Businesses and residents have been met with deaf ears: Emdo Speak Out, 4/05

By David Aiken, Ithaca College

A group of students at Ithaca College in Ithaca NY is dedicated to helping residents and businesses of Ardmore PA fight the abuse of eminent domain. The Township of Lower Merion PA is trying to acquire 10 historic properties and businesses which would be turned over to a private developer. Every one of these properties is occupied and several are second and third generation family businesses!

The Township as instituted a project known as the Ardmore Transit Center. This ambitious $140 million plan requires the destruction of those 10 properties in order to construct a much larger complex that would include retail space, residential units, and a parking garage. The central focus is around building a new SEPTA/AMTRAK train station, which everybody agrees needs to be done. The demolition of this block of stores is not a necessity for the project; it is as the Township has argued a necessity to give developers enough interest to even consider the project.

As the Township continues down its path, the businesses that are slated for demolition are unwilling to sell their property. Since this is the case, the local government has gotten all required permission to use Eminent Domain through designating the area a Redevelopment Zone. The businesses and residents have been met with deaf ears from the Township Board of Commissioners when presenting options that do not include the destruction of these businesses. The Urban Land Institute was also brought in by the township for $110,000 to do a study which recommended NO DEMOLITION of properties, yet the study was promptly disposed of by the Commissioners. They have proceeded since this study, done in September 2004, to pass their proposed Option B to destroy these properties. The Township has received approval through all levels of County legislature and has begun solicitation for Request for Proposals from potential developers. The implementation of this Transit Center is imminent unless something is done to prevent the taking of these properties for the use of a private developer.

Our goal, working in conjunction with the building owners, business owners, and residents is to stop the Township of Lower Merion from using eminent domain to implement the project as proposed. The architects for the Township, the Urban Land Institute, and architects for the business/building owners have all developed plans that could meet the needs of Ardmore without destroying these historic properties.

We have developed a website at www.PreserveArdmore.org hich focuses on saving the town from the Township’s plans. The website contain information regarding what can be done that will not require the use of eminent domain. This entire Township of over 60,000 residents is waiting on the outcome of Kelo vs. New London and the only way to make the abuse of this law more prominent is to get people informed.

David Aiken: Daiken1@ithaca.edu

Emdo Speak Out is an occasional feature of Eminent Domain Watch through which readers can voice their opinions about eminant domain abuse issues. To be considered for inclusion, send your comments to us at krfapt@aol.com.

MTOTSA hires attorney to fight eminent domain: (long Branch NJ) Atlanticville, 3/30/05

Attorney: Appraisals of properties are ‘far below real value’

By Christine Varno

Faced with losing their homes to redevelopment, a group of Long Branch residents has retained an attorney who is an expert in fighting eminent domain cases.

Peter H. Wegener, of Bathgate, Wegener and Wolf in Lakewood, has agreed to represent MTOTSA — a group comprised of residents of Marine and Ocean terraces and Seaview Avenue. Wegener is representing the property owners as a group and also is representing about 10 of the homeowners individually.

“I have been representing property owners all over New Jersey for 30 years in eminent domain cases,” Wegener said. “It is my entire practice.

“I think the individual property owners who make up MTOTSA have a very strong argument — that the taking of their properties does not serve legitimate public interest.”

For more than a year, when members of MTOTSA have brought their concerns to City Council meetings, Mayor Adam Schneider has repeatedly advised them to hire an attorney to represent them.

With redevelopment plans in Beachfront South moving forward and appraisals under way, the group interviewed six lawyers before choosing Wegener.

“We feel out of all of them, [Wegener] was the most sincere and believed in our cause,” MTOTSA member Lori Vendetti said.

MTOTSA — a group formed by residents living in a neighborhood comprised of 36 properties on the city’s oceanfront — said they have hired legal representation to save their homes from what they say is an abuse of the city’s power of eminent domain.

Properties in MTOTSA, one of six redevelopment zones designated by the city, are slated for eminent domain, which is the power of a governmental body — in this case, the municipality — to confiscate private property for public use.

The designated developer for the project is Matzel & Mumford Corp., a division of K. Hovnanian, Middletown.

Under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, just compensation must be paid for properties taken through eminent domain, and they must be taken for public use. The legal process of eminent domain involves condemnation of the property as blighted, or unfit for habitation.

Redevelopment plans in Long Branch call for the MTOTSA properties to be razed and replaced by upscale condominiums and townhouses.

“There is a great deal of good that comes out of redevelopment projects,” Wegener said. “There comes a time when it reaches an abuse.

“It seems to have become more prevalent and a favored practice of municipalities.”

Wegener said he had a number of ongoing conversations with members of MTOTSA over the course of several months about their cause.

Talks with Wegener took place at the time MTOTSA was seeking help from Institute for Justice (IJ) attorney Scott Bullock.

IJ is a nonprofit law firm based in Washington, D.C., that specializes in the protection of private property when eminent domain is not employed for public use.

Bullock advised the group that IJ could not represent MTOTSA until eminent domain had been enacted by the city.

“I spoke with [Bullock] and agreed to act as local counsel for MTOTSA,” Wegener said. “When the city started moving forward with the taking of their homes, I decided to represent the group.

“My firm has been watching the growth and use of the power of eminent domain in a redevelopment context for the past 10 years..”

Wegener said he believes what is going on in Long Branch with the MTOTSA properties is an abuse of eminent domain.

“When you use the power of eminent domain and say a home is only worth $300,000, but we can put a similar use on that property and get a $2 million assessment for it, that is an abuse of eminent domain,” he said.

A few of the MTOTSA homeowners have received appraisal figures for their properties from the city, and Wegener said some of the numbers were in the $300,000 to $400,000 range.

“That is far below the real value,” He said. “It is not even close.”

“The idea that the city wants to take away these homes at a price that [MTOTSA residents] could not possibly replace what they already have, just because it serves the pocketbooks of developers, is wrong.”

Once MTOTSA homeowners are offered a price from the city for the purchase of their properties, MTOTSA members have said no matter what the figure is, they are not selling.

At that point, the city will exercise the power of eminent domain and MTOTSA will challenge it, Wegener said.

“There is just no basis to take the properties in MTOTSA and say the neighborhood is blighted,” he said. “The neighborhood clearly is not blighted and the homes are meticulous, well-decorated and comfortable, and it is all at a seaside location that is second to none.”

Atlanticville: http://atlanticville.gmnews.com

Personal rights and government power: Sun-News of the Northland (Liberty MO), 3/31/05

Letter to the Editor

By Noel G. Chase, pastor, Arley United Methodist Church

Thank you for your front page article in the Sun regarding personal rights and government power.

I have been following this subject for several years and most recently became personally acquainted with it when I volunteered at In As Much Ministries. Every time I visit the Spirit of Liberty Building I hear of the frustration of the volunteers with this situation. As you know the building is offered rent free to In As Much Ministries and to Love INC. They are now being asked to relocate, incurring costs that they cannot afford. I understand that a group called Freedom House has taken up the challenge to find a permanent home, but again at what costs? Every dollar spent for relocation and attorney's fees is one less dollar available to provide food, rent and utility assistance.

I also am acquainted with the church in the Triangle. The Liberty Christian Union Church has been told three times, at least, that they had to relocate with very little notice - November, Christmas Eve and now April 1. Negotiations are continuing, but at a very slow rate from the city of Liberty, so I understand. I also understand that the offers from the city have been far below the appraised value of the property.

If this situation continues in Liberty, and in other sites as your article points out, who knows whose property is next. Perhaps the city will want the Liberty United Methodist Church on the hill or the property owned by the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church at I-35 and 291, or maybe they will want the Sun Publications property, to satisfy private developers.

I do believe that eminent domain, when used properly and fairly, is necessary to allow for public projects to be completed. As long as a fair price is paid to the property owner there should be no problem. My objection is that the city of Liberty has "sold its soul" to developers who want to seize property for their personal gain and just want to make money and don't care about how people are affected. American citizens deserve better than this.

Sun-News of the Northland: www.zwire.com

Eminent domain scrutinized: (South Jersey) Courier-Post, 3/31/05

Panel looks at rebirth of Camden

By Luis Puga

A panel discussion Thursday on the challenges to the rebirth of the city quickly turned to the subject of eminent domain.

The discussion at Rutgers-Camden School of Law included panel members Dan Levine, assistant state treasurer; Arijit De, executive director of the Camden Redevelopment Agency; and Dr. Jeff Brenner, chairman of the Alliance for the Revitalization of Camden City. About 75 people attended.

Brenner, whose group is committed to creating civic involvement among residents, said many alliance members had doubts about the ability of the local government and the redevelopment authority to move the city forward.

"This government has not done many things well," the Cooper Grant neighborhood resident said.

"The only thing they have done well is pick up my trash two times a week."

"If we don't do (redevelopment) well, it could get very ugly."

Brenner said he's concerned that residents' frustrations over issues such as eminent domain could boil over. Under a 1992 law, local government can acquire private property for redevelopment provided the properties meet certain criteria, such as being vacant, underutilized, deteriorated or poorly designed. Opponents say the categories are too broad and open to too many interpretations.

Already, South Jersey Legal Services Inc. has filed suits against development proposals in Cramer Hill and Bergen Square challenging the process and the effect it would have on residents.

Helen Higginbotham, a second-year law student, said she witnessed eminent domain in Washington, D.C. "These big developers don't have benevolent motivations," she said. "It's about money."

She asked what the city would do if a pending U.S. Supreme Court case on eminent domain changed the city's ability to use that power for redevelopment.

De said the city is made up of abandoned and neglected properties in private hands.

"We can't (acquire) those properties any other way," he said.

Casi Otvos, a second-year law student, asked what safeguards existed to ensure that public money is being spent effectively. She said Centerville residents charged that in the past, money intended to rehabilitate their homes was never spent.

De said the process is being conducted in public view. He added that skepticism about how money is spent won't change with verbal guarantees.

"Your view is not likely to change until you actually see Centerville change," he said.

De said the city needs to believe it can succeed and be reborn.

"We have to believe that those being trained for construction jobs today - that the generation that follows them will be able to get the engineering jobs inside those buildings," he said.

Levine focused his comments on the $11 million deal to privatize the state aquarium, which he expects will be reopened as Adventure Aquarium by Ohio-based Steiner + Associates on May 25.

"It isn't easy to bring complex deals like that to fruition," he said, noting the city is in a transition period where ideas must be turned into reality.

Courier-Post: www.courierpostonline.com

Plowing The Back Forty: Mondo QT, 3/05

By Carola Von Hoffmannstahl-Solomonoff

In post-industrial cities across the nation bulldozers are on a roll. Fueled by the power of government to invoke eminent domain: the right to claim private property in the name of the public good. In theory, fair value must be paid. But the practice of eminent domain (also called "condemnation" and "taking") is rich with examples of property owners forced to sell on the cheap. Eminent domain is traditionally employed when public facilities such as roads and bridges are built. However, in the 1950's several U.S. Supreme Court rulings enlarged the use of eminent domain by broadening the definition of public good in relation to that period's urban renewal projects. In the following decades, as countless urban policy experts hashed over the mid 20th century urban renewal mode of cities, eminent domain took a breather. But with government involvement in real estate growing, particularly in cities, eminent domain is experiencing a rebirth. Once again, the rationale is urban renewal.

The city of Albany is the New York State capital. One of the oldest cities in the nation. Like many upstate New York urban areas, Albany suffers from post-industrial malaise. Though being the seat of state government has kept it from the near death condition of other cities. Solidly Democrat for roughly a century, Albany is a one party town with an autocratic and conservative political machine culture. Class distinctions are still strongly felt. Park South is a small blue collar neighborhood; one of the last of such neighborhoods still breathing in the original, downtown settlement area of Albany. Park South covers 9 city blocks with a racially mixed population of a little under 2000. Most of whom are low or moderate income. Park South was never affluent, but it was stable and tightly knit. Yet during the 90's the neighborhood deteriorated into one teetering on the edge of desolation row. Thanks largely to the wholesale dumping of HUD subsidized tenants into the buildings of one major slumlord — and official neglect.

As Park South slid downward many long time homeowners, landlords and tenants left. Disrepair, drug trade and violent crime became the norm. In 10 years the vacancy rate in Park South doubled to twice that of the rest of the city. Yet a core of residents remained, held by loyalty to place and neighbors. Plus for some, property in Park South represented their primary investment. The value of which was eroding. Abandoning ship would have meant a crushing loss. For over a decade this nucleus of residents worked to address the issues driving the neighborhood down. Some formed a Walk and Watch — which in 2003 received an award for excellence from the state's Attorney General. All knocked repeatedly on municipal doors. Results were either nonexistent or inconsistent. Promises were made but seldom kept. Without sufficient back-up, citizen action re crime and blight produces little lasting improvement. And a whole lot of disillusionment.

Mayor Gerald D. Jennings of Albany is nearing the end of his third term and has announced he'll run for a fourth. Many residents of Park South believe Mayor Jennings never pushed consistent code enforcement in buildings known for drug activity, or in vacant ones left open to the elements by absentee owners. Nor could he be counted on to insure dependable trash removal or provide sufficient police presence. Some thought Jennings was so busy revitalizing the corporate/government enclave in the downtown area near the State Capital that he had little time for Park South. Others suspected there was a reason why Park South — and its property values — were being let slide.

In the Autumn of 2002 such suspicions were fanned when several city employees, in private conversations with neighborhood residents about the possibility of revitalizing Park South, reportedly mentioned that sections of the neighborhood were slated to be razed by condemnation and then redeveloped. Equally disturbing were comments made by then Commissioner of Public Safety Jack Nielsen at a 10/23/02 Park South Neighborhood Association (PSNA) meeting. Nielsen was a former police chief and Jennings appointee. As Public Safety Commissioner his job entailed coordinating police actions with building code enforcement. At the PSNA meeting Commissioner Nielsen in essence threw his hands in the air about the possibility of addressing crime in Park South. Citing problems caused by "an individual landlord" and a shift in the "social and economic level" of Park South's residents. Saying that the answer wasn't "for him to tell the Mayor to put more police officers over here" and that Park South residents had to "look beyond the obvious".

On the north Park South is bounded by Washington Park, a lovely old urban oasis created under the influence of Central Park's Frederick Olmstead. On the south by University Heights. Which in the words of the Albany Community Development Agency* contains "a cluster of large, prestigious educational and health facilities". Including, but not limited to, the Albany Medical Center, Albany School of Pharmacy, Albany Law School, Albany Medical College, Sage Colleges, Capital District Psychiatric Center and the Veteran's Administration Hospital. Some of these institutions belong to the University Heights Association (UHA) a not-for-profit corporation with "the primary mission of enhancing the economic vitality and quality of life of its constituents and neighbors". One of UHA's most notable members is the Albany Medical Center — which owns extensive holdings in two of Park South's nine blocks of real estate.

In early 2003 the Jennings administration officially announced that a transformation of Park South was imminent — and also acknowledged the transformation just might involve some clearance by condemnation. The full plan for Park South revitalization was to be developed under the aegis of the Albany Local Development Corporation (ALDC) a non government agency which works in tandem with the city. Mayor Jennings is an ex-officio member of the ALDC board of directors and also appoints other members. The ALDC would in turn act as agent for the Albany Community Development Agency (ACDA) a government agency where Jennings also serves.

In early February 2003, the ALDC posted an announcement on the City of Albany website seeking a consultant to assist in forming a redevelopment plan for Park South. Two months later the city announced a consultant had been chosen: Design Collective, a Baltimore based urban planning firm. Design Collective has a background in large scale public projects, a number of which have required condemnation in urban neighborhoods. Randall Gross Development Economics (RGDE) of Washington DC was also brought on board. Ultimately RGDE provided a study (Economics & Market Findings) of Park South and its environs which stressed that due to the presence of state government, educational institutions and medical facilities, "Albany is largely a rental market". Hence rental properties, rather than single family homes, are its real estate linchpin. And the best hope for redeveloping Park South.

Input into the Park South Plan was also provided by the Park South Advisory Committee: made up of "a representative group of residents, property owners and institutions". Advisory Committee members included Public Safety Commissioner Jack Nielsen. Plus heavyweight reps from the Albany Medical Center, the University Heights Association (UHA) and Jack Egan, President of the Renaissance Corporation, a non-profit entity with development ties to the UHA. Jack Egan is also CEO of Albany International Airport and a former Executive Director of the New York State Dormitory Authority. Also on the Committee was an Albany Common Council member whose ward includes Park South, as well as more upscale neighborhoods to its east. The Committee also included four small property owners and a tenant from Park South.

The input of neighborhood residents in general was solicited at a series of public meetings and workshops. At these gatherings, a sizable number of Park South residents had strong objections to aspects of what was being proposed for their neighborhood. Nobody objected to revitalization, but many objected to the condemnation approach. Plus, the plan for Park South seemed not in the making but already made; with a massive increase of student housing writ in stone. In a 9 block neighborhood where home ownership levels have shrunk to 11% and where transience has eroded civic participation. And though the city was using crime in Park South as a rationale for condemnation, the majority of buildings owned by the slumlord who contributed so heavily to the problem, were on streets not slated for knock-down.

These objections, plus an alternative redevelopment plan put forth by a group of Park South residents, were duly noted by assorted reps for the city and Design Collective. Several letters of protest were even included in an appendix to the July, 2004 draft version of the Park South Redevelopment Urban Renewal Plan. Commonly called the Park South Plan. Or simply, The Plan.

In early 2005, the Albany Community Development Agency issued an invitation to qualified bidders to offer proposals for the right to implement the Park South Plan. The invitation delineates what The Plan to date calls for:
  1. Rental Housing: "120-180 net new rental units"
  2. Student housing: "preferably under single management" with "200-400 student housing beds". Eighty percent of which will be in "4 bedroom apartments".
  3. For Sale Housing: "20 to 27 new for sale houses would be marketable in Park South in the next 5 years".

New commercial space on Park South's commercially spotty main artery is also slated, along with 50,000 square feet of office space for the Albany Medical Center. Also mentioned is the possibility that Park South will provide expansion space for the downtown campus of the State University of New York (SUNY). Long time Park South residents who wonder if official neglect will affect new residents, can take comfort in the fact that The Plan promises "City Assistance" will be provided to any new development in the form of "enhanced City services".

The genius of the Park South Plan is that though only one neighborhood appears in its title, another containing many prestigious educational and health facilities plus a major not-for-profit association will benefit as well. Making the Park South Plan two, two, two plans in one! However, plans that call for revitalization by bulldozer frequently come up against stick-in-the-mud types who cling to their homes. Or greedy folk who base the asking price of their property on increasing value, rather than a slum appraisal rate. Since the ACDA invitation informs bidders that "the preferred developer will be solely responsible for funding acquisition of all property" it's probably wise that in order "to assist the preferred developer" the ACDA, a government agency, will be "willing to use the power of eminent domain for land acquisition if necessary".

Overall, the financing of the implementation of The Plan will be handled by the preferred developer. Who will also be paying "all costs and expenses of the ACDA (including but not limited to the ALDC)". The preferred developer will "if possible, provide information regarding programs being used for financing and teams being used for construction." Let's hope the preferred developer does find it "possible" to share this info with the public via its government agency representative — the ACDA. Which after all, will be using the power of eminent domain in the name of the public good.

In order for eminent domain to be used for the Park South Plan, the Albany Common Council was required to pass an ordinance designating the neighborhood an urban renewal area. On March 21st the Council passed that ordinance 9 to 3. The Council member from The Park South Advisory Committee was on the "yea" team.

Developers are now lining up at the gate, hoping to be among the three finalists for the role of preferred developer. Many are politically generous heavyweights based in the Capital Region. Among the local candidates are State Street Partners, LTD. An entity with an "under construction" website providing only an address and phone number. That address is 355 State Street, a four story apartment building apartment building recently purchased by State Street Partners.

According to the Albany Times Union, another candidate is United Development Corporation, at 80 State Street. (There's also an "80 State Street Partners" on the Albany real estate scene. State Street seems positively packed with eponymous partners!) United is part of the United Group of Companies, a conglomerate of multi named entities that provide assorted real estate services. Several United Group entities have been involved with a number of prominent area student housing projects. In 2003, United Development and United Realty Management were hired to develop, construct and manage a $20 million student housing complex for the Renaissance Corporation, acting on behalf of the University Heights Association.

In February, a mention of United Development cropped up in another context: in news stories examining the unexpected 2004 resignation of SUNY Albany President Karen R. Hitchcock. On 02/25/05 the New York Times citing unnamed sources, claimed Hitchcock resigned as president of SUNY in order to take advantage of a loophole in state law which lets state employees dodge investigations by the New York State Ethics Commission. The loophole being that after leaving state employment, whether by retirement or resignation, a person can no longer be investigated for activities as a state employee. The Times, plus other news sources, claimed the focus of the aborted ethics investigation was an alleged kickback deal between President Hitchcock and a potential developer of what has been described alternately as a large student housing project on SUNY's uptown Albany campus, or according to a 02/25/05 story by Channel 10 News in Albany, "300 units of student housing on North Pearl Street". An area in the corporate/government section of downtown Albany. The developer involved in the alleged kickback was United Development.

Karen R. Hitchcock, now principal of Queens College in Ontario, Canada and her attorney strongly deny the story about her exit from SUNY. But with the loophole in state law making an ethics investigation impossible, allegations are left hanging in air. Not only for Karen Hitchcock but for United Development.

As said, eminent domain was a popular urban renewal tool mid 20th Century. Albany itself took a major hit in the 1960's, when Governor Nelson Rockefeller used eminent domain to bulldoze a huge low and moderate income downtown residential neighborhood in order to build the Empire State Plaza complex of government offices. Many of the homes within that neighborhood were built in the same periods as those in Park South. Some were in as poor shape as some are now in Park South. And like Park South, the neighborhood was racially mixed. If protests hadn't ensued, Rocky would have rolled his urban renewal vision up the hill into more neighborhoods — with a highway to the suburbs running beneath Washington Park. To this day, the protests that stopped Rocky from further decimating Albany's residential downtown are remembered proudly by progressive Albanians: the Empire Plaza is still reviled and lost neighborhoods still regretted. Yet by and large, not much protest about the proposed use of eminent domain in Park South has been heard. Except of course, from a sizable number of people who live or own property in Park South.

It could be that to some, the real estate visions of prestigious educational and health facilities and not-for-profit associations, and the hoped for ripple effect on property values and demand for rental housing in the upscale progressive neighborhoods surrounding Park South, seem like such good public goods that circa 2005, bulldozers have become public servants.

According to the ACDA invitation to qualified bidders, The Park South Plan is linked to a wider redevelopment strategy called "The Midtown Strategy". Planning for The Strategy will be developed with funding from The New York State Quality Communities Program. The end result to be "a strategic plan to leverage the investment opportunities and programming needs of (Albany's) institutions of higher learning". Institutions which will be served by The Midtown Strategy include SUNY, members of the University Heights Association and the College of Saint Rose. The city will partner with these institutions to address, among other things, their needs are "student housing, employee housing, commercial services, and programming/educational space". To that end the Strategy study will "take account of studies that have already been completed..". Including "those like Park South".

It would behoove other residential neighborhoods in Albany to also take into account studies relating to Park South. And to consider the methods by which the resulting Park South Plan has been, and will be, advanced. As the use of eminent domain in the name of urban renewal increases across the nation, not only low and moderate income neighborhoods are being bulldozed. Nor are only low and moderate income property owners being forced to sell. In numerous instances viable neighborhoods and thriving businesses have been made to decamp in order to make way for what government deemed bigger and better. The phenomena has become so pervasive that myriad legal challenges are being launched from public policy groups across the political spectrum.

As for Park South itself, after the preferred developer is chosen by the ACDA, that developer will be able to tweak and adjust aspects of The Plan should need arise. Plans, after all, are only maps which circumstances alter. The ACDA must approve any changes and the Common Council will ultimately have to sign off on the final Park South plan as agreed upon by the preferred developer and ACDA. Some residents of Park South have been told by city representatives that this tweaking process means a chance for the changes they desire. Some folks believe — or at least hope — this will be so. Others are less sanguine. When the Albany Common Council signed off on the urban renewal ordinance that left Park South open to the use of eminent domain, the neighborhood lost a major bargaining chip. Leaving it dependent on the word and social decency of an administration that has proved deficient in both categories.

Whether this part or that part of Park South is bulldozed, or whether the crucial slumlord who was left undisturbed for years winds up being revitalized, or even if the use of eminent domain hits a legal snag on the state or federal level, a profound destruction has already taken place in Park South. Over the past few years the weave of friendship and common purpose that held the heart of the neighborhood together in the face of crime and neglect began to unravel as conflicting interests and social divisions were sought out and exploited by those seeking to advance The Plan. Veiled threats were made and guilt was mined. People who worked for years to save their neighborhood were called spoilers and reproached for being selfish when they objected to it being bulldozed.

In a neighborhood where the true spirit of community shone forth, social wedges were driven with the skill typical to pols who ride high on the hog in old machine cities. Where the art of divide and conquer has been polished to a fare thee well, while the will and ability to provide low and moderate income people with safe, clean streets has atrophied. And where now, with the help of public money and eminent domain, the evidence of that failure can be bulldozed into a gold mine for politicians, preferred developers and prestigious tax advantaged institutions.

All in the name of the public good.

  • "We like our neighborhood just the way it is. We just want to
    get rid of the crime and drugs." — Park South resident Paul Webster, "Residents Want Voice in Improving Park South" Erin Dugan, Albany Times Union, 01/15/03
  • "We did not create this mess in Park South. Years of neglect and inaction by the city have brought us to this point. Now we are being asked to trust an administration that has failed to live up to its responsibilities and promises to us" — Park South resident Alice Rabb, "Park South residents lack details on city's plan" Letter to the Editor, Albany Times Union, 11/24/03
  • "A bulldozer is not the answer. The city is holding this over our heads...the trash is still in the streets, and the drugs are still here." — Park South resident Pat Kelly, "Developer for Park South possible by April" Brian Nearing, Albany Times Union, Albany Times Union, 02/18/05
  • "The city has just been waiting for the right time to seize our homes...They are going to steal it from us, tear it down and give it to developers" — Park South resident Thelma McCargo, "Door Open for Park South Plan", Brian Nearing, Albany Times Union, 03/22/05

Sources include but are not limited to:
  • Invitation to Qualified Bidders, Request for Proposals (RFP) For the Redevelopment of the Park South Plan Area in the City of Albany, New York. Unless otherwise noted, quotes describing The Plan are taken from this 2005 Albany Community Development Agency (ACDA) document.
  • Transcript 10/23/02 Park South Neighborhood Association PSNA) Meeting
  • Opportunities & Market Findings, Draft 3-30-04, Randall Gross Development Economics and Park South Market Study, Appendix C, Randall Gross Development Economics
  • Park South Redevelopment Plan, Implementation Action Steps, Draft 03/30/04 Design Collective
  • Alternative Plan For Park South Revitalization, Park South Concerned Citizens, Autumn 03
  • "Albany Project Attracts Interest", Brian Nearing, Albany Times Union, 03/03/05
  • "Door Open for Park South Plan", Brian Nearing, Albany Times Union, 03/22/05
  • "Renaissance works on student apartment project" Apartment Finance Today, Regional News: July-August 2003
  • "Case of Former SUNY Official Points to Ethics Law Loophole" Michael Slackman, New York Times, 02/25/05
  • "Ethics Probe May Have Led Hitchcock to Leave Albany" WTEN News, Albany, New York posted: 02/25/05 7:40 pm
  • The general topic of increasing abuse of eminent domain has been
    covered in too many places to list here. One notable document
    being: "Government Theft: The Top 10 Abuses of Eminent Domain"
    Dana Berliner, Castle Coalition, 2002.

Mondo QT: www.mondoqt.com


Norwood Business Fights Eminent Domain Ruling: WCPO TV9 News (Cincinnati OH), 3/29/05

A Norwood business owner fighting an eminent domain ruling won't have to worry about a wrecking ball for now.

An appeals court judge has ruled that developers can't touch the Kumon Math and Reading Center until their appeal is heard.

The owners of the Kumon center, which sits across the street from Rookwood Commons, is appealing a ruling that says they have to give up their property to make way for the expansion of the Norwood shopping complex.

WCPO TV9: www.wcpo.com

Eminent domain hurting Huntington businesses: The (Marshall University, Huntington WV) Parthenon, 3/30/05


A local business that has served the Huntington community for 59 years is being forced out by Marshall University. Eminent domain, the law that allows government to seize private property for public use, has been a buzz word around the Tri-State recently.

Glaser Furniture, a business located on Third Avenue, is being forced to close so Marshall can expand. What message is this sending to other local businesses? How can one business, who has helped the Marshall community, simply be forced to close? Huntington was founded before Marshall was a university, and although Marshall makes Huntington the city it is today, there needs to be some limits to where Marshall can go.

Local businesses bring more options to Marshall students as well as the Huntington community and without them money leaves Huntington. Perhaps now is the time for the city to stand up to Marshall before other businesses, which Huntington has strived so hard to preserve, leave. Local businesses help Marshall, now Marshall should help local businesses.

The Parthenon: www.marshallparthenon.com


Boca workers remove truck loads of trash from unkempt home: (South Florida) Sun-Sentinel, 3/29/05

By Luis F. Perez

[Boca Raton] police and firefighters, some in protective gear, sifted through piles of junk Monday outside Albert Schulz's house.

They wanted to make sure the veteran hadn't placed explosives, booby traps or accelerants in the garbage strewn throughout the property.

That was the latest extraordinary measure city officials have taken in the long-running case that has neighbors complaining and the city researching whether it can condemn the house at 600 W. Palmetto Park Road and use eminent domain to take the property. The moves come after years of battles with Schulz to keep his property in the Royal Oak Hills neighborhood clear of debris.

Longtime city workers, elected officials and property rights activists can't recall a municipality using eminent domain to address code violations. City leaders emphasize that taking Schulz's house would be the last drastic step in a nine-year fight to have him clean his property.

"I couldn't find any [similar] reported cases in Florida," said Valerie Hernandez, a property rights lawyer who leads the Pacific Legal Foundation's Atlantic Center in Coral Gables. "But it's clear in the statutes, they have the power to do that."

When the police gave the all-clear, a city-hired crew of five wearing face masks to guard against the rancid smell of rotting food moved onto the property and started carting away two large and six small truckloads of garbage.

Jeff Pasternak, who runs the Delray Beach hauling company the city hired, said Schulz's house was the worst case he has seen.

In the driveway, Pasternak said his workers found boxes of rotting yogurt and Jell-O. He recognized a birthday cake that had turned into a dark mass and a chicken carcass that looked like brown paste. Maggots covered rotting food, and rat droppings were everywhere, he said.

Workers used rakes and pitchforks to sift through the garbage and spook any vermin, Pasternak said.

City officials decided early Monday to move up the date of the cleanup from later in the week because Schulz was arrested Saturday night after allegedly running a stop sign. He was charged with driving without a license and driving an unregistered vehicle, among other charges.

He didn't have his license because on St. Patrick's Day police arrested Schulz, 57, and charged him with driving while intoxicated.

He remained in the Palm Beach County Jail on Monday. His bail is set at $1,000.

"We took this opportunity since he was not going to be around," Assistant City Manager Michael Woika said.

Officials from the state's Department of Children & Families and U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs visited Schulz in jail to check on his mental state and learn whether they could help him, Woika said.

Schulz's case goes back to 1996, when he was first cited for overgrown grass, keeping auto parts and an accumulation of dismantled furniture on his property, and other code violations.

He has since been cited and fined 17 times for junk on his property and owes the city more than $57,000. He will be billed for the cost of Monday's cleanup, as well.

The Palm Beach County Health Department also ordered Schulz to clean up the unsanitary nuisance, but to no avail.

The City Council last week voted to have the city clean Schulz's property. Council members also voted unanimously to ask a court for permission to go onto Schulz's property at any time to clean it.

However, the council's most extreme measure was to ask city staff to look into taking Schulz's property from him if he continues to pile garbage there.

"We want the option available to us," said Mayor Steven Abrams, defending the use of eminent domain. "This is not an aesthetic issue. It's a health and safety hazard."

Nobody is advocating using eminent domain as a tool to correct code violations, Councilman Bill Hager said, but this has been going on for a decade. Neighbors have complained about rats, and the house is within 100 yards of an elementary school.

"We simply cannot tolerate this situation," he said.

Councilwoman Susan Whelchel, who last week proposed using eminent domain, said it is used in only the most egregious cases and would not be used for other code violators.

"There is no slippery slope," she said. "The city of Boca Raton doesn't run around taking property through eminent domain."

She called the Schulz case a lengthy, entangled legal process with no assurance in the end that it would be fixed.

"With eminent domain, the end result is clear," she said.

Sun-Sentinel: www.sun-sentinel.com

Residents sue over eminent domain plan: (South Jersey) Courier Post, 3/29/05

By Luis Puga

A community group and 43 residents of the Bergen Square neighborhood filed a lawsuit in Superior Court claiming the proposed redevelopment plan for that area abuses eminent domain and would add to the city's shortage of affordable housing.

The suit was filed on behalf of the plaintiffs by South Jersey Legal Services Inc., which has filed similar suits against redevelopment plans for residents in the Cramer Hill and Waterfront South neighborhoods.

Olga Pomar, a legal service attorney, said her clients, most of whom are homeowners, are worried about losing their homes through eminent domain. The procedure gives governments the ability to take private property in areas designated in need of redevelopment for compensation.

"Some of my clients are on the (plan's property) acquisition list," she said. "Some are not, but they fear the drastic changes that would happen to their neighborhood and fear that their homes may be added" to the list.

The suit states that, because the city and region face a public housing shortage, eliminating existing public housing in the neighborhood goes against the public good. That contradicts the state constitution, Pomar said.

The complaint also states the redevelopment plan primarily will affect low-income black and Hispanic residents.

The suit names as defendants Randy Primas, the city's chief operating officer, as well as the planning board, city council, the Economic Recovery Board of Camden, the Camden Redevelopment Agency and the state.

Representatives for the planning board and the Economic Recovery Board could not be reached for comment. Lee Moore, spokesman for the Office of the Attorney General, said he could not comment on a complaint his office has not seen.

Primas, who also chairs the CRA's board of commissioners, noted most city neighborhoods are made up of black and Hispanic residents. He called that part of the complaint "ridiculous."

"There appears to be a small group individuals who seem determined to stop development anywhere in the city," Primas said.

That's not so, Pomar said.

"We are trying to make sure redevelopment does not cause low-income families, seniors and other vulnerable people from forcibly losing their homes," she said.

City Council President Angel Fuentes said he feels the plan also had community support during public hearings before council.

"It's really sad to see another lawsuit," he said. "These lawsuits are just people trying to maximize their settlements (for their property's acquisition) and so they will not be displaced outside their neighborhood."

Primas said he feels the series of lawsuits against redevelopment plans could affect developers' interest in the city.

"It just seems awfully frustrating," he said. "We are trying to make things to improve the quality life for residents."

The Courier Post: www.courierpostonline.com


Virginia Addresses Eminent Domain: Mortgage News Daily, 3/28/05

The Virginia state legislature has passed SB301 which will protect some owner rights when property is seized by the state or its divisions through eminent domain.

Property owners, however, will have to wait a while before they obtain any kind of relief. The bill provides that when property is seized by any state government agency and has not been put to the public use for which is was seized after a period of 15 years, the property owner must be offered a chance to repurchase it. The offering price must be the original sale price plus interest at 6 percent per year. The government may also adjust the price to reflect any improvements it has made to the property. For the sake of the former owner, one can only hope that the improvements were positive, not, for example, a half finished hydroelectric dam or a clear cut hardwood forest.

Governor Mark Warner signed the bill this week and it will go into effect on July 1.

Mortgage News Daily: www.mortgagenewsdaily.com


Cities' eminent domain rights face test: Whittier (CA) Daily News, 3/27/05

By Sonya Geis

Eminent domain. It's the ultimate exercise in government power over individual property owners. A city can forcibly buy out a homeowner and take over his land, with the argument that the public would benefit more from a shopping mall than a private house.

But that power could be significantly curbed after a U.S. Supreme Court decision this spring. The ruling has a potentially significant impact on how local cities do business.

"Eminent domain is used infrequently, but it's used in key instances that might be the difference in those projects,' said John Shirrey, executive director of the California Redevelopment Association. "A lot of people are waiting with bated breath for the ruling.'

The question before the Supreme Court is whether a city may take property from one set of private owners and turn it over to different private owners, instead of keeping it for public use such as a library or road. Courts have upheld the practice in the past, based on the argument that added tax revenues are a "public good.'

In the Supreme Court case argued last month, Kelo v. City of New London, a Connecticut city attempted to seize the homes of Susette Kelo and her neighbors to add to a large development project built around a Pfizer research facility. The city argued that added tax revenues from the project constitute a "public good' as much as a road. Kelo refused to sell.

The Supreme Court justices could decide the case with a very narrow ruling that would apply only to Connecticut. Or they could take the opportunity to make a sweeping judgment that would affect cities nationwide.

The California Redevelopment Association filed a friend-of-the- court brief in favor of keeping the ruling narrow.

Shirrey points out that under California law, redevelopment agencies may only use eminent domain for economic development purposes on land that has been designated "blighted.'

With a broad Supreme Court ruling, Shirrey said, potentially "we would not be able to undertake use of eminent domain for any economic development project.'

George Lefcoe, a real estate law professor at USC, said he thinks such a sweeping ruling is unlikely.

"This is a very legitimate redevelopment project in New London. It's not a tax grab,' he said. "I'm going to fall off my chair [and] you're going to hear a big thud if they don't uphold existing law in that case.'

Plenty of property-rights advocates hope the Supreme Court surprises the experts.

"I think they should simply ban the practice of taking one person's land and giving it to another. I think it's unlikely they would do that, but I think they should,' said Pasadena attorney Chistopher Sutton. Sutton represents the Hawkins family in an eminent domain fight with Temple City officials.

Sutton, who led a fight against eminent domain in Montebello in the 1980s, said requiring a city to declare an area "blighted" before using eminent domain to hand it over to developers is no great safeguard against government abuse of power.

Loraine Wallace Rowe, chairwoman of the Coalition for Redevelopment Reform in San Jose, agreed. She said the definition of blight has gradually expanded to allow cities to justify using eminent domain even in areas with expensive homes.

"To say, 'We could get more tax money for that property with 20 condos on it than with one house' that basically says that any single-family house could be considered blight,' she said.

City officials defend the use of eminent domain as rare and necessary.

"There are not currently any (imminent domain) cases going on, but you always have that potential out there,' said Jeff Collier, Whittier's community development director. "If they take it away, we lose a powerful tool.'

He also noted that cities can offer tax breaks to the owners of properties taken by eminent domain.

"There are some benefits that can end up helping everybody,' he said.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected in May or June.

Whittier Daily News: www.whittierdailynews.com

New Nevada bill would limit eminent domain proceedings: Las Vegas (NV) Sun, 3/25/05

By Brendan Riley, Associated Press

A new legislative proposal [in Nevada] would restrict the use of eminent domain proceedings of the sort used for the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas or the pending efforts to block development of the historic Ballardini Ranch south of Reno.

Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, author of SB326, said Friday the proposal would limit what he considers over-the-top moves by governments to force ownership changes without just cause.

"It's real simple," Care said. "If government needs for a public purpose to take land, we all understand it. Just don't abuse it."

Care's 2-page bill would bar the use of eminent domain by government agencies to get property for open-space use or for "protecting, conserving or preserving wildlife habitat."

The measure also says an agency could exercise eminent domain powers to get property for a redevelopment project only after making a written finding that "a condition of blight exists for each individual parcel of property" being acquired.

"Nobody asked me to introduce this," Care said when questioned whether developers urged him to introduce SB326. "I've had an interest in eminent domain issues for some time."

Care said that interest began with the Fremont Street Experience case that led to a split state Supreme Court ruling in 2003 against Harry Pappas and his family, whose property was taken for the project in 1993.

Care's bill adopts the dissenting views in the 4-2 ruling. The two dissenting justices said there should have been a formal process to determine whether the area was really blighted.

When he later read news accounts of the Ballardini Ranch controversy, Care said, "I was outraged." He added that he contacted representatives of Minnesota-based Evans Creek LLC to discuss expanding his proposal. The result was the proposed ban on acquisitions for open-space use.

Tim Smith, president of Evans Creek LLC, said Friday he supports Care's bill because it will make clear that Washoe County's efforts to condemn the Ballardini Ranch for open-space use "as a pretext to stop development is an abuse of governmental powers and unlawful."

Evans Creek, which paid $8.5 million for the ranch in 1998, has proposed building nearly 200 upscale homes on part of the property in the Sierra foothills. But advocates of public acquisition say the ranch would provide a link to U.S. Forest Service land and preserve the area for wildlife and recreation.

Steve Walther of Protect Our Washoe, a group trying to preserve the ranch as open space, said the group will oppose the bill even though, as introduced, it would apply to cases filed in the future.

"It wouldn't be good policy to legislate in situations that really belong to local government," Walther said. He added that the Ballardini acquisition wouldn't be simply for open space but for a wide range of outdoor recreational activities along with possible continued use as a ranch.

Las Vegas Sun: www.lasvegassun.com

Fighting City Hall: Business Week, Spring 2005

The Supreme Court will soon rule in a landmark battle over eminent domain

By Susan Garland

Edward Hathcock, owner of Gem Products & Supply in Romulus, Mich., was resigned to moving his six-person cabinet-making business. The county government wanted to build an airport extension on his property, and it was using eminent domain — which lets governments acquire private land for public use, as long as the former owners receive "just compensation" — to claim Hathcock's land.

Then Hathcock discovered that some of the land would be used not for an airport but for a private development. Hathcock and his neighbors sued. "I did not consider [the development] to be public use," he says.

Is it? The Supreme Court heard oral argument on that question on Feb. 22. A group of New London (Conn.) landowners came before the Court to prevent their property from becoming part of a riverfront revitalization project, after losing their case in state court in March, 2004. The Supreme Court's ruling, expected this spring, will probably dictate how eminent domain can be used. A ruling for New London would be "devastating" for small businesses, says Scott Bullock, attorney for the Institute of Justice in Washington, which represents the New London property owners.

Traditionally, municipalities have used eminent domain to make way for roads, schools, and hospitals, and to clear blighted areas. Now, cash-strapped cities are more broadly defining "public use" to include private economic development projects expected to generate higher tax receipts and more jobs. "Eminent domain is a critical tool," says David Parkhurst, principal legislative counsel for the National League of Cities.

In theory, any big business will produce more tax revenue than a small one, so a ruling for New London would mean "any small business could be taken for any development," says Bullock. He says six states have upheld the use of eminent domain for private business development, while nine forbid it. The Institute estimates eminent domain was used to try to seize 10,000 properties for private projects from 1998 to 2002.

Hathcock and his neighbors won their case in July. Now it's up to the Supreme Court to decide if other property owners can hold back the forces of big-time development.

Business Week Online: www.businessweek.com

Developers are lusting after us: Emdo Speak Out, 3/27/05

By Kathy Scruggs

I'm a seasonal owner in a 55-over community along the intracoastal waterway [in Boynton beach FL]. With our almost 42 acres, developers are lusting after us and are being abetted by the very ones who were elected to represent our interest, though shill corporations like the Community Redevelopment Agency. We are, according to the CRA, 'under-utilized' land! All up and down the Intracoastal waterway, older development like ours are being pressured and the fear of losing our homes — homes on which many of us pay a non-homestead tax — to eventual eminent domain.

Government is totally out of control. I remind people that we fought a Revolutionary War over such things and so intent were those who wrote our founding documents to ensure our rights to live in our homes they incorporated our right in the Constitution. Yet, every day, all over the US, the government is allowing lands and private property to be taken, not for some true "public purpose," but to raise more tax dollars, so that wages and benefits of those who work with or for the various government agencies can grow and assure them of future health care and retirement benefits that few of us in private enterprise can ever hope for. Meanwhile our seniors and minorities are thrown away like so much debris because our homes are "undervalued". Where do these people go? Our city commissioner recently suggested building 'affordable' housing on an old city dump for goodness sake!

Despite our being almost 40-years old, condos in my community have been increasing in values. Yet, once pigeon-holed into a CRA or other such redevelopment plan, your tax assessments seldom go up all the better to make the case that we are not paying enough taxes!

We have 840 residents here and are eagerly awaiting the Supreme Court decision re: Kelo vs. New London, Conn.

Kathy Scruggs: waka.scs.1@worldnet.att.net

Emdo Speak Out is an occasional feature of Eminent Domain Watch through which readers can voice their opinions about eminant domain abuse issues. To be considered for inclusion, send your comments to us at krfapt@aol.com.