to private development instead of getting rid of existing businesses.

Dana Berliner is a senior attorney for the D.C.-based Institute for Justice. She also is author of "Public Power, Private Gain," the first nationwide study of eminent domain abuse. Contact Ms berliner through the Institute's website www.ij.org.

The Washington Times www.washingtontimes.com
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