Magistrate sides with Chippewa landowners — The (Cleveland OH) Plain Dealer, 11/4/04

By Terry Oblander

The Medina County [OH] Park District wants to buy a 68-acre farm on the west side of Chippewa Lake to save it from developers.

Its purchase offer: $530,000.

A court decision issued yesterday to settle a boundary dispute for the property may prove costly, though.

Maloa and Bill Palmer never really wanted to sell the land they had farmed for 28 years and hoped to leave it to their three daughters. But if they did sell, the land would become their retirement nest egg, she said.

Their price tag: $3 million.

Park Director Thomas James said the park board decided last year to go to court to take the 68 acres by eminent domain because the two sides were so far apart and so were the appraisals commissioned by each. Eminent domain is a legal process that allows a governmental body to seize private property for the public good after paying the property owners a fair price.

"There's little likelihood of a solution when there's that big of a difference in the appraisals," he said.

Maloa Palmer sees the court action as an unconstitutional land grab by the county park system.

The Palmers' farm is sandwiched between two parcels already owned by the park district 50 acres on the north and 320 on the south. James said the district just wants to preserve the shoreline of the state's largest natural spring-fed lake from further residential or commercial development.

Relying on deeds more than 150 years old that define the property in terms of "chains and links," Medina County magistrate James Leaver yesterday ruled that the Palmer property extends into Chippewa Lake not to the shoreline as the park board argued.

Leaver ruled that the property extended into the lake, giving the Palmers valuable rights to the portion of the lake.

Most of the land beneath the waters of Chippewa Lake is owned by Chippewa Lake Properties Inc., a subsidiary of Continental Business Enterprises Inc. In 1998, county voters rejected an 0.25 percent sales tax that would have raised $3.7 million needed to buy the 360-acre lake.

Meanwhile, the Palmers are pushing a plan to build 36 homes on their 68 acres and 36 adjoining acres. Medina County Planning Commission staff members have recommended that the planning commission disapprove the plan for several reasons, including the eminent domain action. But, Maloa Palmer said she and her husband have no intention of building the housing development, Chippewa Lake View Estates. She said the plan was developed to demonstrate to the court that its development value is much higher than the county's offer.

The eminent domain trial has been set for Dec. 8 in Common Pleas Judge Christopher Collier's courtroom.

The Plain dealer: www.cleveland.com

Woman Fighting Eminent Domain Gets To Keep Property — (Dallas-Ft Worth TX) NBC5, 11/4/04

Mansfield Wanted To Buy Woman's 2.5 Acres

A Mansfield [TX] landowner gets to keep all of her property after all.

The city wanted to buy 2.5 acres of Wanda Allen's property to complete a huge development that includes a public softball complex.

State law allows cities to acquire property by eminent domain, if it will better the community, but residents and neighbors opposed the idea, and Wednesday night, the Mansfield City Council agreed to look for another place to build.

"I don't think the city has a right to take people's land from them, it had nothing to do with the money, it's the citizen's right to fight for what they believe in," Allen said.

An architect is still working out the new plans for the development.

NBC5: www.nbc5i.com


'Wet house' plan relies on eminent domain — [Duluth MN] News Tribune, 11/2/04

DEDA approves a plan to take control of a dilapidated Central Hillside apartment building

By Peter Passi

Nearly two years after the Duluth City Council approved using eminent domain to take control of a dilapidated apartment complex in the Central Hillside neighborhood, the Duluth Economic Development Authority [DEDA] did the same thing.

At the behest of city staff, DEDA members approved taking the old San Marco Apartments, 222-226 W. Third St., with plans to tear them down, making way for a 25-bed home for chronic alcoholics. If all goes according to plan, Center City Housing Corp. will begin construction of the new $2 million facility, called a domiciliary or "wet house," this spring and have it ready for residents before the end of 2005.

Assistant City Attorney Bob Asleson explained that the city's legal authority to seize the property had been questioned, and it was determined that DEDA was in a stronger legal position to take it.

But DEDA commissioners narrowly approved plans to exercise its power of eminent domain, voting 5-4 Monday. Supporting a resolution to condemn and take the property were Greg Gilbert, Donny Ness, Jim Stauber, Russ Stewart and Russ Stover. Opposing the measure were Neill Atkins, Laurie Johnson, Timothy Little and Roger Reinert.

"I don't like seizing property or using eminent domain," DEDA President Atkins said in explaining why he would vote against the resolution.

But the majority of DEDA members were of the opinion that there was a public need for the project, and so far efforts to negotiate a willing sale of the property have been unsuccessful.

Mary Anderson, who owns the building, believes she has not been offered a reasonable price. "It's not fair," she said. "I've been paying taxes on that property for 50 years."

Anderson has been offered $60,000 for the property. Asleson explained that the buildings are unsound and need to be demolished. He said that an appraiser has placed the value of the empty property at $180,000, but it will take about $120,000 to remove the existing structures.

Paul King, Anderson's friend, said the city should rightly pay about 10 times what it is offering for the property.

The apartment complex has been cited for numerous code violations, and the city condemned it for habitation in 1998.

Stewart pointed out that there is a process by which Anderson can make a court appeal in pursuit of more compensation.

Asleson said Center City Housing Corp. would pay taxes on the property after the construction of its domiciliary.

Before DEDA can proceed with plans to take the San Marco Apartments, its action must be approved by the Duluth City Council. Barring any surprises, that should not be a problem, however, because DEDA is composed entirely of Duluth city councilors.

News Tribune: www.duluthsuperior.com

Eminent Domain Is Mere Thievery — The [New London CT] Day, 11/2/04

Letter to the Editor

By Mark Wickerd, Griswold [CT]

I watched the news recently and witnessed a family in Bristol [CT] having their home torn down to accommodate a new business. The town took their land through eminent domain to sell it to a business for less than it was worth.

The same thing is happening in New London and being fought in the courts right now. I am appalled to see towns and cities “stealing” the homes from families to supply the land to big business (Stealing, n., Taking (the property of another) without right or permission.) These people do not want to sell their land, so city and town officials are using eminent domain taking it for less than it is worth.

This is not what eminent domain was meant to accomplish. It is just city and town attorneys bending the law to accomplish a theft of property.

The rest of us just sit and watch, because it is not happening to us. We are no better than the people who stand and watch someone being assaulted on the street and don't come to their aid.

If you want to help, please check out Web site www.castlecoalition.org before you are a victim.

To all you city and town officials involved in these actions, just remember one thing. In the end, we all have to answer for what we do in our lives and may be when your end comes and you think you are going home, God just might say, “Sorry, your home was taken by eminent domain.”

The Day: www.TheDay.com


Cities watch eminent domain case — The Business Journal of Kansas City, 10/31/04

U.S. Supreme Court ruling could hinder urban redevelopment

By Jim Davis

Area economic development officials anxiously await a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on what they consider to be one of their most important tools — eminent domain.

The practice lets municipalities take property from owners with whom they can't otherwise negotiate a deal.

Jim Devine, CEO of the Lee's Summit Economic Development Council, said the court's decision could curtail municipalities' ability to assemble land for projects that will produce jobs and taxes.

Although Lee's Summit hasn't used eminent domain to assist private developers, Devine said the threat of condemnation sped negotiations to buy property for the SummitWoods Crossing shopping center. Lee's Summit used eminent domain to acquire ground for a new City Hall, which will open in 2006.

"It's a tool without which we can't do our jobs," Devine said.

Kansas City has been more active in its use of eminent domain. Last month, Jackson County Circuit Judge Edith Messina ruled that the city could condemn the former Jones Store Co. building south of 12th Street between Walnut and Main streets to make way for Kansas City Live, a proposed downtown entertainment district.

Earlier this year, the city used eminent domain to finish assembling property for H&R Block Inc.'s headquarters, which is under construction southeast of 13th and Main streets.

Andi Udris, CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Kansas City, said eminent domain "absolutely has been critical" to the city's sweeping strategy to revitalize Downtown. But Udris said the Supreme Court's decision won't affect the city's ability to condemn property that has been determined to be blighted. This finding already had been made Downtown.

The court will rule on whether cities can use eminent domain to seize property that isn't blighted. The case involves an attempt by New London, Conn., to take property for a development the city contends it needs to generate more taxes.

Udris said this attempt is more aggressive than Kansas City's stance on eminent domain. The city doesn't attempt to take property that isn't blighted, he said. A blight determination already has been made for the site of the Sprint Center arena, which is to be built northeast of Grand Boulevard and Truman Road.

But a national economic development leader said the blight requirement is cumbersome and adds complexity to cities' efforts to assemble property.

Jeff Finkle, CEO of the International Economic Development Council in Washington, said that having to find blight to use eminent domain adds another step to redevelopment efforts.

The Supreme Court will rule on a narrow issue, Finkle said, but he cautioned that a ruling in favor of property owners could have a wider effect that would limit eminent domain's use.

"There's always a danger that you're going to lose something you had before," he said. "What we had before was the ability to use eminent domain to clear slums and blight."

A Kansas City-area commercial development expert said the Supreme Court will interpret the U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment, which lets governments take private property for public uses provided that sellers receive what's determined to be fair compensation.

Kevin Nunnink, a managing director of Integra Realty Resources Inc. in Westwood, said he expects the court to require cities to make a blight finding before pursuing condemnation. This requirement would counter the direction taken by a growing number of state courts, Nunnink said.

The crucial issue becomes how blight is defined, he said. If the court allows latitude in this interpretation, he said the effect on Kansas City's use of tax increment financing and other public incentives would be minimal. Imposing more rigorous standards could prove more debilitating.

"That would be devastating to inner cities," he said. "It would encourage suburban sprawl."

The Business Journal of Kansas City: www.kansascity.bizjournals.com/kansascity

Interview with City Representative Vivian Rojas — (El Paso TX) Newspaper Tree, 11/1/04

An excerpt
By Steve Ortega

El Paso City Representative Vivian Rojas currently sits on City Council as the first-term City Representative for District 7. Rojas first gained recognition in 2002 as the tenacious spokeswoman for the Invest in El Paso Coalition. The controversial coalition vigorously opposed the proposed tax increment finance districts in the Thomason Hospital area. Spurred by her activism, she ran for City Representative for District 7. In May of 2003, voters elected Rojas to City Council in a run-off election. On October 7, NPT contributor Steve Ortega sat down with Rojas to get her perspective on special interest influence in local government, the transition to a city manager form of government, and her relationship with the Mayor. She also offers insight concerning the new “chief litigator” position occupied by former City CAO Jim Martinez and she weighs in on Dan Power’s sudden resignation from City Council.

NPT: During the previous mayoral administration, you were very vocal in opposing the eminent domain power of the proposed tax increment finance (“TIF”) district for the Border Health Institute. Was this the driving factor in terms of your motivation in running for a seat on City Council?

REPRESENTATIVE ROJAS: First of all, I want to make it clear that I was not an opponent of the Border Health Institute. That is a misconception that was made by the previous administration, who was in disagreement with me about the TIFs. As I became more educated about the TIFs, I strongly opposed them because they were removing the right of the property owners to negotiate the sale (price) of their property. I also found out that the neighborhood were my grandmother lives (which is located in the then-proposed TIF district) was targeted for private sector business. That was an argument that I kept trying to make. If these people (the former administration) are interested in the property of these citizens who have lived there for over forty years then let them (the residents) negotiate so that way they can sell to the private sector.

NPT: So your problem with the TIF district is that the eminent domain power was not going to be used for a public use, but instead for private use?

REPRESENTATIVE ROJAS: Yes, it was being used as a very strong tool to remove the property rights from these property owners. It was being sold as a governmental need, but it was really a private sector initiative. I got involved by attending City Council meetings and lobbying Council members. I also sat up at night watching Council meetings so that I would be an informed advocate.

I really did this to be an advocate for my grandmother because she started hurting physically. She was becoming physically ill. It seems that the perception is that politicians don’t realize how their decisions truly impact people’s lives…sometimes in a negative way. Their decisions can cause people to get ill and stressed out such that they have health problems. People told me I really needed to do my homework. I remember when I was getting involved that I thought that Council members were uninformed and ill-prepared to deal with the issues.

NPT: Should eminent domain ever be used?

REPRESENTATIVE ROJAS: I am not a fan of eminent domain. I will tell you that there are situations, like with the El Paso Zoo expansion, they (the City of El Paso) negotiated the prices with the property owners. I was very happy with that because there was a give and take. They even helped to relocate these people. There were some owners who petitioned for higher prices and the government had to go back to the table and negotiate.

NPT: Right after you were elected, you were quoted by the El Paso Times as saying the following, “I learned to my dismay that public policy is often made with no input from the people involved and when citizens appear before City Council, they are often treated as a nuisance.” After fifteen months on Council, do you think things have changed?

REPRESENTATIVE ROJAS: I think the Mayor’s Neighborhoods First initiative has helped to empower neighborhoods. We’ve had decisions overturned. We’ve had Council members’ opinions and votes change because of the appearance of these neighborhood associations. I’ve learned that you need to get organized. There are times where neighborhood residents have come together to express their concerns and the Mayor may say, “Can you make this short?” or “Can we only have one spokesperson?” I don’t agree with that. We are supposed to listen to the community’s concerns. How else can we understand their problems if we don’t allow communication? Neighborhoods First has empowered neighborhoods, but these residents need to take the time to meet and organize formally.


The Newspaper Tree: www.newspapertree.com

David the landowner fights government Goliath — Canada Free Press, 11/1/04

By Henry Lamb

Three years ago, the government of Collier County, Fla., approved a three-year conditional permit for Jesse Hardy to begin the construction of an aqua-culture project. The plan called for the excavation of four 20-acre fishponds on his 160-acre homestead, about 30 miles East of Naples. The "conditions" placed on the permit were to insure that the ponds were actually the size and depth shown in the plan, and that the project proceeded in an environmentally sensitive manner.

The three-year progress review has been under way for several months. Renewal requires a recommendation by the planning commission and approval by the county commission. Every condition of the original permit has been met, according to Jesse's attorney. Nevertheless, by a vote of 7 to 1, the planning commission rejected the renewal permit Oct. 21; it takes a four-fifths vote of the county commission to override the planning commission. The county commission vote is scheduled for Nov. 16. This vote could be Jesse's last strike.

The material excavated from Jesse's fishpond has proven to be quite valuable road-building material. Collier County is one of Jesse's best customers. The county engineer says that Jesse's site is the only place in the entire county where the material can be purchased. Were it not for Jesse's excavation, the county would be forced to haul the material as much as 100 miles from sites across the state.

Jesse Hardy at his first 20-acre fishpond nearing completion.

Since the permit was first issued, Jesse's land has become the target of rabid environmentalists hell-bent on returning the Everglades to its "natural" condition. The massive, $8 billion project has already forced thousands of landowners off their property. Jesse doesn't want to leave. Engineering studies show that Jesse's land is not necessary to complete the project. What Jesse wants doesn't matter.

Nancy Peyton, of the Florida Wildlife Federation says, "It is not a good location for people to be. ..." Her organization has the money and political clout to lobby local and state officials, while Jesse has nothing more than the revenue from his excavations to pay engineers and attorneys to try to defend his rights. Now the county is threatening to remove his only source of income.

The excavation material under the four proposed fishponds is worth several million dollars. Property-rights proponents contend that if the county denies Jesse the right to excavate and sell his material, the county will have, in effect, taken valuable property from Jesse, for which "just compensation" is due.

Opponents argue that Jesse's right to excavate the material arises from the county's permit in the first place, and therefore, the county has the power to deny the right to excavate.

This argument gives rise to the much deeper question: How does the county or state acquire the power to override the inherent right of an owner to use his property as he chooses?

It's not hard to trace the legislative history of Jesse's situation to the 1976 Comprehensive Planning Act adopted by the state of Florida and extensively modified over the years. There is no question that the state and the county have the legislative authority to deny Jesse the use of his property. Nor is there any question that the exercise of this authority results in extensive financial loss to Jesse.

The state is expected to condemn Jesse's land and take the property by eminent domain. Will "just compensation" be based on the value of the land, including the value of the excavation material? Or, if the permit is denied, will the value of the land be limited to the palmettos, pines, alligators and rattlesnakes – a difference of several million dollars?

When the state secures title to the land, will the state prevent the county from continuing to excavate the material it badly needs, thereby forcing the county to haul its material several hundred extra miles, or will the state effect an agreement with the county that allows the county to continue using Jesse's material for several years before the Everglades project ever touches Jesse's land?

Jesse is one of thousands of victims whose right to own and use private property has been eroded by the socialistic notion that central planning must prevail over individual freedom. In Jesse's case, there is no logical reason why he should not construct his fishponds, selling the excavated material to the highest bidder. His nearest neighbor is miles away, and his land is 30 miles from town. The use of his land as he chooses harms no one, and helps many. Still, Nancy Peyton, and her followers have convinced the county officials that Jesse's wishes and constitutional rights should be ignored to achieve what she thinks is the best use of Jesse's land.

Canada Free Press: www.canadafreepress.com
Henry Lamb (email: henry@freedom.org) is the executive vice president of the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO), and chairman of Sovereignty International