Supervisors take major fire during forum: The (Woodland CA) Daily Democrat, 5/20/05

City lawsuit contentious point of debate

By Eve Hightower

Yolo County supervisors' decisions took major fire Wednesday at a public forum.
Supervisors Duane Chamberlain and Frank Sieferman Jr., city councilmen Dave Flory and Matt Rexroad and about 60 other people attended the discussion hosted by Woodlanders for Responsible Government, a nonpartisan group that seeks to inform Woodlanders of issues pertinent to the city.

The county's lawsuit against the city was among the most contentious points of debate.

Last March, Yolo County filed suit against Woodland to block development of a shopping center near Interstate 5. The county wants to halt the City Council's approval of the Woodland Gateway and Auto Mall, which would blanket 77 acres of prime farmland with retail stores, auto center and parking lot.

Mayor Rexroad said the county is just trying to win a share of sales-tax revenues from the project.

Supervisors Chamberlain and Sieferman disagreed, saying the project's environmental impact review is faulty and the city needs to mitigate for the loss of agricultural land and impacts to nearby agricultural operations.

Sieferman said the county repeatedly objected to the review, and concerns were not fully addressed. The county's concerns include a proposed interstate on-ramp, effects on other retail centers in Woodland, and wastewater treatment systems and water supply.

Rexroad said the county's statements about the need for agricultural land mitigation is just a front for their pursuit of money.

"It's about money. Be honest," he said.

The Gateway project is expected to provide at least $1.5 million to city coffers annually. Under a 1989 revenue-sharing agreement, Yolo County could gain more than $600,000 in property taxes from the project. The county would not partake of sales-tax revenue.

Chamberlain said the project would impact several county services, like roads, jails and waste.

"Once it's in the city, your not free of the county," he said. "There's no landfill in the city."

Rexroad said the board's suing the city is a sketchy policy decision. Sieferman and Chamberlain said their decision was based on information provided to them by county staff.

"You can choose not to take council's advise," Rexroad said.

The subject of debate shifted from the lawsuit to this week's announcement of the county-Wintun Indian alliance in purchasing Conaway Ranch to flood control protection to a city urban limit line and Assemblywoman Lois Wolk's proposed legislation to designate more than 30 miles of Cache Creek a wild, scenic and recreational area.

Several attendees pressed the supervisors on the county's use of eminent domain to acquire Conaway Ranch and agreement with the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians. The tribe has pledged to "fully assist" Yolo County in buying the 17,300-acre ranch.

Jim Nielsen asked if there is a connection between the funding agreement and the board's approval of a golf course at the tribe's Cache Creek Casino Resort.

"No," Sieferman said.

Others asked why the agreement hadn't been discussed openly before Tuesday's press conference, where the alliance was announced.

"Nothing has been signed and there are no terms of agreement," Sieferman said.

He added the county and tribe have yet to create an agreement and there has been no board action.

Others questioned the county's determination to acquire the ranch.

"If we'd never gotten involved, anyone could own it by now - and they wouldn't be farmers," Chamberlain said.

Chamberlain reminded the audience that he ran for office last fall on a platform in opposition to the county's use of eminent domain to acquire the property. Now that he is in office, he has to deal with the board's choice to fight for the ranch.

Chamberlain said he'd like to see the ranch owned by those who farm it. He said the county could put easements on the land to take down its value and make it affordable to farmers.

Rexroad also suggested the county place easements on the property.

"And I think Gidaro's group would be willing to do that," he said in reference to ranch owners Conaway Preservation Group of which Steve Gidaro is a member.

"The county has to decide they can't fight every fight," Rexroad said earlier Thursday evening.

Rexroad said he thought the county was right to use eminent domain when dealing with an unwilling seller, but the ranch has since changed hands and the county should reconsider it's strategy.

The Daily Democrat: www.dailydemocrat.com

Swampscott Town Meeting backs land taking for rec trail: (Lynn MA) Daily Item, 5/19/05

By Debra Glidden

[The Swampscott MA] Town Meeting on Tuesday approved taking land by eminent domain to create a 1.3-mile recreational trail.

A motion to take property belonging to National Grid, formerly Massachusetts Electric Company, for a recreational trail, passed by only one vote, which sparked some controversy.

Opponents of the trail immediately filed for reconsideration, which opened the subject up for debate again Wednesday night.

Abutter Richard Polisson moved for reconsideration Wednesday because he said people were not allowed to speak on Tuesday, and the presentation by proponents of the trail did not make it clear that some of the land that would be taken belonged to private homeowners, not National Grid.

Marc Caron also spoke against the eminent domain proceedings, because he said it would allow the town to take property for a project that might not be feasible.

"We have no information whatsoever on this. All we know is they are telling us it is free," Caron said.

Swampscott Partnership Initiative Rails Into Trails (SPIRIT) member Marc Barden spoke against reconsideration, and the motion to reconsider was voted down.

Barden said Town Meeting approval of the eminent domain proceeding allows the Board of Selectmen to file for the land taking, but that several conditions would need to take place before that could be done.

The RTIC would have to obtain two valuations of the property, which Barden said could range from no value to as much as $200,000.The RTIC would have to have enough money to pay National Grid for the highest valuation before the town could initiate eminent domain proceedings.

According to the Assessors Office, National Grid pays the town $65,000 a year in property taxes, and the taxes on the utility easement behind the High School, where the proposed trail would go, are $6,407 a year and opponents of the trail said that is revenue the town cannot afford to lose.

Opponents also said National Grid, which currently owns the land, assumes all maintenance and liability for the corridor.In addition to the loss of tax revenue, opponents expressed concern that the project would not be funded privately, and the town would be stuck footing the bill for the project.

Saily Item: www.thedailyitemoflynn.com

L.B. residents rally to save their homes: Atlanticville (Long Branch NJ), 5/18/05

By Christine varno

Long Branch homeowners facing the prospect of losing their homes to redevelopment made a statement last weekend at a rally against the use of eminent domain.

The rally organized by the Beachfront South Coalition of property owners in the Beachfront South redevelopment zone was the second of its kind to be held in Long Branch this year.

One resident vowed he is not going to give up the fight.

“Like Yogi Berra said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over’” Harold Bobrow, Ocean Boulevard, said at the rally he organized on May 15 in the parking lot of the condominium unit he owns on Ocean Boulevard.

“I do not think anyone in this group would have a problem if a hospital was going to be built, but to make a redeveloper richer is wrong.

“It may be legal, but it is certainly immoral,” he said.

Bobrow and his wife, Michelle, founded the Beachfront South Coalition in March with two goals in mind: to stop eminent domain proceedings that would take his beachfront home and, if that failed, to obtain equitable compensation for the property taken.

The rally, Bobrow said, gave residents in the Beachfront South redevelopment zone a way to join voices.

Beachfront South is a 12-acre tract of land that extends from Bath Avenue to Morris Avenue between Ocean Boulevard and Ocean Avenue. Properties in the area are slated to be taken by the city using its power of eminent domain.

In August, K. Hovnanian Shore Acquisitions, Middletown, was designated as the redeveloper of the zone. Plans call for the approximately 30 properties in the zone to be razed and replaced with a $300 million project comprising five buildings with 350 residential units that will range in cost from $400,000 up to more than $2.2 million.

Residents of the Beachfront North phase II redevelopment zone, known as MTOTSA — Marine and Ocean Terraces and Seaview Avenue — in February hosted the first rally against what they say is the city’s abuse of eminent domain.

Many residents at the Beachfront South rally on Sunday said they did not agree with the city’s vision for redevelopment.

“I do not understand why the city would take nice modern condominium developments to put up more of the cookie-cutter-style apartments and condominiums,” Alice Kessler, Long Branch, said.

Bill McLaughlin, Ocean Avenue, agreed.

“I am against eminent domain,” he said. “Taking people’s homes away for a developer to make a profit is wrong.

Other residents came out because they said they could be next.

“I am here to support the homeowners,” Donna Peterson, Rockwell Avenue, said. “This could affect us next.”

A Neptune women who lost her home through eminent domain proceedings participated in the rally.

“It is hard for me to stand here today and hold an American flag and know this can be going on in America,” Dorothy Argyros said.

“[Eminent domain] takes away what America stands for. This is going on all over.”

Atlanticville: http://atlanticville.gmnews.com

Fontana to consider eminent domain: San Bernardino County (CA) Sun, 5/18/05

By Kelly Rayburn

The [Fontana CA] City Council likely will decide June 7 whether to give the redevelopment agency authority to use eminent domain in large parts of the town's north end.

A public hearing drew minimal public protest Tuesday evening.

At issue is a proposed amendment to the North Fontana Redevelopment Plan that would give the agency the right to take private land in the name of a greater public good in three areas of north Fontana areas the city leaders say have been slow to develop compared to the rest of Fontana's fast-growing north end.

At the meeting Tuesday, Ray Bragg, Fontana's redevelopment and special projects director, sought to make clear that the agency has no plans as of yet to actually use eminent domain.

"It's just a matter of getting it on the books so as a last-resort negotiating tool it's there if necessary,' he said.

The roughly 8,960-acre North Fontana Redevelopment Project Area was created in 1982 and the agency had the authority to use eminent domain within it through 1994, when it expired under state law.

Property owners both within and near the three areas have expressed uneasiness about the amendment, but Tuesday only one showed up to air his concerns.

Larry Bonanno, who owns land in one of the three areas and on which the city would like to build an auto mall, reiterated his protest of including his property in the proposal. He said his property already has all the infrastructure needed for development.

Though mostly quiet at the meeting, some elected officials, including Mayor Mark Nuaimi, have indicated their support for the amendment.

San Bernardino County Sun: www.sbsun.com

BOF Delays Eminent Domain Action: Shore Publishing Co (Madison CT), 5/19/05

By Ben Rayner

More questions were raised than answered about Branford's [CT] attempt to enforce eminent domain acquisition of the Queach property at the Board of Finance [BOF] last week. The BOF did not take any action in regards to the enforcement, instead deciding to put off a vote until its June meeting.

Through his lawyer Al Ippolito, developer Alex Vigliotti has maintained that if offered a fair price for the Queach land he would gladly sell it to the people of Branford. The town counters that it has already offered a reasonable price for the land and that a decision to enforce eminent domain is only a last resort. The actual value of the property is now at the heart of the issue.

A report prepared by the Select Committee on Open Space Acquisition (SCOSA) was given to the Board of Finance. The report attempts to resolve many of the questions regarding the parcel but most of those can't be determined without further analysis and appraisal. Town officials feel that the $1 million offer for the property is in line with previous appraisals and is commensurate with what Vigliotti paid for the land in December, 2004. Vigliotti through his lawyer contends that the actual value of the parcel is well over $4 million and possibly closer to $5 million. "The number [$1 million] is supported by past appraisals," Opie said. "The $5 million figure was based on the entire 205-acre parcel, including the 43.4 acre piece owned by Mr. Vigliotti that is not part of this matter. That price is also with the proviso of 115 building lots on the property. But that number of lots has never been approved by zoning and it is not realistic. "A lot of things point to the $1 million price," First Selectman John Opie continued.

Looking at Other Options
According to Ippolito (a Branford resident and former member of the Board of Assessment Appeals), Branford officials haven't been negotiating in true good faith with his client. He stated that he has a number of different proposals that would satisfy the town's need for open space and balance his client's development prospects but have not been considered.

"The assessment price of large parcels has very little to do with the actual property value. I personally don't know the value and they [the town] don't know the value. We believe there is still room for negotiations. At a minimum we need an appraisal," said Ippolito.

When asked directly by BOF Chair Joseph Mooney if enforcement of the statute was the only option for the town, Opie responded, "As much as I dislike the words eminent domain, it may be the only vehicle left for an amicable agreement. No one wants to talk about eminent domain. It has a bad connotation but I'm not sure how much further we can move the process without this leverage."

Ippolito countered that negotiations should still be taking place and that there was room for a mutually agreeable solution, "This could be a win-win situation for the town and a win-win situation for my client. I feel it is premature to be here [before the BOF]. There are more options — they ended negotiations, we didn't end negotiations."

Cheryl Morris, Democratic candidate for first selectman, raised financial concerns about the enforcement. "Is the $1 million a realistic figure or a pipe dream? Eminent domain sounds like an easy way to go but appeals could potentially costs the town millions," Morris stated. "Are there any other alternatives?" Mooney stated, "We don't take lightly the use of eminent domain. We need to study the information [the SCOSA report] we have here."

he BOF has postponed any action on the matter until its June meeting. The next step, whether the BOF approves the measure in June or not, will be an objective third party appraisal of the property.

Shore Publishing Co: www.shorepublishing.com


Yolo smooths out parks master plan: Yolo (County CA) Enterprise, 5/17/05

By Elisabeth Sherwin

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors was scheduled this morning to review the process that has been used to update the initially controversial draft Parks and Open Space Master Plan.

The draft plan met with considerable unhappiness when it was first made public earlier this spring. The main opposition came from landowners who feared the county was going to build public trails across private ranches, possibly by invoking eminent domain.

However, county staff held many public meetings, at least two specifically with rural landowners, and further explained the county's position, according to an advance staff report.

Staff made clear that possible sites of future parks and open space areas will not identify specific private land. The revised plan will emphasize willing participation and mutually beneficial partnerships. It also will present possible future park components as suggested ways to expand recreational and open space opportunities; these may not necessarily involve land acquisition.

Further, staff emphasized that the draft plan did not mention, nor was it intended to support, the use of eminent domain. The revised plan will clearly state that it is not the county's intent to use eminent domain for projects outlined in the master plan, nor is implementation of the plan dependent on eminent domain.

Staff also will remove all reference to Conaway Ranch as potential county-owned open space. The status of the 17,300-acre Conaway Ranch property is the subject of ongoing legal actions involving the county and other parties, and references to it will be removed from the revised plan. The county has initiated an eminent domain action to buy the land.

(On Monday afternoon, a news conference was called for 11 a.m. today at the County Administration Building in Woodland to announce news regarding the Rumsey Branch of Wintun Indians, the county and Conaway Ranch. The tribe's public relations spokesman, Doug Elmets, would not describe in advance what the announcement concerned but the county has been seeking more than $50 million to buy the ranch property.)

At the board meeting today, staff was going to hear from supervisors and members of the public in preparing revisions to the master plan in the hopes that most of the contentious issues had been addressed.

Staff says the need for recreational areas and open space continues to be a demand in Yolo County.

As a steward of public lands, the county is faced with the challenge of balancing often-competing user needs. This process for managing evolving demands within county parks is often difficult because a clear vision for the management of these lands is not defined.

Through the development of a park and open space master plan, a management directive would be available to staff and the public to provide a clear direction for the planning, development, and management of county parks.

Earlier this year, the board determined that a countywide plan was needed and selected a consulting firm to assist the county. The Dangermond Group, in association with Roberts, Kemp and Associates, was selected based on a recommendation of a subcommittee of the Parks, Recreation and Wildlife Advisory Committee that included chairman Andrew Fulks, Sally Barrett and Jerry Hartwig.

In May 2004, county staff and the consultants (the planning team) began developing the public outreach process. First, a list of potentially interested agencies, advisory committees, citizen groups, individuals, and businesses was developed to be contacted about the plan and planning process.

In addition, a Web site with the sole purpose of educating the public on the park master planning process was developed.

In total, there were nine public meetings in 2004 and 12 public meetings to date, including four public workshops.

The background reports, public outreach and public meetings all led to the creation of the draft master plan, released in February. Several public workshops were held, including a March meeting with rural landowners at the Farm Bureau to gather additional input and provide clarification on the draft plan.

"These meetings were very helpful, as the staff heard a perspective that was missed during the initial public workshops," said John Bencomo, director of planning and public works, in his staff report.

Nearly 100 individuals submitted a total of 50 written comments about the proposed master plan. From these comments, several reoccurring themes and issues became apparent, including questions about plan implementation, the identification of private lands as future parks, the issues of eminent domain and Conaway Ranch and financing for future parks.

Once staff has provided the supervisors with an update on the planning process and heard their comments, the planning team will then revise the draft master plan and return it to the parks advisory commission for more public comment and a recommendation to the board.

The final plan must be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Yolo Enterprise: www.davisenterprise.com

City agency seeks land: San Bernardino County (CA) Sun-News, 5/17/05

Eminent domain possible

By Kelly Rayburn

Amid concern from some [Fontana CA] property owners, the city's redevelopment agency is seeking authority to use eminent domain in a large portion of the fast-growing north end.

The three areas where eminent domain is proposed all fall within the approximately 8,960-acre North Fontana Redevelopment Project Area, created more than 20 years ago to help eliminate blight.

While north Fontana has experienced tremendous growth and commercial development since then, Fontana Redevelopment Director Ray Bragg said that growth has been mostly stagnant in the three areas in question and that eminent domain could be used as a last resort to help the areas develop.

"We need to increase the tools we have to deal with these problems," Bragg said.

If eminent-domain authority is granted, it would give the redevelopment agency the right to take private land in the name of a greater public good.

Though the use of this tactic often is controversial, Bragg said the redevelopment agency has no specific plans to use eminent domain and that if it ever did, property owners would receive a fair price for their land, as well as money for moving costs.

Land in the three areas is mostly undeveloped, but homeowners nearby wonder what's to stop the city from using eminent domain in their neighborhoods if it is used elsewhere in north Fontana. Letters from Bragg specifying that only people within the three sub-areas of the redevelopment zone would be affected did little to quell some people's uneasiness.

"We're kind of skeptical," said Tony Galindo, who has lived on Lytle Creek Road, near the intersection of Interstate 15 and the Interstate 210 extension, for 18 years.

Galindo said, "Development is happening all around us, but we're not getting the upgrades ... we still don't have sidewalks."

He said he had been approached by a representative from a real estate development company looking to buy his property. He demurred, but wonders whether his property could be targeted if the city wants new development.

Bragg said he does not foresee the need for eminent-domain authority in any other region of north Fontana.

One of the areas where eminent domain is an issue includes land where the city would like to create an auto mall.

Larry Bonanno, who said he owns 23.75 acres in the auto mall area, sent a letter to city leaders protesting the inclusion of some of his property in the eminent-domain area. He said his property is not blighted and that the infrastructure needed for development including curbs, gutters, utilities and traffic lights is already in place. He plans to air his concerns at the City Council meeting tonight. Eminent domain is scheduled to be considered tonight during a joint session of the council and the city's redevelopment agency, which is composed of council members. Bragg said officials likely would use the meeting to hear concerns and would vote at their June 7 meeting.

Some elected officials have indicated their support for the proposed amendment.

City Councilwoman Janice Rutherford describes herself as a supporter of individuals' property rights.

"I generally oppose the use of eminent domain," she said, "but I think it's a valuable tool for the city to have to negotiate with people."

She said the redevelopment agency's work has been critical in bringing commercial development, including a Target and a Stater Bros., to north Fontana.

Sun-News: www.sbsun.com


Baby boomers driving redevelopment: (Camden NJ) Courier-Post, 5/15/05

By William Sokolic

Houses for aging baby boomers looking for a second home on the Jersey Shore. A marina, restaurants, upscale retail shops, water sports and fishing.

Coastal communities covet such developments, which are part of ambitious plans to boost tourism in Ventnor, Pleasantville, Wildwood and Somers Point.

And all four towns have turned to a popular tool: They hang their future on redevelopment, something usually associated with efforts to recycle blighted sections of urban centers or older suburban communities.

What has helped is that it has become easier to designate an area for redevelopment. Gone are the days when you required proof of distress to get such a designation.

"Now, all you need is a plan and a good reason to redevelop," said Dr. Richard Perniciaro, director of the Center for Regional and Business Research at Atlantic Cape Community College.

These four municipalities all seek to use redevelopment to capitalize on the growing demand for - and limited supply of - waterfront housing near the shore. "Baby boomers are getting ready to retire, and that's driving the market up and down the shore," Perniciaro said.

Declaring a redevelopment zone allows municipalities to offer tax incentives and abatements to developers.

Although redevelopment has drawn rave reviews for its ability to resuscitate a neighborhood, it can come with a price. To achieve their goals, municipalities must often acquire homes and businesses that do not fit with their plans. And such acquisitions could require the use of eminent domain - the government's right to acquire private land for public use - to force out unwilling owners.

Residents often question the need for revitalization.

Such is the case in Ventnor, the most controversial of the four projects. The city has targeted a 28-acre section of older homes, some mid-rise apartment buildings and a shopping district.

Too many of the buildings are overcrowded and don't meet today's building codes, the city claims.

But the Hispanic Alliance of Atlantic County calls it a form of racial discrimination.

It says the redevelopment effort seeks to eliminate rentals in favor of home ownership and with the higher-end housing proposed, Latinos couldn't afford to buy a new home in Ventnor.

"They'd have to leave town," said Bert Lopez, president of the alliance, which has filed suit to modify, if not stop, the redevelopment proposal. "There's a way of doing redevelopment and improve those buildings in need of repair, and still maintain this as a good working-class neighborhood."

City officials counter they will give financial assistance to displaced residents to help them find other housing in the city.

The redevelopment also affects businesses like the Nashville Market, a grocery bought by Jose Osoria in 2001. Given his druthers, he would stay put rather than be forced to sell and lose money on his investment.

News of the project is also driving away businesses.

A movie theater closed when the landlord pulled the plug in anticipation of having to sell his property. A clothing store folded. Jagielky's Homemade Candies is still around, but owner Mike Carr has opened up in Margate as a hedge.

"The city is still up in the air what to do with me," Carr said. "They talk about relocation, but it will cost a ton to get rid of me."

Mayor Tim Kreischer defends the possible use of eminent domain. "No one will invest in this area without controlling a large portion of the land," he said of developers.

Opposition to the other three redevelopment proposals is not as intense.

The redevelopment area in Pleasantville lies between the old high school and the new marina. It is a mostly vacant neighborhood with a few homes and a wholesale seafood distributor. The city has designated two heavyweights, Edgewood Properties and Toll Brothers, to build homes expected to sell at more than $260,000 each.

"Hopefully we would be able to bring something into the marina as an attraction, like a riverboat shuttle through the Lakes Bay area, some fishing and wind surfing," said Councilman Lincoln Green.

The city wants to keep existing owners as residents. But Michael Giordano of Collingswood worries Toll Brothers will muscle him out of the vacation home he bought on the same street where his grandmother lived for more than 40 years. He and his wife, Patricia, have a vista across the channel to the Atlantic City skyline. He's just steps from the Pleasantville Yacht Club and its new marina. And it's cheaper than Margate or Ocean City.

"I think Pleasantville will take us (through) eminent domain, and then sell to Toll Brothers," Giordano said.

The owner of Randall Seafood, while hoping to stay in the area it has occupied for decades, worries the new residents won't be thrilled by the arrival of trucks at 2 in the morning.

"They want a commercial waterfront, but I do not know if this is what they want," said Al Glenn, owner of the business, which started in 1949. "The city so far made it seem like we would end up staying in the area. But I heard rumors of using eminent domain."

Wildwood selected a top developer, K. Hovnanian, to build in an area of the city fast becoming popular for housing because it's one of the few locations where land is available. Townhouses surrounding the Hovnanian site are selling for as much as $500,000.

"It's consistent with our company philosophy to look for redevelopment opportunities in areas where we think the market is good," said Lew Kurland, legal counsel for the Red Bank-based company.

Realtors in the area praise the proposal. But at least one property owner believes Hovnanian is squashing his plans to build 22 townhouses, valued at $400,000 each. Robert Wood said if the city denies him a permit to build, he expects the developer to pay him for the land.

Somers Point is focusing as much on retail and restaurants as residential housing in the first phase of a four-pronged proposal revolving around Bay Avenue, once home to legendary rock clubs like Tony Marts and Bayshores.

"The overall vision is to have a resort-oriented development," Councilman Carmen Marotta said.

But phase one has run into opposition from Shore Memorial Hospital, which owns much of the land targeted. The hospital has its own ideas, some of which conform to the city's plans and some that don't. The impasse has led to legal action, which may lead to negotiations for a compromise.

To date, none of the projects has broken ground. Concerns about the environment and, to a lesser degree, acquisitions, have held up plans in Wildwood and Pleasantville.

Somers Point has to resolve its conflict with the hospital to move forward. Ventnor is faced with the outstanding lawsuit.

And all are watching for the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the legality of eminent domain in New London, Conn., where residents of a working-class neighborhood have sued city officials who want their properties for a hotel, offices and luxury condominiums. A decision is expected before the court recesses in June.

Courier-Post: www.courierpostonline.com