Camden business block, library would be spared: (South Jersey) Courier-Post, 2/11/05

Council acts to save properties
By Luis Puga

[Camden NJ] City Council members on Thursday amended a $1.3 billion downtown redevelopment plan, acting to preserve the current library, a business block, an office building and a private home.

Council members also tabled a controversial ordinance that would allow 72 properties in Cramer Hill, including 43 occupied homes, to be taken by eminent domain.

"They did the right thing, but this isn't over yet," civic activist Frank Fulbrook, who fought to save the Federal Street library, said after council approved the amendments.

Council members were considering the downtown plan on second reading, the final step before a measure can be approved. But the amendments created a new plan, so council members must have a public hearing and second vote at a yet-unscheduled meeting.

The amendments would preserve the library at 418 Federal St. and the South Jersey Legal Services building at 745 Market St. It would also spare businesses along the 500 block of Market Street and would remove a private home in the 400 block of Lawrence Street from the "may be acquired" list.

Attorney Mike DelDuca, representing South Jersey Legal Services, expressed gratitude, but noted that Randy Primas, the city's state-appointed chief operating officer, could still overturn council's decision.

"Thank you, but we know you don't have the final word on this," he said.

Primas could not be reached before press time for his reaction.

Fulbrook presented 806 signatures on a petition to keep the library on Federal Street. The plan called for the library building to hold county offices and for a new library to be built downtown.

The revisions to the downtown plan passed in a 4-2 vote.

"I support the first three amendments, but not the fourth," council President Angel Fuentes said. He and Councilman Israel Nieves voted against the amendments. Councilman Frank Moran was absent.

The Market Street amendment was proposed by council members Ali Sloan El and Dana Redd. Redd said there was no developer interested in that portion of the city and no existing plan for what would be built there.

"I don't feel comfortable leaving them to be acquired if there is no plan and no project that is moving forward," Redd said.

Eric Eifert, owner of 418 Lawrence St., convinced council that his small plot, with a single-family home, should not be acquired by eminent domain for the expansion of Rutgers University. He noted that the home has historic value and that Rutgers would not have to pay taxes on the lot.

However, most of the 86 people who attended the meeting came to comment on an ordinance to acquire 72 properties by eminent domain in Cramer Hill. Eminent domain allows the city to acquire private property for public use. The properties would be acquired to make way for the construction or rehabilitation of low- and moderate-income housing.

Olga Pomar, an attorney with South Jersey Legal Services, said council shouldn't adopt the ordinance because of ongoing litigation surrounding the $1.3 billion Cramer Hill redevelopment. She also noted that council is in the process of readopting the plan.

"Eminent domain is an extreme option," said Ivan Foster, a Cramer Hill resident. "Why use it at this juncture?"

However, Olivette Simpson, of the Camden Redevelopment Agency, told council members that the acquisitions were not part of the redevelopment plan. She said they would facilitate building replacement housing for residents of Ablett Village and Centennial Village. Those residents would be relocated under the redevelopment plan.

While Sloan El pressed to vote against the ordinance, it was tabled in a 4-1 vote, with Redd abstaining.

At the same meeting, the Bergen Square Redevelopment plan was approved on first reading. Council members amended that plan to include an avenue. The avenue is smaller in width than a proposed boulevard that planning board members opposed when they approved the plan in December.

Courier-Post: www.courierpostonline.com

Case University symposium on eminent domain video is online

A video of the Case University symposium on eminent domain is now archived on line.

Eminent domain laws don’t play by rules of Game: Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, 2/10/05

Earl Game is 76 years old. He would have retired from his business, Game’s Farmers’ Market, 10 years ago had he not been called to battle.

Game has waged war with the Virginia Department of Transportation and Hampton Roads Center Parkway. At issue was his business — a Newport News staple even before he bought it in 1972—and the land it occupied.

The state needed the land in 1999 to complete the parkway, a major highway as wide as six lanes in spots, connecting Hampton to Newport News. The new road intersects with Harpersville Road, where Game’s land and store are located. Construction went right to the doorstep of the business.

“The front entrance to the store was right on the intersection — I mean right there,” Game said. “They backed off adding one of the lanes they’d planned, and I reworked my parking lot and put up a couple of new entrances.”

Game used some of the money he received from the state for his property to make the adjustments, but he had to “fight ‘em like a dog,” as he puts it, to get the compensation — nearly $800,000.

“The state’s initial offer was for a little more than $24,000; they wanted to make a quick take on the property,” he said. “I wouldn’t agree on the settlement, so we went to court. I’ve got a $5 million-dollar-a-year business here; they were going to give me $20,000, $25,000, but it was going to cost me $150,000 just to do the electrical work needed from the disruption.”

Eventually, Game was awarded more than 30 times what VDOT originally offered him.

“I felt like I had no rights, like VDOT was telling me, ‘This is the law, so we can do it,’” he said. “I’m not against eminent domain per se, if you need my property for the public good. But I should be reimbursed so I can put my business back in shape after they’re done with it.”

Eminent domain issues have become such hot topics that Virginia Farm Bureau has initiated two bills currently in the General Assembly that address the subject.

HB1820 would require prerequisite actions by a condemner prior to exercising right of entry onto identified property, including communicating information to the landowner concerning the names of representatives that will be entering the property. Those individuals would be required to carry identification. If a court determines that the property has been damaged by an entrant, the property owner would be eligible to receive costs or expenses incurred.

HB1821 seeks to require condemners to pay the landowner’s costs and experts’ fees, excluding attorneys’ fees, if an award at a trial exceeds a final offer by more than 30 percent. Both bills have cleared the House of Delegates and were crossed over to the Senate on Feb. 8.

Game reasons that, in the long run, the state would be better off offering to work with property owners by making initial offers that consider not just the value of the property, but also costs involved in renovating. He believes if the state had simply worked with him in the beginning, costs associated with going to court could have been avoided. When VDOT goes to court, it is taxpayers’ money that is spent.

“I’m not bothering anybody, I’m paying my taxes, I’ve got 60-some employees; I like to think I’m doing somebody some good,” he said. “If they can take a man’s property, they should come to us and help us stay in business. And why should it cost me money, not to mention time away from work, because they messed with me?”

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation:
804-290-1019, website www.vafb.com

Earl Game: 757-595-1887


Interview with Dino Paspalakis: NewPatriot Radio, 2/9/05

Interviewed by host Bill Mabon

Dino Paspalakis has been fighting an abuse of eminent domain, in which the City of Daytona Beach wants to take his family business — an amusement park on the city's Boardwalk — and turn it over to private developers for condominium and other upscale gentrification projects. Dino was recently interviewed by host Bill Mabon on New Patriot Radio.

Listen to the interview at www.NewPatriot.us


City to seize property via eminent domain: Hesperia (CA) Star, 2/8/05

By Beau Yarbrough

After a year of negotiations, the City of Hesperia [CA] is moving to forcibly acquire land it wants for road and drainage improvements on Sultana Street.

The land, on the north side of Sultana Street from Fuente Avenue to where it dead-ends at the California aqueduct, is to get public works improvements — including paving and storm drainage — as part of the improvements required in the construction of a 325-unit housing tract south of Sultana Street.

Forecast Homes contacted six separate property owners, but only five have sold the necessary portions of their properties to the company. A year after negotiations with the homeowners began, Forecast Homes asked the city to step in. The Hesperia City Council voted last Wednesday to begin eminent domain proceedings.

The legal seizure of the land won’t happen overnight, though.

“Nothing will happen quickly,” City Attorney Sam Crowe said at the meeting, noting that it would take “years to go to trial.”

In the meantime, the negotiations continue with the Guttman family trust, which owns the parcel of land.

“I don’t think there’s an argument with the street” going in,” Crowe said. “There might be an argument with the value.”

That is exactly the problem according to Bruce Guttman, who spoke at the meeting representing the Guttman family trust.

The County of San Bernardino appraised the 30-foot strip that will form the northern half of Sultana Street from Fuente Avenue to the aqueduct and runs the entire width of the parcel as being worth $500.

Guttman said the appraisal works out to less than a penny and a half per square foot. A later verbal offer from Forecast was $43,000, according to Guttman.

“That is not a realistic, viable offer for the property,” Guttman said, “But it’s a start, at least.”

The county appraised the land as having relatively little value “based on the fact that it’s totally unbuildable property,” City Engineer Mike Podegracz said later. The property is the continuation of a city street, the development code requires that “when the development occurs on the Guttman property ... it will be required to be street right-of-way. Because of that, it has a nominal value.”

Councilwoman Rita Vogler was the lone dissenter in the 4-1 council vote to exercise the right of eminent domain.

“I think we just jumped too fast on this,” Vogler said later. “The absolute last thing you ever want to do is take someone’s property.”

Hesperia Star: www.hesperiastar.com

Educational forum held on eminent domain: Haddon (NJ) Herald, 2/9/05

By Dan Keashen

The first time I knew my house was in a redevelopment zone was when I found surveyors on my property over the summer," says Westville resident Jason Mchenry.

Since the redevelopment has come to Westville many residents are concerned about their homes being taken through eminent domain.

A group of Haddon Township residents made a special trip to the small river town to provide answers and solutions.

In the summer months of last year the Land Use Commission of Westville - on the basis of a determination of need report by an outside planner - designated a swath of water front property as a redevelopment zone.

In mid-January the town council and Mayor Bill Packer passed the controversial resolution in front of a crowd of 250 dissenting residents.

Once the legislation was passed for the use of condemnation on 30 properties along Timber Creek residents needed find out how to save their homes.

After Mchenry got an official notice of the redevelopment zone he started to do research into eminent domain.

He found out the process is the power in which a municipality is given by the state of New Jersey to condemn blighted properties for the public good.

He says that he was given the contact number of Haddon Township resident John Smith by the Castle Coalition - a non-profit grassroots organization that organizes residents against the abuse of eminent domain.

"Jason called me up and asked me if I could help him save his house," says Smith.

At St. John's Lutheran Church, urban planner and the Lead Coordinator for We C.A.N. of Haddon Township, Pat Seidman addressed the concerns of residents like Mchenry.

Sitting at a table in front of a packed room Seidman and We C.A.N comrades John and Jean Smith explained the process of eminent domain.

"When we started talking about our situation in Haddon Township you saw a state of shock settle in to the crowd. I don't think anyone knew the full impact of the redevelopment resolution," says Smith.

Smith notes the residents of Westville were looking for a way to fight for their homes.

"They needed to figure out a solution, but I don't think they realized how overreaching the redevelopment statutes of New Jersey are. We gave them our perspective of what we've done and what can be done to stop this injustice by local municipal leaders," says Smith.

He adds the overall consensus was the way to stop redevelopment and condemnation is to change your political leaders that put "tax rateables as a priority over residents."

Seidman - who lectures on the subject community planning, development, and public participation - says the community of Westville needs to organize and work together on the issue.

"I wanted the residents of the town to know, if they stood together on this issue and pulled for each other they had a better chance of stopping this land grab."
Seidman says one passionate person can change things in a community.

Mchenry says the most important lesson learned from the meeting was to organize with other residents against the unfair taking of property.

"We're going to need to really come together like they did in Haddon Township. We need to find a change in the local government because in this case they've forgotten about the hard working residents that put then in office," says Mchenry.

While Mchenry and his peers organize for the fight to save their homes the municipal government is continuing to go forward with the redevelopment plan.

"Everything the Smiths and Pat Seidman brought down here were insightful and educating for us. Now we know what we're gone have to do to keep our homes," says Mchenry.

The Haddon Herald: www.zwire.com/site/news.cfm?brd=1695

Senate approves eminent domain for Lead lab: Rapid City (SD) Journal

By Denise Ross

The state Senate passed a bill Monday to allow the South Dakota Science and Technology Authority to take underground property for use in a national underground science lab.

SB61, which passed 26-9, gives the authority the power to use eminent domain to obtain property 100 feet or more below the surface for use as a science laboratory. SB61 is part of the state's ongoing efforts to put a cutting-edge science lab in the defunct Homestake gold mine in Lead.

Gov. Mike Rounds has advocated for the bill, saying it might be needed in the event a property owner tries to block the authority from acquiring property. The mine's owner, Barrick Gold Corp. of Canada, has agreed in principle to donate much of the underground mine for use as a lab. However, Barrick's subsurface rights are mineral rights.

"Questions have been raised about the ultimate grant of property rights from the Homestake/Barrick folks. The rights they have to the subsurface are for minerals and the extraction of minerals," Senate Majority Leader Eric Bogue, R-Faith, said. "This gives the authority very limited authority to use eminent domain to take the subsurface property rights in the furtherance of its public purpose."

Sen. Ken McNenny, R-Sturgis, voted against SB61. He said he supports the lab but called the granting of eminent domain authority premature.

"I'm concerned that perhaps we're acting a little bit hastily," McNenny said. "Using eminent domain to acquire underground rights is unusual to say the least."

McNenny said he would prefer to wait to grant the eminent domain authority until South Dakota is chosen as home for a new underground lab.

Last week, the Senate passed a bill that would allow the Science and Technology Authority to invest its funds through the South Dakota Investment Council.

Both bills now move to the House for consideration.

Rapid City Journal: www.rapidcityjournal.com

For more information, contact Defenders of the Black Hills: AveleenaCFeywine@st.bhsu.edu


Senator Rejects Claim Bill Puts Property Rights In Jeopardy: Savannah (GA) Business Report and Journal, 2/7/05

By Ted Carter

A [Georgia] Senate bill its author says is designed to give local governments a way to pay for infrastructure projects has brought charges the measure gives private companies a way to seize private property.

Republican state Sen. Dan Moody of Alpharetta insists his legislation, Senate Bill 5, makes no changes in current eminent domain law. It does, however, provide a "fresh approach" to expanding water, transportation and other public systems "without a massive government spending spree," he said.

Senate Bill 5's backers include Senate Leader Bill Stephens of Canton and Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson of Savannah. Moody and the bill's supporters say it simply lets companies pay the costs of infrastructure projects that local governments could not otherwise afford. It also provides an opportunity to streamline the projects and to approach them in a comprehensive fashion instead of piecemeal, they say.

The companies would recoup their investments and make a profit through charging fees and granting leases at rates agreed to by the sponsoring local governments, Moody said. Communities "can do this rather than borrowing or selling bonds to build the projects," he said, and noted the sponsoring local government would gain ownership of the project after a specified time.

"It's all accelerating new public infrastructure," he said. "My district is growing by leaps and bounds and needs more infrastructure."

Moody's bill does give the local government engaged in the public-private agreement the option of issuing bonds for the projects. It also gives a local government the option of making loans or grants to the company taking on the infrastructure project. But the local government maintains the right to keep a lien on the property and the improvements made to the property, according to the bill.

The lone reason the bill mentions eminent domain is to note that local governments have the authority to take land for public infrastructure projects, Moody said. Removing the eminent domain language would not alter either the intent or effectiveness of the bill, he added.

"It's just 100 percent wrong," to claim the legislation would subject property owners to having their land taken by private enterprise, Moody said.

He said the protests over Senate Bill 5 have overshadowed companion legislation, Senate Bill 86, that would specifically forbid local governments from using eminent domain powers for economic development projects.

The Associated Press recently reported that the public-private agreements would allow companies to build other projects on condemned land as long as the projects did not conflict with projects built under the agreement. That's not the intent, Moody said.

"You can't arbitrarily do something on the property that is designed for the public purpose," he said.

However, the legislation does state "nothing shall prohibit an operator of a qualifying project from providing additional services for or from the qualifying project to public or private entities other than the responsible public entity so long as the provision of additional service does not impair the operator's ability to meet its commitments to the responsible public entity pursuant to the public-private agreement as determined by the responsible public entity."

Moody noted he's willing to alter any language in the bill to reflect intended restrictions on private enterprise. "It's not my intent at all to allow the operator to do something on the land other than what the project specifies."

The Republican lawmaker declined to predict passage of the bill but speculated its chances will improve once it is understood the bill is not a mechanism for handing eminent domain powers to private enterprise. Newspaper editorial writers and radio talk show hosts such as Libertarian commentator Neal Boortz, who calls the measure "a blatant assault on private property rights", have fed some of that perception that property rights would be at risk.

Moody said he's been working on the legislation for two years and will keep pushing for its passage. "I'm a very patient individual I'm not going to let Neal Boortz sidetrack me," he said.

To read a copy of the bill online: www.legis.state.ga.us/legis/2005_06/fulltext/sb5.htm

The Business Report & Journal: www.savannahbusiness.com

Listen to webcast of NPR debate on eminent domain abuse

National Public Radio's Justice Talking presented a debate on eminent domain abuse earlier this month. You can listen to it online at your convenience, at:

Speakers are James Kunstler who opposes eminent domain except for traditional "public use" and and Jeff Finkle who interprets economic development as fitting this category.

Editorial opinions:
  • Kunstler didn't do his homework before the debate and therefore didn't do a good job in it.
  • Finkle kept referring to property being taken by eminent domain as "blighted," totally obfuscating the point of Kelo v New London and other situations in which the property is viable.
  • The debate was held at the new Constitution Center in Philadelphia, so the audience was primarily from that city and the "Neighborhood Transformation Initiative" was mentioned frequently. Here the point was missed that most of the property being taken under this program is truly blighted — typically vacant and/or abandoned and a hazard to public health and welfare.

Listen and see what you think.