Fieldstone Associates' eminent-domain abuse: Philadelphia PA Inquirer, 11/13/06

By Marian Bobyak

Basically, when a governing body deploys "redevelopment," the owners of a property that is condemned must sell it to the designated redeveloper.

They don't get to set the sales price. They can't refuse to sell. They are forced to sell.

The only way they can keep it is to go to court and have a judge decide they have more right to their property than the corporation that is trying to take it away from them through eminent-domain abuse.

This is prohibitively expensive for most individuals, and so, in a lot of instances, they sell to avoid the legal expense, emotional drain, and uncertainty of how the judge will decide.

You might ask, what happens when the shoe is on the other foot? What if Fieldstone Associates, the developer involved in a Haddon Township eminent-domain controversy, had a piece of property that was being taken by eminent domain? How would it handle the situation?

Well, coincidentally, Fieldstone is in exactly that position right now.

Fieldstone purchased 51 acres in Hamilton Township for $375,000 in 2001. It then began a process to get permission to build. At some point, the governing body in Hamilton Township decided it didn't want the Fieldstone project to move forward. Hamilton offered Fieldstone $1.25 million for the site.

The people of Hamilton Township were outraged; many argued the property was not worth the amount of money Fieldstone was being offered.

Fieldstone balked at the offer. Through its high-power lawyers, it convinced the township's governing body to pay $4.1 million for the 51 acres, with an additional rider that if Hamilton Township did not close on the property on Sept. 1, 2005, the township would pay Fieldstone 8 percent interest on the $4.1 million until the deal did close.

The deal didn't close, because there was so much public outcry. Meanwhile, Hamilton has been forced to pay over $330,000 in interest on a piece of property it doesn't own!

But in Haddon Township, Fieldstone is prepared to battle the Sulock family and Lou Ruediger in court. The Sulocks own a nice brick building on Haddon Avenue that houses the State Farm Insurance office and three other businesses.

The Sulocks are senior citizens who have owned the building for many years, paid their taxes, and been good neighbors.

Ruediger is handicapped, but is able to go to work because of his home's proximity to the High Speed Line.

Don't allow Fieldstone to take away his home.

The court date is 1:30 p.m. Friday, at the Hall of Justice in Camden, Fifth and Mickle Boulevard. Judge M. Allan Vogelson will preside. (Call 856-379-2381 the day before to make sure the case is not postponed.) Please come and help put an end to the terribly un-American practice of eminent-domain abuse.

Philadelphia PA Inquirer: www.philly.com