Medway to take house by eminent domain
(Bellingham MA) Country Gazette, 10/1/04

By Jennifer Pollack

[Medway MA] Selectmen voted 5-0 Monday night to take the historic 3.29-acre property at 2B Oak St. by eminent domain and pay $450,000 to owners Michael and Mary Narducci.

With an Oct. 15 historical demolition delay deadline looming, officials felt the need to act quickly to prevent the Narduccis from developing the site.

The Narduccis, while they cannot get the property back, will have three years to make a claim in Land Court and attempt to prove the property was worth more and settle. The Narduccis do not live in the house on the property.

On Sept. 13 only two of the selectmen were in favor of the taking and this week some voted for it with still mixed feelings.

"I don't think the town or government has any business telling anyone what they can do on their own private land," said Selectman James Galligan. "However, I do believe the house itself, the residents and the historic structure are important to the history of the town."

"When we use eminent domain we are at the edge of a slippery slope," said Selectman Raphaela Rozanski. "But I do see the value of that property for the town of Medway."

The Greek Revival home on the property was built in the first half of the 1800s and owned by Addison Thayer, who put up the dam at Chicken Brook, which formed Choate Pond and powered a stone mill he started across the street. It was later the United Shoe Mill.

The town has not yet determined plans for the house, but decided it needed to act before the deadline expired. Ideas were tossed around such as partitioning the property and selling the house with historical restrictions to a tenant who cares about the history and keeping the rest of the land for the town as open space.

The town will use Community Preservation Act money, authorized by the June special Town Meeting, to take the homestead. CPA money comes from a 3 percent surcharge on residents' property taxes and must be used to promote open space, historical preservation and affordable housing.

Prior to the Town Meeting, the town had offered the Narduccis the assessed value of $439,000 to buy the house, which they rejected without a counter offer. After the meeting the town offered $450,000, which was also rejected.

Mark Cerel, chairman of the Community Preservation Committee told the board on Monday night, "maybe (eminent domain) is the last tool you take off the shelf when there are no further options, but that's where we are right now."

"The downside to taking no action is the loss of a precious part of Medway in the heart of Medway," he said. "If that happens, we're all going to have to answer to future generations."

The issue was tabled at the Sept. 13 selectmen's meeting to give the town two additional weeks to negotiate with the Narduccis on a purchase price.

"An attempt along that vein was made and we're at an impasse," said Selectman John Williams.

The town sent a letter to the Narduccis on Sept. 22 asking them for a selling price and to postpone pending demolition to continue negotiations.

The Narduccis responded in a letter. "Seeing that we are not willing to accept your offers, I can only conclude that the Board of Selectmen has the authority to vote for or against the taking by eminent domain. We are powerless in the outcome of your vote," the letter says.

At the Sept. 13, meeting Cerel told the board he had been by the property and seen bulldozers clearing the land and standing ready to knock down the house when the demolition delay expired.

Several residents sent letters to selectmen supporting the taking and a packed house on Sept. 13 mainly voiced support with the exception of two residents. When selectmen voted on Monday, a crowd of a few dozen cheered.

After the vote Cerel thanked the board for putting their personal preferences aside.

Bellingham Country Gazette: www2.townonline.com

Supreme Court to look at eminent domain
Daytona Beach news Journal, 9/29/04

by Jay Stapleton

An agreement by the Supreme Court to decide when local governments may seize people's homes and businesses against their will – to make way for projects that produce more tax revenue – will not impact pending eminent domain proceedings here, the city's attorney believes.

By agreeing Tuesday to hear a Connecticut case early next year, justices plan to take up the matter during this term, which begins Monday and ends in June. Justices last dealt with the issue 20 years ago, when the court ruled Hawaii could take land from large landowners and resell it to others.

At issue is the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain, provided the owner is given "just compensation" and the land is for "public use."

A number of parcels along the boardwalk in Daytona Beach are in eminent domain proceedings as a result of being declared blighted by the City Commission, City Attorney Bob Brown said.

Florida is one of eight states that forbids the use of eminent domain when the purpose is not to eliminate blight. Florida law sets forth how redevelopment can take place and the powers of cities in community redevelopment projects.

In the latest case, Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed a lawsuit after city officials announced plans to bulldoze their homes to clear the way for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices.

The residents refused to budge, arguing that taking their property was unjustified.

Daytona Beach's Brown said he didn't think a decision would affect proceedings here because the New London case appears to be over generating tax values. "That's not what we're trying to do in our redevelopment," he said.

The goal here is to "eliminate the conditions that existed at the time it was determined blighted," he said.

Daytona beach News-Journal: www.news-journalonline.com

Supreme impact? Eminent-domain ruling could further complicate Charlotte project
(Sarasota FL) Herald-Tribune, 10/1/04A

U.S. Supreme Court case, involving a Connecticut town that tried to seize private property and turn it over to a private developer, has a familiar ring – and may have local ramifications.

The court agreed Tuesday to decide whether an effort to increase property values – and thus property taxes – is a legitimate "public use" that allows a government to exercise eminent domain.

The circumstances of the Connecticut case resemble those in Charlotte County, where the county government is seeking to acquire more than 1,000 acres of private land and resell them for the Murdock Village redevelopment project.

How the court eventually decides may make Charlotte County's project more difficult than it already is.

The U.S. Constitution and nearly every state constitution allow private property to be seized only with just compensation and for a public use.

But the definition of public use has evolved and broadened over the years to include far more than roads, schools, government facilities and other projects actually used by the public. Projects that provide broad public benefit, such as eliminating slums and blighted areas, have been allowed, even if they have also resulted in private profit.

Yet, some people see such seizures as an abuse of private property rights, especially when the definition of "blight" is stretched to include suburban areas – such as Murdock Village – that no one could rightfully call a slum. Some property owners in the Murdock Village area have sued, unsuccessfully so far, to challenge the definition of "blight" in Florida law.

The goal of the Charlotte County Commission is broader than simply increasing property values. The redevelopment effort is also aimed at controlling and directing growth and dealing with the county's legacy of hundreds of thousands of small, subdivided lots.

But if the Supreme Court tilts the balance more heavily in favor of private property rights, Charlotte County could face even more legal challenges – and perhaps successful ones – to its controversial redevelopment plan.

Herald-Tribune: www.heraldtribune.com

National City reschedules hearing on eminent domain
San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/1/04

By Elizabeth White

The City Council and Community Development Commission are scheduled to hold a public hearing Tuesday on a proposal to expand National City's eminent domain powers.

The hearing began Sept. 21, but the size of the crowd that showed up at City Hall caused hearing Chairman Ron Morrison to stop the meeting and reschedule it for Tuesday so everyone could be accommodated. The hearing will now be held at the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center, which is next to City Hall, at 140 E. 12th St.

The city has an ambitious plan for redevelopment over the next several years, and leaders want the city to have the power to acquire properties to meet their goals.

The proposal would allow the city to acquire commercial and industrial properties west of Interstate 805, an area of 2,400 acres. The expanded authority would not include any residential property, a fact that has confused some residents in the past few weeks.

Because of the overwhelming response to the public hearing, the CDC is recommending the city slow the approval process to make sure residents feel they have been heard, said Byron Estes, deputy director of redevelopment for the CDC.

Instead of trying to finish the process by the end of November, Estes said the city will take more public comment on Tuesday, hold a workshop with the community Nov. 15 and then look at taking a vote on the proposal in January. This timeline will go to the council for approval.

"We heard loud and clear," Estes said. "We really need to have more community involvement. We've heard so much from people."

The city has received about five written responses to the eminent domain proposal. About 20 people had filled out slips to speak at the Sept. 21 hearing. The city has also made a list of frequently asked questions available at City Hall.

The voting members of the CDC and City Council are the same. They usually hold separate meetings.

San Diego Union Tribune: www.signonsandiego.com
Elizabeth White: elizabeth.white@uniontrib.com


Panelists discuss eminent domain
Cleveland Plain dealer, 9/30/04

Groups examine Lakewood's, others' policies

by Thomas Ott

People who favor giving government power to seize land for new houses and stores pleaded their case Wednesday in Cleveland, but they won't have a say when the nation's top court hears the matter early next year.

Panelists at Cleveland State University exhumed and dissected Lakewood's Issue 47, which was narrowly defeated last fall. Voters were asked whether the city should be allowed to use its powers of eminent domain to take land after paying fair market value so private developers could build upscale housing and shops in the West End neighborhood.

A second panel discussed court rulings in other states that have restricted government's ability to force the sale of property, but those decisions may not be relevant much longer. The heated debate boiled to the top of the nation's legal agenda Tuesday, when the Supreme Court said it would hear arguments in a Connecticut case early next year.

Alan Weinstein, a CSU law and urban studies professor, predicted that the Supreme Court would back off "in a nuanced way" from a history of deferring to cities on renewal projects. He expects lower courts to get leeway in blocking eminent domain if property shows no obvious deterioration.

Speakers called for sensitivity to property owners who resist being uprooted. They also suggested dropping the "blighted" property designation, a potentially offensive term that may mean only that it lacks modern features like central air conditioning or a two-car garage.

But they said use of eminent domain for economic development must be an option if older cities with scarce open land are to bring in more taxes and ward off the effects of rising poverty. Attorney Craig Miller, who has been on both sides of the issue, said large projects can be thwarted by a lone property owner "who holds a gun to your head."

Speakers said the Lakewood project collapsed because it was too big. The 20-acre project would have demolished stores, 700 apartments and 55 houses.

Dana Berliner of the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit libertarian law firm in Washington, D.C., chided the forum's sponsors for not having any panelists who offered a counter view. Weinstein, who helped organize the forum, talked to Berliner about participating but said he excluded her because she refused to see both sides of the argument.

The Institute for Justice has opposed eminent domain on behalf of property owners in Lakewood and across the country. The firm argues that it is unfair for government to designate nice buildings as blighted simply because they lack modern features. That is a key point in the Supreme Court case.

Eminent domain, or the threat of it, has in recent years cleared the way for Eastlake's minor league baseball stadium and offices, stores and houses in Fairview Park, Garfield Heights and Shaker Heights. Parma Heights City Council has given preliminary approval to taking land for streets in Cornerstone, a proposed housing and entertainment complex, but Law Director Anthony Stavole expects the city to negotiate deals without going to court.

Cleveland Plain Dealer: www.cleveland.com
Thomas Ott: tott@plaind.com

Property-Rights Dispute Gets U.S. High Court Review
Bloomberg LP, 9/28/04

By Greg Stohr

The U.S. Supreme Court will use a case connected to a Pfizer Inc. research plant in Connecticut to decide when local governments can take over private property in the name of economic development.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal by a group of homeowners who say the city of New London illegally tried to raze a residential neighborhood to make room for a five-star hotel, luxury condominiums and office buildings near the Pfizer facility. The city says it is trying to reverse decades of economic decline.

The case will address what property-rights advocates say is an increasingly common practice: the use of government "condemnation" power to make room for "big box" retail stores, shopping malls and office buildings.

"It is a growing trend among local governments to condemn property for the purpose of raising tax revenue," said Dana Berliner, an attorney at the Washington-based Institute for Justice, which represents the New London homeowners.

The Supreme Court ruled in 1954 that government agencies can condemn blighted property as long as they compensate the owners. Thirty years later, the court said governments could take over property to break up an oligopoly on land ownership.

The latest question is whether – and under what conditions – officials can take over property that isn't blighted and doesn't involve an oligopoly.

Public Use

"If you read the language in those opinions, it was not limited to the specific facts of those cases," said Wesley Horton, New London's lead attorney in the Supreme Court case. "It was a general opinion about the police power of the state.'"

The appeal centers on the U.S. Constitution's takings clause, which requires government agencies to pay just compensation when they take over private property. The 15 homeowners argue in their appeal that the takings clause also requires a public use and that the government must do more than simply point to the possibility of economic revitalization.

The decision by the Connecticut Supreme Court, which upheld the takeover, "drains the public use requirement of the U.S. Constitution of any meaning or substance," the appeal said.

The city's development plan, enacted in 2000, calls for the takeover of 115 homes and small businesses in the 90-acre Fort Trumbull neighborhood adjacent to the Pfizer facility. The city also set up a private entity, the New London Development Corporation, to manage the project.

The plan coincided with the decision by Pfizer, the world's largest drugmaker, to open a new research headquarters in New London.

15 Homeowners

Pfizer isn't directly involved in the litigation, and its property isn't at issue in the high court case.

The company at one point committed to providing support for the hotel development project and guaranteeing a line of credit for the development corporation, according to Pfizer spokeswoman Kate Robins. Those commitments have expired, and the company has no financial interest in the project, Robins said.

The Institute for Justice represents the homeowners who have refused to sell their land. The group includes Wilhelmina Dery, who was born in her Fort Trumbull house in 1918.

The homeowners sued after the New London Development Corp. sought to acquire their property through a tool known as eminent domain. The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a divided opinion, said the city and development corporation were acting legally.

The justices will hear arguments and rule by July. The case is Kelo v. City of New London, 04-108.

Bloomberg LP: www.bloomberg.com
Greg Stohr: gstohr@bloomberg.net

Abusing eminent domain
The Boston Globe, 9/30/04

By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist

THE FINAL passage in the Fifth Amendment is short and to the point: "Nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation." Like the rest of the Bill of Rights, that provision was intended by its authors to keep Americans free by shielding them from unbridled government force.

The power of eminent domain is an ancient attribute of sovereignty, but the Constitution restricts it in two crucial ways: (1) The government can take private property only when it is necessary for a "public use," and (2) the owner must be paid "just compensation."

Governments and property owners wrangle all the time over how much compensation is "just." But the meaning of "public use" is clear, isn't it? The state can take private property to make way for roads, post offices, prisons -- assets that will be owned and used by the public. That is what the Constitution's framers meant by "public use," and it is doubtless what most Americans think it should mean. Anything more, the Supreme Court warned more than 200 years ago, would be tyrannical.

"The despotic power . . . of taking private property when state necessity requires, exists in every government," the court acknowledged in the 1795 case of Vanhorn's Lessee v. Dorrance. But the state must not exercise that power "except in urgent cases." The justices could not imagine a situation "in which the necessity of a state can be of such a nature as to authorize or excuse the seizing of landed property belonging to one citizen, and giving it to another citizen."

Alas, what the Supreme Court in the 18th century found unthinkable, the Supreme Court of the 20th century made lawful.

In Berman v. Parker, a 1954 case, the court permitted eminent domain to be deployed for purposes of what was then called "urban renewal." It allowed property to be seized from private owners in an inner-city slum and sold to new owners for redevelopment. "Public use," it held, encompassed "public purpose" -- and when the government's purpose was to revive a poverty-stricken, rat-infested neighborhood, property owners could be forced to yield.

But Berman's narrow exception soon became an open floodgate of eminent-domain abuse. Cities and states, eager for new development, began pronouncing neighborhoods blighted when they were simply working-class. Some went further, stretching the meaning of "public use" beyond "public purpose" into mere "public benefit." They condemned and seized private property on the grounds that another owner could use it to make more money, create more jobs, or generate more business -- all leading to more taxes, the supposed public benefit.

In case after case, owners have lost their homes or businesses to politically wired companies that convinced local officials to take it for them through eminent domain. In Topeka, Kansas, owners were forced off their property so that Target could build a huge distribution center. In Nevada, the Las Vegas Redevelopment Authority condemned Carol Pappas's commercial building so that a group of casinos could put up a parking garage. In Norwood, Ohio, five owners are being stripped of their property so a real-estate mogul can develop a $125 million office-retail complex.

These examples are drawn from scores compiled by the Institute for Justice, the public interest law firm that has become a leading champion of property owners threatened by abusive eminent domain.

Three years ago I wrote about the institute's efforts in New London, Conn., where city officials, in concert with the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, were aggressively using eminent domain to clear a vast swath of land along the Thames River. Their goal was to replace the homes and shops in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood with more profitable development: a hotel, a conference center, a marina. The Institute for Justice got involved on behalf of Susette Kelo, Matt Dery, and a handful of other residents who didn't think they should have to give up their homes just so Pfizer could enjoy a new hotel and New London could collect more taxes.

In 2001 the case was just going to trial; last March the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled in favor of New London's right to turn residents out of their homes for the sake of economic development. But Kelo, Dery, and the other Fort Trumbull homeowners aren't giving up, and neither is the Institute for Justice. This week the US Supreme Court agreed to take the case -- the first of its kind since Berman was decided 50 years ago.

That 1954 ruling weakened the very foundation of our liberty: the right to own and lawfully enjoy property. The reckless deployment of eminent domain -- the use of force to dispossess property owners -- is nothing less than an assault on the American Dream. The Supreme Court can end that assault by restoring to the Fifth Amendment's words -- "public use" -- the straightforward meaning they were always meant to have.

The Boston Globe: www.globe.com

Jeff Jacoby: jacoby@globe.com


High court weighs eminent domain
Associated Press, 9/29/04

Conn. residents sue, questioning "public purpose"

By Hope Yen

The Supreme Court agreed yesterday to decide when governments may seize people's homes and businesses for economic development projects, a key question as cash-strapped cities seek ways to generate tax revenue.

At issue is the scope of the Fifth Amendment, which allows governments to take private property through eminent domain, provided the owner is given "just compensation" and the land is for "public use."

Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working-class neighborhood in New London, Conn., filed a lawsuit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes to clear the way for a riverfront hotel, health club, and offices. The residents refused to budge, arguing it was an unjustified taking of their property.

They argued the taking would be proper only if it served to revitalize slums or blighted areas dangerous to the public.

New London contends the condemnations are proper because the development plans serve a "public purpose" -- such as boosting economic growth. It said these are valid ''public use" projects that outweigh the homeowner's property rights.

The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed with New London, ruling 4 to 3 in March that the mere promise of additional tax revenue justified the condemnation.

Nationwide, more than 10,000 properties were threatened or condemned between 1998 and 2002, according to the Institute for Justice, a Washington public interest law firm representing the New London homeowners.

In many cases, according to the group, cities are pushing the limits of their power to accommodate wealthy developers. Courts, meanwhile, are divided over the extent of city power, with seven states saying economic development can justify a taking and eight states allowing a taking only if it eliminates blight.

In New London, city officials envision replacing a stagnant enclave with commercial development that would attract tourists to the Thames riverfront, complementing an adjoining Pfizer Corp. research center and a proposed Coast Guard museum.

According to the residents' filing, seven states allow condemnations for private business development: Connecticut, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, and North Dakota.

Eight states forbid the use of eminent domain when the economic purpose is not to eliminate blight: Arkansas, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, South Carolina, and Washington. Another three -- Delaware, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts -- have indicated they probably will find land takings solely for economic development unconstitutional, while the remaining states have not addressed or spoken clearly to the question.

The Associated Press: www.ap.org


Marysville land-seize renewals draw fire
(Marysville-Yuba City CA) Appeal-Democrat, 9/28/04

By Scott Bransford

Leonard Jones isn't the only Mid-Valley property owner who cringes when he hears the words eminent domain.

Jones, an owner of Speedometer Electric in East Marysville, is one of several residents opposed to Marysville's plan to renew its eminent domain powers, which expired in November 2003 and allow the city to seize blighted properties for redevelopment efforts.

At a public hearing held last week, Jones joined a group of about 25 people who protested the city's plans, voicing suspicions that officials might abuse the powers in their quest to make Marysville thrive.

"All these grandiose plans they have for downtown, they're going to run into old-time property owners that don't want to sell," Jones said Monday. "This is a big boondoggle and all it does is affect good citizens."

City Administrator Steve Casey and other officials countered that the city is just following state and federal laws which require municipalities to renew eminent domain powers every 12 years through a process of public hearings.

"I think most people don't understand it," Casey said. "Eminent domain scares a lot of people, and I think most people are afraid of the issue."

Marysville wants to have the power to exercise eminent domain within its redevelopment area, which includes Marysville's southern end, plus another patch of West Marysville. The city designated the area in the 1970s, as it pursued several renewal projects such as the construction of the Mervyn's department store at Second and D Street.

Building Mervyn's required the demolition of several historic properties, and some still consider the project a mistake that robbed downtown Marysville of its historic character. Some residents fear the city will pursue a similar campaign in its effort to eliminate blight, Casey said.

At present, Marysville is pursuing redevelopment projects that could require demolition, such as a theater development at First and D streets and a Chinese-themed retail and entertainment district proposed for downtown Marysville.

However, city officials said Monday they simply want to keep eminent domain as a tool of last resort. The city has no plans on the horizon that would involve eminent domain, Casey said Tuesday.

"We certainly understand peoples' fears, but from the staff's perspective, it's a valuable tool in the redevelopment process," Casey said. "We don't expect to use it, we don't want to use it, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't have it."

Some opponents of eminent domain also claim that eminent domain powers are an infringement on property rights.

At last Tuesday's public hearing, Loma Rica resident James White called the city's attempts to renew eminent domain "one of the most unAmerican prospects that we've had."

James White Jr., his son, said:

"We certainly don't cherish the idea of someone coming in and telling (us) what we can and cannot do with a property."

City Councilman Paul McNamara said concerned residents need to trust that city officials will use eminent powers wisely.

"I can understand their concern, but I just wish they would listen to the explanations that have been given to them," McNamara said. "(Taking a property) is a last resort and something the city would not decide to do overnight."

Casey said city attorneys are currently looking at residents' objections to eminent domain powers. The item is likely to come before the City Council for a vote at a meeting scheduled for next Tuesday, he said.

City Councilman Bill Harris doesn't want residents to have the impression that a "government land grab" is underway.

"(Eminent domain) is basically something we have to renew every 12 years," Harris said. "It's unfortunate that some of the people probably were misinformed."

Appeal-Democrat: www.appeal-democrat.com

Masters of their Domain: West Harlem Takes on Columbia
City Limits Weekly, 9/28/04

Backed by Norman Siegel, local business owners fight to protect their property from eminent domain

By Bob Roberts

Standing in the parking lot of the Pearlgreen Corporation, a thriving industrial supply company located in the Manhattanville section of West Harlem, Norman Siegel declared last Wednesday, “We’re not against change — we’re against stealing as a public good!”

The September 15 press conference marked the addition of the newly created West Harlem Business Group to a broad coalition of business owners, tenants rights organizations and community activists who have vowed to challenge any attempt by Columbia University to utilize New York State’s eminent domain law to condemn and acquire properties within a 17 acre area running from 125th to 135th Streets, from Broadway to the Hudson River—the site of its proposed new campus.

Pearlgreen is one of the six holdouts represented by Siegel who have refused Columbia’s offers for their properties. Pearlgreen President Lawrence Greenberg said his company invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to expand its site and has no plans to move. “We were here when there was nothing,” he said. “Now, when things are finally getting better, we want to stay and be a part of it.”

What Siegel and WHBG fear is that Columbia will turn to the Empire State Development Corporation to side-step New York City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. Whereas the city’s zoning rules require input from Community Board 9 and the ultimate approval of the City Council before any changes are approved, the condemnation of private property by ESDC through eminent domain requires far less public scrutiny.

In New York City, talk of eminent domain conjures memories of Robert Moses, the public works czar who dislocated hundreds of thousands in order to construct massive projects like the Bronx Queens Expressway, Lincoln Center, and Shea Stadium.

More recently, New York and cities around the country have drawn on a 1954 Supreme Court Decision that broadened the idea of “public good” to include the expansion of privately owned businesses at the expense of others, even if the only demonstrated public benefit was an increase in tax revenues. The expansion of the New York City Stock Exchange, the construction of the new offices of the New York Times, the proposed stadiums in Brooklyn and Manhattan’s West Side all have, or will, involve eminent domain.

As Siegel explained, “The use of eminent domain has run amok. The time has come to limit the application of the eminent domain to public use.” Across the country, property rights groups and the courts are beginning to challenge the way in which public power is used to further private interests. On July 30, the Michigan Supreme Court overturned a 1981 decision that had allowed the destruction of a residential neighborhood in order to facilitate the expansion of a General Motors plant.

The extent to which the threat of eminent domain has galvanized West Harlem was made clear at the September 23 general meeting of Community Board 9. The board voted unanimously to demand that Columbia abandon any plans to request state-authorized condemnation. Columbia did not return calls by press time.

CB 9 chair Jordi Reyes-Montblanc, who works with low-income tenants within Columbia’s expansion zone, rose to address the room. “I cannot abide this,” he said. “It will not happen. They’ll have to drag my dead body out of here first!”

City Limits Weekly: www.citylimits.org


Skyland defenders oppose redevelopment
The Washington Times 9/26/04

By Guy Taylor

Residents and business owners rallied Friday in Southeast against a District-backed plan to replace a decades-old shopping center with new and more high-quality stores and restaurants.

Though many residents in the community support the revitalization, opponents of the plan, including those who attended the rally at the Skyland Shopping Center, said they fear being left with nothing if the city's plan languishes or fails.

"The government should not be allowed to take our property," said Rose Rumburg, owner of Skyland Liquors and a lifelong Southeast resident "They're saying [the plaza] is a slum and blighted. It's definitely not that."

District leaders, she said, have been unclear about what will happen to the conglomeration of existing stores in the center, in the 2600 block of Naylor Road, which includes sub and pizza shops, a small grocery store, a hair salon and an auto-parts store.

What's worse, Miss Rumburg said, is that the D.C. Council has authorized the publicly chartered National Capital Revitalization Corporation to exercise eminent domain over the shops to bring about the redevelopment.

Information posted on the District's Web site says the corporation will "relocate current tenants," and the Skyland redevelopment will be "a 240,000 square foot, high-quality retail center ... co-anchored by a discount department store like a Target and a supermarket."

However, some residents say there's no evidence Target or any major store is seriously interested.

"They've got no commitments from any business to come in," said Helen Higginbotham, who lives on Naylor Road and yesterday circulated a pamphlet she had written: "Eminent Domain, An Abuse of Government in Hillside."

Some Skyland business owners said they have retained legal representation, and lawyer Elaine Mittleman said she filed a lawsuit in July claiming the manner in which the District is trying to use eminent domain is unconstitutional.

Opponents of the plan also said existing owners and tenants likely could not afford to have storefronts in a new center and that the ripple effect would be the entire neighborhood, east of the Anacostia River, would become too expensive for residents.

"They want to take it from the black people," said Joeann Thompson, 48, a resident of the 2500 block of Naylor Road who said she learned of the plan yesterday. "They should leave it just the way it is."

Among the supporters of the plan are community leaders who say the eminent domain legislation is a justified way to bring about revitalization.

Kathy Chamberlain, chairwoman of the area's Advisory Neighborhood Commission and vice president of the nearby Hillcrest Community Civic Association, said the community "pressured the City Council to pass the legislation because there is no other way to accomplish this redevelopment."

"We've been trying to work with the business owners [at Skyland] for years," she said. Mrs. Chamberlain also said some Skyland merchants will be invited back to the new shopping center.

"They're not all banished," she said. "It will depend on what types of retail will work. Perhaps one of the hair salons would be invited to come back, for example."

Mrs. Chamberlain said one of the problems with the shopping center is that it has many different owners and no central management. "And we've had a lot of complaints from members of the community ... about loitering, public drinking and public urination," she said.

Mrs. Chamberlain also said residents have complained about a club in the shopping center that attracts an "unwanted element" to the neighborhood.

"We deserve retail opportunities that are of a better quality than what's up there now," she said.

The Washington Times: www.washingtontimes.com