Lynn eyes taking land from GE by eminent domain — The (Lynn MA) Daily Item, 10/28/04

By David Liscio

City Council President James Cowdell is resurrecting his fight to take industrially contaminated land owned by GE in West Lynn by eminent domain, intending to use the sprawling acreage as an economic development site rather than allow it to remain an asphalt lot surrounded by homes.

Cowdell this week lashed out at GE for what he calls its corporate policy of stalling to avoid a costly environmental cleanup.

"Their tactic is to stall and wait for me to go away, but I'm not going away," he said. "GE does not take care of their properties. I have pictures that show weeds and asphalt and chainlink fencing as their legacy in Lynn."

According to Cowdell, the time has come "to put GE's feet to the fire." The city councilor Tuesday found plenty of support among his colleagues who agreed to vote on a possible eminent domain taking in two weeks.

"GE would be very happy looking at asphalt for the next 50 years, especially on Federal Street," said Cowdell, referring to a paved-over industrial site once home to aerospace instrumentation manufacturing, the ground beneath it contaminated by solvents and other substances.

"Delay. Delay. Delay. Don't spend a nickel in Lynn if you don't have to. That's how they think at GE," he said. "I've tried for two years to negotiate, to work with them, but now I'm convinced they aren't negotiating in good faith. I'm done. They're not even attending the meetings of the task force that was set up to move this process along."

Under Cowdell's plan, the Lynn Economic Development and Industrial Corp. (EDIC) would assume ownership of both lots on Federal Street as a result of the eminent domain taking and develop a re-use plan.

"The land is contaminated and GE should clean it up, considering the company has a budget that's more than most countries in this world. If they won't, we'll do it and send them the bill," he said. "If you stick a shovel into the dirt down there, it'll glow in the dark."

Richard Gorham, a spokesman for GE in Lynn, disputed Cowdell's suggestion that the company is not participating in negotiations or attending the task force meetings. "We've attended just about all, if not all of those meetings," he said, noting that John Craynon, the company's environmental projects manager, has been a key member of the task force.

"What (Cowdell) is saying is very misleading," Gorham said. "The task force was initiated by the city and the mayor's office and it has made tangible inroads. We have reopened Federal Street and more recently completed the sale of lots of Center Street, where housing is planned."

Gorham said GE invested money to environmentally clean the Center Street property, bringing it up to residential standards. "We made it clean enough to build houses on," he said.

GE also worked out an arrangement with the River Works Credit Union, leasing it land for additional customer and employee parking in West Lynn. "We even paved the lot for them," he said.

GE recently sold property on Cooper Street to a private investor who plans to construct a storage warehouse, according to Gorham.

As for GE property abutting Federal Street, Gorham said the company has received several proposals for development, including one from a limousine firm that nearly reached fruition.

"Lots of folks were frustrated when that deal fell through because it was almost finalized," he said, explaining that most proposals relate to the company's defunct Factory of the Future building on Western Avenue, once touted as a model flexible machining center.

"We've moved on from the limo deal and we're currently looking at other options for that property," Gorham said. "We want to find the best use and we're not lying dormant in our approach to it."

Unlike Cowdell, the GE spokesman said the contaminated land has value. "Based on some of the offers we've had for the Factory of the Future building and the lot beside it, I can tell you the property has value," he said. "Value is one of the things that has to be assessed in any eminent domain taking, and it takes time to go through that legal cycle. But at some point, value would be determined."

Meanwhile, GE continues to pump the groundwater beneath the Federal Street property though a series of filters as part of its ongoing environmental cleanup. And residential neighbors continue to monitor their basements for signs of solvent vapor.

"We plan to continue the task force meetings," said Gorham." We think they have been productive."

The Daily Item: www.thedailyitemoflynn.com

Court must limit eminent domain — York (PA) Daily Record, 10/28/04

Letter to the Editor

By Larry Aiken, Hellam Township

I am pleased to hear that the high court is going to hear a case involving eminent domain. There is hope that they can remind our government that it exists for the protection of the people and their property, not that the people and their property exist to benefit the government.

Homeowners in New London, Conn., are trying to save their homes from being taken for a riverfront hotel, health club and offices. The city officials said it's in the people's interest because it would bring in more money for the town. Using that criteria, if you own valuable land, the government can feel justified in taking it from you and giving it to someone else simply because that someone else may be able to give the government more money than you would.

In our own area, since 1999 the City of Coatesville has been trying to use eminent domain to take the Saha farm, which is located outside of the city and, I would have thought, their jurisdiction. All this effort is to build a municipal golf course and golf-related facilities (real essential services).

Locally, we have York County working on behalf of the Lancaster-York Heritage Region headed by the brother of our U.S. Rep. Todd Platts and with a county commissioner sitting on their board trying to take away the farm, homes and livelihood of the Kohr families to put in a park (real essential services).

So I guess the lesson we learned here is that if you don't own something but want it and the people who do own it won't give it to you — cozy up to all the highest government officials you can.

York Daily Record: www.ydr.com

Resident continues fight against eminent domain — (Long Branch NJ) Atlanticville, 10/27/04

MTOTSA resident says legal action against city likely.

By Christine Varno

For at least one resident of the [Long Branch] redevelopment zone, events of the past decade have turned life into a nightmare.

But Denise Hoagland said she won’t stop fighting to save her home from being taken by the city through eminent domain.

“I don’t want to be doing this,” said Hoagland last week. “It’s a horrible situation. I want to go back to my old life; I want to go back to being the ‘World’s Best Mom.’ “

Hoagland, [of] Ocean Terrace, resides in the city’s Beachfront North redevelopment zone Phase II, which has been slated for eminent domain.

Plans call for the 36 properties in the three-street neighborhood — Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace and Seaview Avenue, known as MTOTSA — to be bulldozed and replaced with high-end condominiums.

“My daughter asked me, ‘Mommy, if we live in a free country, how can they take our home?’ ” Hoagland said. “I answered, ‘We live in a free country and we have the power to say what is being done is wrong. And that is exactly what we are doing.’ ”

Hoagland, 37, and her husband, Lee, 38, bought their beachfront home in July 1993 when the house was vacant, overgrown with weeds, and slated for foreclosure. They fixed up the house, ripped out walls, redid flooring, gutted the kitchen, landscaped the yard and added a deck.

“We did everything,” she said. “There was not anything we didn’t do.”

The Hoaglands decided the house, and by extension their neighborhood, would become their home where they could build a family and raise their children.

For Hoagland, a person’s home is an extension of that person.

“So, your home becomes yourself,” she explained. “It’s a creation.”

Hoagland is raising her three daughters in their MTOTSA home — Daisy, 9, Violet, 7, and Jasmine, 5, and she said the thought of losing their home upsets her youngest daughter the most.

Jasmine was home-birthed because, Hoagland explained, when a child is born in the family’s home, it is welcomed into a caring and loving environment.

“Jasmine is the perfect child,” Hoagland said. “Her middle name is Joy, and she is the epitome of joy, and being born here has done that.”

Hoagland said the threat of eminent domain is crushing her daughter and her family.

“Jasmine cannot visualize the destruction of her home,” she said.

“She asked me if we left [the home], if the city wouldn’t knock the house down. That is how much she loves this place. She would leave it to save it.”

The city signed a binding agreement for developer status with co-developers The Applied Cos., Hoboken, and Matzel and Mumford Corp., a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown, for phase two in 2000.

The developers submitted plans to bulldoze the MTOTSA properties on Feb. 27. According to Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider, the plans are consistent with the city’s redevelopment plans.

“Nobody told me [when I bought my house] that in the future my home would be plowed down,” Hoagland said. “There was no notification.”

In 1996 the city began to produce its plans to redevelop the oceanfront and downtown Broadway area. Hoagland said that at that time, she attended a couple of the city meetings because she received a notice that her home was located in a redevelopment zone.

“We looked at the little plastic model of my home with the porch and the detached garage and the gardens, and it was still in the plan,” she said. “It was a revitalization. Our area was slated for infill.”

She said she has dedicated the past year to trying to save her home from what she says is the city’s abuse of eminent domain, and it has cost her money, time and separation from her children.

“This has been extremely stressful,” she said. “I do not work out anymore. I can’t. I have no time. I am not going to take any more time away from my children.”

On May 18, MTOTSA submitted to the city a plan the residents designed to save their homes. The plan calls for keeping their properties and blending the new with the old. It includes a commitment from homeowners to repair, restore and remodel their properties to conform to the city’s plans for the oceanfront.

Hoagland said it has become obvious to her that the city has not taken the plan seriously.

Several attorneys have approached MTOTSA who are willing to represent the residents, according to Hoagland, who said MTOTSA is preparing for the fact that residents will be taking legal action to save their homes.

“My children do not know what it is like to not be able to see the sunrise on the ocean every day,” she said. “Are they fortunate? Yes, but why should that be taken from them for someone else’s gain?”

Atlanticville: atlanticville.gmnews.com

MTOTSA group meets with developer — (Long Branch NJ) Atlanticville, 10/27/04

Residents support redevelopment, resist eminent domain

By Christine Varno

Residents of the Long Branch’s Beachfront North redevelopment zone, Phase II, have designed a revitalization plan for their neighborhood that one resident said has finally been taken seriously.

“This is the first time someone has really listened to our plan [to revitalize the neighborhood],” said Olga Netto, who lives in the redevelopment zone known as MTOTSA — Marine and Ocean Terraces and Seaview Avenue. “We are not interested in selling our properties, but we want to share our plans.”

On Oct. 21, Roger Mumford, president of Matzel and Mumford Corp., a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown, designated co-developers for phase II with the Applied Cos., Hoboken, held a meeting with MTOTSA.

Mumford could not be reached for comment by press time.

The developers submitted a redevelopment plan for the MTOTSA properties to the city on Feb. 27, which calls for the three-street neighborhood to be bulldozed and replaced with townhouses and condominiums.

The 36 properties in MTOTSA are slated for eminent domain.

“We support redevelopment,” Netto said. “We do not support eminent domain. Do not tell us we have to leave.”

Mumford sent a letter to MTOTSA on Sept. 7 to “communicate our [Mumford’s] desire to meet with you [MTOTSA] for the purpose of discussing the purchase of your property.”

MTOTSA responded to the letter Sept. 18.

“We are still willing to meet with you as a group, with the understanding that we intend to keep our homes, so we can assure you that we will not stand in the way of any redevelopment you wish to perform on land that you or the city of Long Branch owns,” the group wrote.

For two hours at the Ocean Place Resort and Spa on Ocean Boulevard, Netto, along with Lori Vendetti and Denise Hoagland, presented the overview of the MTOTSA revitalization plan to Mumford.

“We took the city’s original plan and showed how we can fit in with the plans the city already made,” Netto said. “We told our [MTOTSA] history.”

The revitalization plan was initially submitted to the city on May 18 and on Sept. 24 the group went public with the plan.

The plan was submitted with a list of the names of MTOTSA homeowners, all of whom signed a statement saying they wanted to keep and preserve their homes, according to Hoagland.

The plan includes a commitment from the homeowners to repair, restore and remodel the properties to conform to the city’s oceanfront redevelopment project, she said.

MTOTSA requested features to further the revitalization of their neighborhood including:

  • Information on how to qualify for funding
  • Year-round resident permit parking
  • Paving of streets
  • Sidewalks that conform with work being done in beachfront north phase I
  • Gas light or solar-powered street lights
  • Underground telephone and cable lines
  • Bike paths and open area.

About 90 percent of MTOTSA homeowners attended the meeting, according to Hoagland, who said she asked the developers to read the revitalization plan and consider keeping MTOTSA intact in the redevelopment plan by blending the new with the old.

“He [Mumford] listened to our plan and listened to our stories,” Netto said. “He [Mumford] was quite surprised that people have been here for an average of 46 years. It [MTOTSA] is a third generation of people.”

MTOTSA asked Mumford in the letter on Sept. 18, “Is your letter [on September 7] an offer to purchase our properties or an offer to provide a condominium in an ‘elevator serviced building’ in exchange for our properties?”

Netto said Mumford was very clear in saying at the meeting that if a MTOTSA homeowner has property of equal value to a condominium, a swap could be arranged. If the property is worth less, he indicated, there would be a problem, according to Netto.

A follow-up meeting will be scheduled within the next couple of weeks, according to Netto.

“Positive things are happening,” she said.

Atlanticville: www.atlanticville.gmnews.com


The eminent domain 'free fall' — The Roanoke (VA) Times, 10/25/04

By Reginald Shareef, columnist

I’ve watched with interest this fall as the U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of Kelo v. City of New London. The legal question here is whether a municipality, using the power of eminent domain, can take private property for economic purposes. The case is interesting because it will determine whether cities can seize a person’s property and transfer it to private developers to boost an ailing economy. At the same time, the case is redundant because economic development has been the catalyst behind urban renewal “takings” for the past 50 years.

As the French like to say, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”

What is different about the Kelo case is the “fig leaf” covering the economic development component of government takings is stripped away as New London openly condemned property that will be used in a private development plan. Heretofore, governments have used their eminent domain powers to condemn property in “blighted” areas, ostensibly to improve them. What a hoax! What really has happened is that these properties were turned over to private developers for economic development.

In Roanoke, we can look at the controversial Kimball and Gainsboro urban renewal policies to see that these were clearance, not revitalization, projects. Where neighborhoods once stood, businesses and other commercial ventures now exist. As I wrote in a 1991 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Renewal grant that studied the effects of urban renewal on these communities, economic development is at the heart of these initiatives and creates a win/win for private developers (who don’t have to buy the property and thus, develop it cheaply and then sell for a huge profit) and the municipality (which enhances its tax base). The only people who lose are displaced residents who often are not adequately compensated for their property as required by law.

In New London, Susette Kelo and several other homeowners in a working class neighborhood filed a lawsuit after city officials announced plans to raze their homes to clear the way for a waterfront hotel, health club, offices and 80 homes. The homeowners argue that the takings would only be legal if it serves to revitalize slums or blighted areas dangerous to the public.

However, New London administrators contend the condemnations are proper because the development plans serve the “public purpose” of boosting economic growth and thus are valid public use projects that outweigh the property rights of homeowners. The Connecticut Supreme Court agreed and ruled that New London had a valid “public use” to justify eminent domain based on the thousand of jobs and significant revenue that would be generated by the redevelopment of the 90-acre parcel.

The redevelopment plan coincides with a decision by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to build a nearby research facility. The property takings are an amenity for Pfizer’s new facility. The plan develops a “24 hour” urban village where Pfizer employees can work, walk, shop, drive and dine.

The model urban neighborhood in the country is located in Legacy Town Center in Plano, Texas, headquarters of the giant information processing company EDS. The town center features pedestrian-friendly streets, upscale boutiques, galleries, restaurants, theaters, a hotel and 640 apartments within a five-minute walk to EDS. The center is within a mile of other large employers such as Frito-Lay, Dr. Pepper and Comcast.

Urban neighborhoods attract the young creative professionals who drive the knowledge economy. These communities have sprouted up in Rockville, Md., San Jose, Calif., and Atlanta. Developers know that “if you build it, they will come.”

The major difference in those urban neighborhoods and the one planned in New London is that private developers purchased the land themselves to build these live-work centers. For instance, Legacy’s developer was EDS Real Estate Asset. Conversely, Pfizer is using the City of New London as a proxy to seize private property. That’s both illegal and unethical.

Pfizer could make Kelo and other homeowners offers for their property at prevailing market rates. That’s what EDS Real Estate Asset did in Plano. However, using the government to take the homeowners’ property under the “just compensation” clause of the 5th Amendment will likely result in final settlements below what the owners could have gotten in the free market.

Talk about a slippery slope &151 government used to pretend it was involved in neighborhood revitalization when the strategic goal was always displacement and economic development. Now, the economic development cover is blown. If the Supreme Court accepts the Connecticut high court’s reasoning, any home or small business could be condemned and replaced by a project that produces more tax revenue.

If that occurs, we are beyond a slippery slope and in a free-fall concerning the 5th Amendment’s power of eminent domain “takings” and just compensation. Government should not serve as the middle man for property takings simply so that businesses can cheaply secure property it desire. Poor people have suffered under this constitutional violation for years. Maybe now, the high court will stop the 5th Amendment from being turned on its head.

The Roanoke Times: www.roanoke.com

High court decision on eminent domain could answer Waterbury's questions — (Waterbury CT) Republican-American , 10/25/04

By Nicolas Zimmerman

When Tony Bennett serenades Waterbury residents with the opening lines of "I Left My Heart in San Francisco" next month, the Palace Theater will join the arts magnet school and new University of Connecticut branch as a jewel of the city's $189 million downtown renaissance.

The project's boosters say downtown now joins the popular Brass Mill Center mall that opened near downtown in 1997.

Not so long ago the Naugatuck Valley Development Corp., the agency that has overseen the city's downtown revitalization, had a plan they said would funnel shoppers from the mall to the burgeoning entertainment district downtown.

The group had drawn up plans as early as 1997 to acquire through eminent domain more than 40 buildings — covering about eight acres — along East Main Street. Eminent domain gives government the right to purchase private property for public use.

At the time, city planners said they thought the ramshackle stretch of homes and businesses could better serve the citizens of Waterbury if it was redeveloped into higher-end retail and residences. John Lembo, then-project director for NVDC, said the goal of the project was to create a bridge to downtown.

But residents and business owners resisted. Committees were formed and public hearings followed. In the end, a Municipal Development Plan — a prerequisite for cities that wish to use eminent domain — never materialized.

NVDC's president at the time, John Michaels, posed the most pertinent question in this newspaper's pages: "If the tax rolls have the potential to grow, should we clean up East Main Street, add to the tax rolls, or let it sit there?"

Seven years later Michaels' question will finally get a response. Next month attorneys for a group of New London residents will argue that growing the tax rolls — even for economically depressed cities — does not justify a "public use" under eminent domain law.

In the New London case, the city has tried to use eminent domain to develop a residential neighborhood adjacent to pharmaceutical giant Pfizer's new $270 million research facility. The city has argued that the project, which would include a hotel, upscale housing, private offices and more, would benefit the public by generating more jobs and tax revenues than the homes and modest business there now.

The plan called for the city to buy the 90 acres of land that comprised the Fort Trumbull neighborhood, and then lease it to private developers. Ted Taub, a Florida lawyer specializing in real estate and land-use law, said eminent domain has traditionally been used for two purposes: for public projects like roads and schools, or to clear severely distressed slums. The New London case represents neither.

Taub said he thinks the Supreme Court is likely to raise the standard cities must meet to show a redevelopment project serves a "public good."

In its brief to the Supreme Court, attorneys for the New London residents warn of the dangers of the so-called "best use" interpretation of eminent domain laws. Since all homes and small businesses generate fewer tax dollars and jobs than do large businesses, they argue that no individual will be safe if the court rules in favor of the city of New London.

If that is the ruling, Waterbury could seek to resurrect its plans for East Main Street. Lembo said East Main Street could still be a valuable asset to the downtown revitalization plan.

"It's an area that would work to the advantage as a gateway to the downtown area and it's certainly in need of rehab," he said. "But how it's going to be rehabilitated is on the shelf."

But, he added, "It's hard to move forward with a Municipal Development Plan unless you have the support of the community."

J. Paul Vance Jr., president of the Waterbury Board of Aldermen, said he doesn't think the New London decision will have much impact on Waterbury — no matter which way the court rules.

Vance said Waterbury is ahead of the curve when it comes to economic revitalization, thanks to the magnet school, UConn and the reopening of the Palace Theater on the horizon. The best way to lure business to Waterbury, he said, is to get people downtown so they can see that it's safe, lively and has plenty of parking.

Republican-American: www.rep-am.com


City may resort to eminent domain — (Dallas-Ft Worth TX) Star-Telegram, 10/25/04

By Robert Cadwallader

Beyond the trees and pond and the wandering cattle on Wanda Allen's property, the city [of Mansfield TX] is preparing for the biggest economic-development project it has ever undertaken.

The city says it needs a piece of her property to complete its vision of a 100-acre development that would include a Big League Dreams baseball complex, retail and commercial uses and upscale apartments and town homes at U.S. 287 and East Broad Street.

But the 67-year-old is refusing to sell the 2 1/2 acres the city wants. If she doesn't, officials say, they have no choice but to try to take it.

"I don't have my land up for sale, for one thing," said Allen, who turns 68 this week. "This is where I raised my family. And I don't want a Big League Dreams in my backdoor."

Allen has turned down the project developer's offer of more than $400,000 for the 2 1/2 acres at the back of her property, which the city considers crucial to keeping the development on track. With that offer now expired, the City Council has decided to make a final offer to Allen — a market-value figure of about $60,000.

If she rejects that, the city will seek to force her to sell by initiating eminent-domain proceedings, under which a city may take property for the betterment of the community.

The confrontation has rallied Allen's neighbors and others. They are hoping for a large turnout at tonight's City Council meeting to speak out against the eminent-domain threat and the project itself. The issue is not on the agenda for consideration at the 7 p.m. meeting at City Hall, 1200 E. Broad St., but residents are allowed to speak at the beginning of council meetings.

"It was a hard decision," said Councilman Marvin Kahlden, who voted with a 5-2 council majority Oct. 11 for making the final offer. "We had to consider the benefits for all the citizens of Mansfield and the quality of life it was going to bring."

The city said it needs about 6 acres from Allen and two other Carlin Road residents to complete the land acquisition needed for the ball fields. City Manager Clayton Chandler said that the other two residents had signed contracts to sell and that Allen was the only holdout. But one of the two owners, Steve Nelson, said Sunday that he is still negotiating.

Gene and Ann Robertson said they turned down $600,000 for 3 1/2 acres, which prompted planners to tweak the design to exclude their property.

The Big League Dreams facility, which will be owned by the city and privately operated and maintained, is the 40-acre centerpiece of the project. Allen's case has rekindled complaints about the deal, including that its approval in April followed little public discussion. Officials said most of their work — pursuing land acquisition and commercial investment — required secrecy.

Several officials of youth sports groups still have lingering concerns, including tougher limits on alcohol sales at games. "There is some tweaking needed," said Greg Kunasek, a youth-league coach.

Landing the $22 million baseball complex quickly sparked developer interest in the adjoining 60 acres. The 60-acre mixed-use development, when built out years from now, would generate about $6 million annually in sales taxes and property taxes, said Laurie Gillespie, the city economic-development director.

The city already owns some land for the project that used to belong to Allen. She sold 26 acres to a residential developer early this year for $1.1 million, and the developer sold it to the city for about $1.4 million.

Two council members — Mary Ann Johnston and Tracy Doyle — voted against the council action to threaten a forced sale of Allen's 2 1/2 acres.

"I don't believe the government should be able to go through eminent domain for commercial purposes," Doyle said.

Several residents cited a pending Supreme Court case on the authority of a city to take land for use in a private venture. But Mansfield city attorneys assured the council that the case would have no bearing here because the land the city is pursuing is for the Big League Dreams facility — which will be owned by the city — and not for the adjoining commercial development.

City Councilman Jeff Newberry said the stakes are high in the Mansfield project.

"Sometimes eminent domain is a necessary evil."

The Star-telegram: www.dfw.com


Riverfront planners watching high court eminent domain case — (Memphis TN) Commercial Appeal, 10/24/04

By Tom Charlier

A Connecticut legal battle that has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court could help determine whether Memphis uses eminent domain to seize the downtown acreage it covets for an expansive riverfront redevelopment.

The high court late last month agreed to hear a case arising from a waterfront development project in New London, Conn., that bears similarities to the one envisioned in a 50-year, $292 million plan of improvements along the Mississippi River in Memphis.

Proponents and critics of the plan say they'll be watching the court's ruling in the New London case because it's likely to determine when and how governments may seize private property for economic development projects.

"I think it will be very telling," said John Gary, vice president of Friends for Our Riverfront, a group that has opposed portions of the plan set forth by the Riverfront Development Corp., the nonprofit group guiding the city's efforts to remake its waterfront.

While stressing that he'd prefer to use other means to obtain property, RDC president Benny Lendermon said eminent domain is "an option that we've always considered."

The New London case, he said, "may have some bearing on it, one way or another."

The Connecticut dispute began when officials announced plans to raze a working-class neighborhood to make way for a hotel, health club and offices along the Thames River. As in the Memphis proposal, a major goal of the development is to attract people to the waterfront.

However, several homeowners sued, calling the plan an unjustified taking of their property. The Connecticut Supreme Court, in a ruling earlier this year, sided with the city's claims that the promise of additional tax revenue justified the condemnation of the waterfront property.

The New London case is the latest of several focusing on eminent domain. It follows a Michigan Supreme Court ruling this year that overturned a two-decade-old decision allowing Detroit to raze an ethnic neighborhood to accommodate an auto plant.

With more and more cities turning to redevelopment projects to boost their sagging budgets, the Connecticut case has ramifications nationwide, officials say.

Municipal leaders argue that cities should be able to use eminent domain to revitalize downtowns and neighborhoods.

"If the court takes away this tool that has 50 years of precedence, where will cities find the revenues to do the things they are legislatively charged to do?" said David Parkhurst, principal legislative counsel for the National League of Cities.

But property rights groups contend that in employing condemnation, cities often have strayed from their constitutional charge to transfer the property for public use. In thousands of cases, the private land has been taken for the benefit of private developers and businesses, said Bert Gall, a staff attorney for the Institute of Justice in Washington, which is representing the New London homeowners.

"Public use is not condominiums. It's not offices, it's not retail," Gall said.

In Memphis, the plan pursued by the RDC would revamp a five-mile stretch of the riverfront. It includes mixed-used commercial development, including high-rise towers, in the historic promenade area along Front Street, construction of a lake and a 50-acre land bridge to Mud Island and redevelopment of current industrial sites.

In a recent report assessing the RDC plan, the Urban Land Institute raised the prospect that eminent domain might be needed.

"Given the critical amounts of land needed for riverfront development, this tool may become important to the RDC," the institute's report said.

Still, RDC officials say they'll try to avoid condemnation. To obtain the promenade area, they plan to negotiate with the heirs to the Memphis founders who set it aside for public use.

"I'd rather not even have to consider it (eminent domain)," said John W. Stokes, chairman of the RDC board.

Lendermon said he remains confident the promenade area can be acquired without eminent domain. He said a condemnation case there would be "very convoluted" because the owners — the founders' heirs — number in the hundreds and don't have direct use of the land because of an easement held by the city.

"You're condemning these rights that are somewhat nebulous," Lendermon said.

Other areas where the city might have to condemn land for the riverfront project include the industries along the Wolf River harbor.

RDC officials say the court's ruling in the New London case, which is expected as early as next summer, will provide some needed guidelines on the use of eminent domain.

"I think the pendulum has swung away from condemnations that used to go through pretty easily," Stokes said.

Commercial Appeal: www.commercialappeal.com