Legislators give wrap-up rap on how they did: Johnson County (KS) Sun, 6/9/05

By Jack "Miles" Ventimiglia

Area lawmakers discussed information affecting business during a legislative session wrap-up June 2 at the Overland Park Convention Center.

Rep. Ed O'Malley from northeast Johnson County and Sen. John Vratil, Overland Park, reviewed the session for about 115 Lathrop & Gage employees and others.

"We're pleased to come home and report to you that we passed a lot of good bills and perhaps more importantly we didn't pass a lot of bad bills," Vratil said. "Sometimes what we don't do is more important than what we do do."

Eminent domain, under the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, traditionally has served to allow government the right to take property for public purposes, such as building an interstate. The founders placed the item into the Constitution in response to the way the British arbitrarily seized public property.

In recent times, local governments, including in Johnson County, have used eminent domain to transfer private land from one private person to another for economic development. The rationale for this use of public power for private gain has been that the public could benefit in ways such as increased tax revenues.

Such uses have drawn criticism in Kansas. The government took land from some residents in neighboring Wyandotte County to build the Kansas Speedway. In Johnson County, the Roeland Park City Council voted last year to condemn 23 acres already used by some businesses to draw new business.

"If you own a business, it's your business, and you shouldn't have to sell it unless you want to," Sen. Kay O'Connor said at the time.

O'Connor and others across the nation have shared similar views about government power being used to take private land. The concern led to the U.S. Supreme Court last year taking the case of Susette Kelo v. New London, Conn.

In the case, Kelo and others opposed giving up their houses so that New London could attract development. In supporting condemnation, the Connecticut Supreme Court relied on a precedent-setting ruling by the Michigan Supreme Court that supported development as a good reason for eminent domain. However, the high court in Michigan later reversed itself.

The reversal and more than 10,000 cases of eminent domain nationally set the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court, which could rule any day.

Against that backdrop, eminent domain as a development tool may be in jeopardy in Kansas, O'Malley said.

"Kansas is one of only seven states that allow eminent domain to be used for what would be private economic development," he told the audience. "Many of us were worried that there would be (state) legislators who would try to make a quick fix and would not allow something like that to take place. Of course, without something like that, we would never have the Speedway, we would not have a number of wonderful developments that we have in this area and throughout the state."

A growing number of people seek restrictions, Vratil said.

"For at least two years, the authority of cities and counties to condemn property for economic development purposes has been under attack, and for some good reasons, because some of our cities and counties have not used that eminent domain authority wisely," Vratil said.

Efforts to limit eminent domain could return next session, he said.

"I have a growing concern that our ability to do that in the future may be in jeopardy," Vratil said.

The Johnson County Sun: www.zwire.com

The Roseland property debate continues: WNDU-TV16 (South Bend IN), 6/9/05

Board members suggested that the city use Eminent Domain to acquire the property

By Judi Lykowski

It looks as if a new plumbing business in Roseland is being flushed out of town, whether the owner likes it or not.

Big controversy in the small town of Roseland, all because of the property being occupied by Aaron’s Plumbing on the corner of intersection at Pendel and 31 North.

At Thursday’s board meeting one of the board members suggested that the city use Eminent Domain to acquire the land. A suggestion was also made to get a new appraisal on the property, which would eventually lead to the purchasing of the property.

Upon obtaining the land, the city would demolish the existing property. A house would be moved from down the street, renovated and then used as the new police station.

David and Dorothy Snyder who are husband and wife board members voted for the resolution, while the board’s president Charles Shields voted it down. Board member David Snyder said, “We are very serious about it. It’s something the town really needs. We need a police presence up there and that spot is perfect.”

Aaron’s Plumbing owner Kelly Catanzarite’s attorney Peter Agostino said, “We were not surprised about the ongoing effort to exercise Eminent Domain, but that’s a long and arduous process. In the meantime my client is entitled to develop and operate her business here in Roseland.”

“The repairs and improvements are being done. They’ll continue until the vision I saw is completed,” said Catanzarite.

Over the past two weeks Catanzarite has received 14 alleged permit violations. At Thursday’s meeting her attorney offered $200 to clear all those violations and the board approved that.

With a two to one vote for using Eminent Domain the city will continue to pursue the property, while Catanzarite will continue to renovate and remodel with the hopes of freely operating her business.

WNDU: www.wndu.com


Santa Cruz moves to seize downtown plot: Santa Cruz (CA) Sentinel, 6/8/05

By Shanna McCord

The City Council unanimously agreed Tuesday night to go after Pacific Avenue property owner Ron Lau’s 20,000-square-foot site through eminent domain.

The move allows the city to proceed with the next step: use the courts to acquire the land and pay Lau fair-market-value for the plot.

Lau’s plot on the north end of Pacific Avenue, next to Lulu Carpenter’s cafe, was leveled during the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake and has since sat empty, except for weeds and graffiti, which city officials say make the site blighted and in "serious disrepair."

"There’s no greater burden on a public official than eminent domain," Councilman Tim Fitzmaurice said. "But, this is a wound in our community. I’m convinced of that."

During the past 15 years, Lau, a Watsonville resident, has attempted several projects at the location that meet his deeply held environmental and ecological ideals, but none has ever taken shape.

Council members were asked Tuesday by the Redevelopment Agency to adopt a resolution that allows for eminent domain — the government’s ability to condemn private property for public use, provided owners’ receive fair compensation.

In a last minute attempt to hold off city condemnation of his property, Lau showed up at Tuesday’s eminent domain hearing with a development team that presented the council a plan to build a "green" project that includes apartments, restaurants, parking and retail space at the site.

Lobbying on Lau’s behalf included an attorney, a Moraga-based construction manager, financier and architect.

The group told council members they signed a 99-year lease with Lau on Tuesday. The lease, they said, allows them control of what happens on the property.

"It’s tempting not to take this action (eminent domain)," Councilman Ed Porter said. "But I’ve looked at proposals from him over the years. And I’m a little troubled these plans arrived this afternoon."

Lau’s attorney William Markham, a real estate lawyer from San Diego, criticized the city’s action as an "unjust taking" and said it’s likely they will fight the city’s decision in court.

The vote in favor of eminent domain comes after several failed attempts to negotiate a selling price.

Lau declined to comment on the vote.

Santa Cruz Sentinel: www.santacruzsentinel.com

Eminent domain carries newcomers in Westville: Gloucester County (NJ) Times, 6/8/05

By Anne B. Jolis

Incumbent Arthur Kelley Jr. lost his bid for re-election [to city council] at Tuesday's primary election [in Westville].

Kelley, who has served on council for only 18 months, garnered 92 votes losing the Republican nomination for this year's two open council seats to newcomers Mark Styan, who received 151 votes, and Susan Rodgers, who got 160 votes.

Throughout their campaigns, all the candidates agreed that the issue of redevelopment in the Timber Park area was the first question on voters' lips.

"The people really just asked me about my position on this one issue," said Rodgers. "I think the people were making a very clear statement in this election. I ran because I'm against eminent domain, and I'm not that surprised that the primaries turned out this way."

In January, Kelley and the rest of the council voted to designate the residential area, now known as the "Yellow Zone," in need of redevelopment. Though Kelley has since adamantly stated that he would not support the use of eminent domain to acquire the properties, many feel that the issue still directed the outcome of the election.

"In politics, nothing is fair sometimes," said Mayor Bill Packer, adding that he believes that the redevelopment issue distracted voters from Kelley's other actions on the council. "I've seen a lot of people who've done good things for their communities get voted out of office for all kinds of reasons. But, that's life in the political arena."

"The people are concerned, they're upset," said Styan. "Kelly was the incumbent, and so I think the people have spoken pretty clearly. They just aren't happy with their elected officials — the issue is the ability to have faith in your elected officials. So many people voiced their opinions very strongly against designating the Timber Park area in need of redevelopment, and they just voted for it anyway."

"Those redevelopment plans should have been put to the people for a vote," said Rodgers. "I think that's what the people said in this election."

Running against Styan and Rodgers in the November elections are newcomers Woodrow Dooley III (D), James Pennington Jr. (D) and incumbent Fritz Sims (I). Dooley and Pennington are the first Democrats to run for office in the borough since 1980.

Both Rodgers and Styan said they're not ready to comment on specific campaign strategies for the next election.

"Right now, I'm just trying to take it all in," said Styan. "I'm trying to enjoy the moment as best I can. I plan on campaigning hard, to continue to do what I've been doing, get my word out and let people know that I can be trusted. Because I can."

Kelley declined comment.

Gloucester County Times: www.nj.com/news/gloucester/local


Owens vetos bills to block Super Slab: Denver (CO) Post, 6/6/05

By Steven K. Paulson, The Associated Press

Gov. Bill Owens today vetoed two bills designed to limit or block a proposed private toll highway along the Front Range and urged lawmakers to study the issue this summer.

One bill would have denied developer Ray Wells the ability to condemn and take over private land, which Wells said would have killed the project. The other would have required corporations to notify all landowners whose property might be affected.

The 210-mile, Wellington-to-Pueblo road, nicknamed "Super Slab," encountered fierce opposition after it was proposed.

Officially called the Front Range Toll Road, the project would include a 660-foot-wide corridor for a superhighway and railroad tracks. It would also carry gas lines, electrical lines and information cable and would have a 1-mile conservation easement on either side to prevent congestion.

Backers of the plan have identified a 12-mile-wide swath where the highway might go, involving thousands of property owners.

Protesters showed up at rallies and said the project would hurt property values.

Wells did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Owens said in his veto letter to lawmakers that both bills were too broad to effectively address potential problems with eminent domain and preserve the ability of private companies to invest in toll roads.

"Private investment in Colorado's transportation infrastructure is needed now more than ever," Owens told lawmakers. The governor said funding for the state Transportation Department next year is expected to be 40 percent below what it was three years ago.

Owens said eminent domain should be a tool of last resort and must include safeguards to protect landowners. He said he vetoed Senate Bill 230 because it did not provide safeguards and would have repealed eminent domain entirely.

Owens said he vetoed House Bill 1342 because it would have created an unnecessary state-level environmental process that could not be amended by the Transportation Commission or Department of Transportation.

Carrie Doyle, spokeswoman for the Colorado Environmental Coalition, said a state-level environmental process is necessary, especially on a project of the magnitude proposed by developers.

"A toll road should have to follow the same rules as any other public highway. Let's have the same thoughtful analysis and public input on a project of this scale," she said.

Denver Post: www.denverpost.com

Eminent domain struggle over bike shop: ABC-TV7 (Chicago IL), 6/6/05

By Paul Meincke

One man's battle to save his bicycle shop may rest with the United States Supreme Court.

The city of Chicago wants to use the power of eminent domain to take the property for a condo development. The bike shop owner calls that an abuse of power.

Eminent domain gives a city the power to take private land — for a fair price — so long as the deal benefits the public.

A Connecticut case awaiting an important ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court is mirrored by many eminent domain cases across the country including the fight over a Jefferson Park bike shop.

They all ask the question, "when is it proper for a public body to take private land for what will be private use?" Don Zordani is a former bicycle racing champion who has made his living selling bikes. Nearly 35 years ago, he bought an old Jewell store in Jefferson Park and turned it into a shop that has had — over the years — a sizable clientele.

The city wants to take the bike shop and surrounding properties and allow a private developer to build a seven story condominium tower.

Zordani sees that as an abuse of the city's power to condemn.

"This is not something for the city or the park district, or a school. it would just be for a private developer to make the lot of profit," said Don Zordani.

"I'd like to see some type of development there to make the community proud rather than the eyesore around those abandoned stores," said 45th Ward Ald. Pat Levar.

The city argues that the bike shop and surrounding properties are "blighted", and that building a condo tower with retail shops here would create jobs, improve the tax base and neighborhood appearance. All that, the city argues, would serve the public interest and therefore satisfy the law.

But Zordani says when this process began in the late 90's, his building had not been declared blighted, and the developer who desires his property now was investing heavily in the neighborhood.

"He built a nine-story office building he put in a blighted area," Zordani said.

"We don't think this property's blighted and if it is, then there's not a piece of property anywhere that isn't at risk of being condemned by the city," said Joe Cainkar, attorney for Zordani.

Don Zordani acknowledges that he would sell for the right price. Everybody, he says, has a number.

The developer who wants to put up the condo, Demetrius Kozonis says Zordani's number is way out of whack — several million dollars too high — that they've offered to keep the bike shop in the neighborhood, but that Zordani is stubborn and unreasonable.

ABC-TV7: http://abclocal.go.com

Colorado Eminent Domain Activist Conference 2005, August 6

The Colorado Eminent Domain Activist Conference is scheduled for 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Aug. 6, 2005 at the Embassy Suites Hotel, Denver-Aurora, 4444 N. Havana.

Speakers include Steven Anderson, Castle Coalition Coordinator, Washington, D.C.; Joseph Becker, Staff Attorney, Mountain States Legal Foundation, Lakewood, CO; Sen. Shawn Mitchell, Colorado State Senator, Broomfield, CO; and Dave Minshall, Minshall Media Strategies, Centennial, CO. The meeting will be chaired by Tom Wambolt, Save Our Lake, Arvada, CO.

The city of Arvada used eminent domain proceedings on a lake to make way for a big box store. The city of Wheat Ridge used eminent domain on several small business to make way for another national retail outlet. The city of Sheridan used eminent domain on a row of businesses and part of another city's golf course to make way for a development. The city of Westminster used eminent domain proceedings to take away agriculture land from a pioneer family. The people on the eastern slope saw a huge portion of land being taken for a super toll road. Metropolitan Denver and suburbs will see eminent domain used along the FasTrack routes throughout the area.

The conference will bring together eminent domain activists from across Colorado to exchange ideas and to discuss the necessary techniques and resources needed to fight abuses like these of eminent domain in their communities.

For more details, contact Tom Wambolt, 6035 Garrison St, Arvada, CO 80004, 303-421-5668, email twambolt@denver.net


Destiny: eminent domain, imminent construction? Syracuse (NY) Post Standard, 5/15/05

This is the kind of week when we're reminded of that coinage by Alan Greenspan: Are things really moving, or is this just "irrational exuberance"?

Only time will tell (but that's the rock group Asia, not Greenspan). On to last week's news:

Imminent dispute
A member of the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency said Thursday he opposes using eminent domain to acquire private land for the proposed Destiny USA Research and Development Park in Salina.

Gregg Kidd said Destiny should pay for the value of their properties and the cost of moving.

"That would be the path of least resistance," Kidd said. "That would be my hope. And in my opinion, it's kind of the right thing to do."

Destiny developer Robert Congel has asked the agency to condemn private land to make room for the park. The 29 businesses that could be forced to move have objected.

Robert Baldwin, chair of the agency's board, said the businesses should be treated the same way Destiny is treating the county resource recovery agency - for which Destiny has promised to pay the moving expenses.

Why it matters: The OCIDA board has seven members. One seat is vacant, and two members said they won't vote on Destiny-related matters because of conflict-of-interest issues. That leaves four voting members.

But if four votes are required for OCIDA to act, the relutance of Kidd and Baldwin to use the agency's eminent domain powers could doom efforts to acquire the land that way.

In the dark
OCIDA Thursday took its discussion of the proposed research and development park behind closed doors.

The board of directors met for close to an hour in executive session. Chairman Robert Baldwin cited attorney-client privilege as the reason for closing the session. He said the board discussed with its special counsel potential conflicts of interest involving some board members.

The Open Meetings Law requires board like OCIDA's to meet in public. For particular exceptions - including discussions involving attorney-client privilege - public boards may go into private session.

But according to Robert Freeman, executive director of the state Department of State's Committee on Open Government, boards lose their attorney-client privilege when they invite third parties into discussions.

And Thursday, Baldwin invited three county legislators into the meeting.

Freeman says if they were included, the meeting should have been opened to anyone.

It wasn't.

Why it matters: Open meetings law shouldn't be something boards choose to observe when they want and ignore when they don't find it convenient.

On Thursday, nearly 25 representatives of businesses that might be forced against their will to move waited in the hall while the board discussed the project that might ruin their businesses.

State law, according to Freeman, says they should not have been excluded.

Starting . . . but slowly
Two months ago, the Destiny developers predicted there would be 100 new high-tech jobs in Syracuse by early June, courtesy of three technology companies setting down roots here.

The companies - ThoughtWorks, Interregnum and WISeKey - expect to have at least 25 workers in Syracuse by June.

Space has been a limiting factor, said Bill Euller, a vice president at ThoughtWorks who oversees the company's work on Destiny.

So this week Carousel Center's skydeck was prepared to become office space for up to 100 workers, said Michael Lorenz, a Destiny USA executive.

Destiny has leased 4,000 square feet at the Syracuse Technology Garden, downtown. That space should be ready to use in about a month, said Nasir Ali, vice president for new venture development at the chamber.

Why it matters: Nearly five years after Destiny was proposed - with a sense of urgency by the developer so work could start within months - and after a groundbreaking that, it turns out, did not represent the start of anything in particular, there's a certain boy-crying-wolf quality about announcements of progress.

To be fair, this is a complex project. That the jobs haven't come as fast as was hoped two months ago doesn't mean that they won't come.

Garbage in, garbage out
Destiny's developers might pay millions to buy land, relocate and build a new trash transfer station for Onondaga County, to make way for the Research and Development Park in Salina.

The Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency insists that Destiny pay to relocate the Ley Creek Trash Transfer Station on Seventh North Street.

Destiny executive Stephen Congel, in an April 7 letter to County Executive Nicholas Pirro, said the developer will reimburse "the costs associated with the relocation of a replacement facility."

Why it matters: Think this is a likely model for deals between the developer and the private businesses in the park's footprint, too?

The 'blue' period
Destiny USA planners have given the city hundreds of pages of engineering plans and could be weeks away from getting permits to begin construction of a $340 million, 848,000-square- foot addition to Carousel Center.

City departments responsible for reviewing the site, architectural, structural and mechanical plans are well into that review and have held six lengthy meetings with Destiny officials to discuss the details, city officials said.

"Were very pleased and very appreciative of the mutual collaboration," city Corporation Counsel Terri Bright said Wednesday.

Why it matters: Perhaps more important than the blueprints themselves is that "mutual collaboration" that Bright talked about.

Another example of the cooperation - Congel has not given the city a list of tenants for the expansion, but Bright said the city is not requiring the list because the bank lending Congel the $340 million for the expansion will require that information.

"If the bank is willing to loan $340 million, that's good enough," she said.

This cooperation stands in contrast to the continuing dispute between the city and the developer over Empire Zone acreage at the Syracuse Inner Harbor and to the tenor of earlier talks about the expansion.

Around the nation
This is a summary of news from outside Central New York that touches on the Destiny USA project.

From the gray lady. The New York Times last Sunday published a story about Destiny's desire to use government eminent domain powers to compel 29 businesses to move from land that would be used for the third phase of the research and development park in Salina.

There's not much more to say. The article aired the Destiny vision, the more everyday concerns of the businesses that might be asked to move someday and the questions about when it's proper for government to use its eminent domain powers and when it's not.

The article didn't break any ground that hasn't been covered in these pages.

But it is the Times, after all.

Syracuse Post Standard: www.syracuse.com