When will you or someone you know be evicted by an eminent domain action?

Remember Elian Gonzalez? By surrounding his home supporters kept the media tuned to his story and made all Americans aware of his plight.

In the same spirit Freestar Media LLC is creating a calendar of the eviction dates of victims of eminent domain abuse (EDA). This calendar will allow opponents of EDA to surround the homes and businesses of victims on eviction day and call attention to their story.

After we have the calendar we will need a band of people ready to walk, drive or fly to frontline of the eminent domain wars—to whomever's home or business is next in the path of government bulldozers. Freestar will videotape these frontline events for its movie. We are even considering having a roaming Woodstock —music bands that travel America playing at the victim's home or business on the last day in order to attract a crowd. Together we can fight out-of-control government. But we must unify and focus our effort on the frontline in order to call attention to the tremendous injustice of eminent domain abuse.

  • June 24, 2006 11:59pm: Bob Blue, Bernard Luggage Company, 1642 Vine Street, L.A., CA 90028

Contact Freestar Media to list an eviction date, help on the front line, or support the effort with a contribution:

Join us on the frontline: mailto:Logan@FreestarMedia.com

Freestar Media: www.freestarmedia.com


Grassroots group in California is sponsoring a ballot initiative

Limit Eminent Domain is a grassroots group in California that is trying to stop the use of eminent domain for private gain. This non-partisan organization is trying to get an initiative on the Nov 2006 ballot.

Check them out at www.limiteminentdomain.org

States of Eminent Domain: The Monitor (McAllen TX), 2/28/06

The Monitor View

It has been just over a year since the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Kelo v. the city of New London (Conn.) and eight months since the high court ruled in favor of cities. Yes, the high court ruled, New London and other municipalities were within their constitutional bounds to use eminent-domain to take property from homeowners and business owners and give it to developers who promise economic and tax benefits to the city.

City officials, leaders of municipal organizations such as the League of Cities and, of course, developers celebrated that 5-4 decision, which said: "Promoting economic development is a traditional and long-accepted governmental function, and there is no principled way of distinguishing it from the other public purposes the Court has recognized."

That statement is preposterous. It wasn’t difficult for the Constitution’s founders to make a bright-line distinction between public uses and private ones. Nevertheless, advocates for eminent-domain began celebrating a bit early, apparently overlooking another key portion of the ruling.

Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the majority, wrote that "nothing in our opinion precludes any state from placing further restrictions on its exercise of the takings power."

Since July, the public has taken Justice Stevens at his word. Americans have been outraged at the idea that their home or business could be taken, and they could be forced to fight a long battle to gain just compensation, not so a city can build a road, but so that a city can give the property to a developer to build an auto mall, shopping center or hotel and thus raise tax revenue.

According to the Institute for Justice, which represented the property owners in Kelo, 40 state legislatures and Congress have proposed or passed legislation in the ensuing months. Conservatives and liberals have joined together to try to rein in abuses, even though only a handful of laws have yet been passed to deal with the issue. The few state laws that have passed still allow eminent domain for blighted properties.

California law requires a blight finding before eminent domain can be used for economic development, which has caused state redevelopment officials to tell Californians that there is nothing to worry about because Kelo hasn’t changed anything. Well, Kelo might not have affected California law, but abuses were rampant in this state before Kelo and they remain rampant after it. Changes are needed to protect homeowners given that cities take the widest latitude in declaring property blighted.

Although the California Democratic Party recently passed a resolution calling for reform, the Democrat-dominated Legislature halted any such reforms in the 2005 session. That’s why property-rights advocates, led by state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Simi Valley, are circulating three separate initiatives that would place eminent-domain reform on a statewide ballot.

Meanwhile, Suzette Kelo and her neighbors have yet to leave their neighborhood in New London. Developers are leery of having their names associated with the landmark eminent-domain case. Redevelopment officials are frustrated and angry, and are trying to mount a countercampaign to prove to Americans that eminent-domain is a necessary "tool" in their redevelopment toolbox. Good luck on that point.

"My life hasn’t been the same since June 23, 2005," a top California redevelopment official told The New York Times, referring to the date the Kelo decision was issued. The Times article spotlighting the backlash against Kelo was on its front page, a testament to a rare level of resentment unleashed against a court ruling.

Coupled with the Oregon Supreme Court’s upholding last week of a measure requiring that the state’s municipalities pay compensation to property owners who lost value after the passage of land-use regulations, the Kelo reaction might signal the resurgence of a long-overdue property-rights movement in America.

The Monitor: www.themonitor.com

Senate rejects eminent-domain proposals: (Louisville KY) Courier-Journal, 2/28/06

Floyd's Sipes spurred by sewer-line issues

By Lesley Stedman Weidenbener

The Indiana Senate yesterday rejected two efforts to limit the ways that small sewer companies created by private developers can use eminent domain to acquire easements on neighboring land.

The Senate voted largely along party lines — with Democrats supporting the measures and majority Republicans generally opposing them — on two amendments proposed by Sen. Connie Sipes, D-New Albany, who is frustrated by the actions of developers in Floyd County.

"I'm asking you to take a stand on protecting people's property," Sipes told her colleagues yesterday. "It is sacred to them."

But Sen. Richard Bray, R-Martinsville, said yesterday that the Senate shouldn't be using the eminent-domain bill to solve local problems. No vote on the full bill was taken.

Sipes had two proposals:
  • The first would have prohibited private sewer companies that planned to have or had fewer than 500 hookups from using eminent domain — or the taking of private land — for their plants or infrastructure.
  • The second would have required private developers that are building sewage plants to gain approval from county commissioners before applying to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management or the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission to provide sewer services.

The amendments were offered to House Bill 1010, which restricts government's ability to seize land from one private owner to give to another private owner for development. The Indiana Department of Transportation is exempt.

As passed by the House, the bill included a provision similar to one of Sipes' amendments that would have stopped the use of eminent domain by small sewer companies. But that language was removed in a Senate committee.

In Floyd County, residential developers are using or have threatened to use the state's eminent-domain law to try to bury sewer pipes on private land.

Sipes told the Senate that although her proposals were spurred by situations in Floyd County, they would not have affected them because the measures are not retroactive.

Instead, she said, the amendments were meant to protect landowners in the future.

"This is not about Floyd County," she said. "This is about protecting land."

But opponents said yesterday that making it more difficult for developers to build sewer plants could be bad for the environment because it would encourage them to use septic systems or other disposal methods that are less reliable.

Sen. Beverly Gard, R-Greenfield, said the sewer language offered by Sipes should be considered in a separate bill that could be debated in a committee. But there's no time left for that this session.

"I think there is a role for IDEM, a role for the IURC and a role for the local Board of Zoning Appeals," Gard said. "But it's difficult to figure that out at second-reading amendment" stage of the process.

The Courier-Journal: www.courier-journal.com

South Texas farmer fights eminent domain for land: Texas Agriculture (The Texas Farm Bureau), 3/3/06

From dreams to dumps

By Bobby Horecka

When Brian Adamek bought a couple hundred acres of rich black land soil from his father two years ago, he says he was planning for his future and the future of his wife and 3-month-old son.

But his dreams may be dashed if the city [of Victoria TX] follows through with its plan to expand a nearby landfill by using its power to condemn his property for what city officials consider the greatest public good.

At issue are some 208 acres of turned topsoil just south of Victoria. Adamek says he plans to plant it with cotton this spring, a sizable portion of the total 850 acres he presently farms in the area.

The City of Victoria, however, says the land would be better suited for the planned landfill expansion. In addition to its location adjacent to the current landfill — which serves the garbage disposal needs for several counties in the region — Adamek's property is also one of the few immediately neighboring sites to be free of creeks and drainage concerns, making it a prime locale for such a venture to operate within state and federal environmental regulations.

City officials approached Adamek about his property a year and a half ago, offering $630 an acre for land he said he bought for $730 an acre from his father just a few months prior. Failure to accept that offer, Adamek said he was told, could mean he could get absolutely nothing for it should the city move forward with the authority enabled to them under the powers of eminent domain.

Adamek shared his plight on a recent Friday afternoon inside the warmth of his barn, where he worked to ready his planting equipment for the coming season. Outside, a brisk north wind carried the promise of some much needed but ill-timed moisture.

"Where are my rights?" he said, bearing down on the red shop cloth as he worked the morning's greasy toil from his palms.

"They're talking about more than a fourth of my operation," he said. "I'll be losing my income. That's excellent black land, and good land is hard to come by around here. It's definitely worth a lot more to me than that."

Still, Adamek said, losing the land wouldn't be half as bitter if the city were willing to offer a fair price.

When the city bought the initial property to start the landfill back in the 1980s, the property sold for $2,000 an acre. A 200-acre tract of farmland closer to town sold for $5,000 an acre just two years ago for what the city said would be an industrial park, land which remains vacant today. Adamek said the city even upped the ante to $10,000 an acre to buy out the same landowner's remaining 100 acres to ensure expansion area in the same scant industrial park.

Considering the landfill expansion could earn the city as much as $600,000 more each year once it is completed, Adamek said he was certain his property should be worth an incredible amount more than anything the city had thus far offered.

Even the going rate for most agricultural land around the area is more than the city offered him, Adamek said. He estimated the price at about $700-$900 an acre, on average.

His neighbor John Smajstrla, who met with Adamek earlier that day to help him prep his machinery, agreed.

"They're offering a low ag value on the property when there's no secret what they intend to use it for," Smajstrla said. "They should be dealing with numbers that are fair market value for the property's highest and best use, but that's a far cry from anything I've heard so far."

Adding insult to injury, city officials claim it is not them, but Adamek who has stalled the negotiation process.

"We can't get them to the table to discuss it on a rational basis," city attorney David Smith told the local newspaper. "We will be fair with these people, but they're giving us absolutely nothing to go on."

Meanwhile, the Victoria City Council authorized their attorney to proceed with the condemnation process if they can't come to an agreement.

To defend his land, Adamek will have to go before a county court-appointed tribunal of three people from the community knowledgeable about local market values. Based on those rulings, each side of the issue then has the right to appeal, and if necessary, further challenge the dispute before judge and jury, leaving Adamek to foot the bill for legal costs and property appraisal fees to protect his stake.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," the 31-year-old farmer said as he gazed across the neatly laid rows at the skeletal equipment snaking down the mammoth mounds of landfill bordering his property.

"I don't want to sell my land, but I don't want it condemned either," he said. "This land has been in my family for more than 30 years, and I need my land to support my wife and young son. But I'm just a young guy, so I guess they think they can just run all over me.

"It just doesn't seem right."

Texas Agriculture: www.txfb.org/TexasAgriculture

Legislators pushing eminent domain limits: NorthJersey.com (Hackensack NJ), 2/27/06

By John Brennan and Elise Young

Eminent domain — the centuries-old right of the government to seize private property for public use — has become a lightning rod for controversy since last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed an expansive interpretation of that right.

Now, New Jersey lawmakers are pushing a variety of bills to limit eminent domain to its more traditional uses, such as obtaining land for hospitals and highways, while forbidding its use simply for economic development.

An Assembly committee took a first step at reining in the practice Thursday, convening a two-hour hearing that underscored the opposition to eminent domain among homeowners and small-business owners who fear their property will be seized. But the committee also heard from development advocates, worried that some of the measures might go too far.

Assemblyman Richard Merkt, R-Morris, has proposed an amendment to the New Jersey Constitution that would narrow the ways in which state and local governments could invoke eminent domain. Assemblywoman Charlotte Vandervalk, R-Montvale, is seeking a four-year moratorium on broader takings, and state Sen. Joseph Coniglio, D-Paramus, is sponsoring a bill with a two-year moratorium.

"The cold fact is that most of the redevelopment deals employing eminent domain are thinly disguised moneymaking opportunities for politicians and their developer friends," Vandervalk said.

Merkt said the level of public resentment is almost unprecedented.

"I think there is a dawning recognition among the general public that they really don't have a guarantee of property rights," he said. "They feel threatened, and rightly so."

That sentiment swept the country following last June's 5-4 ruling by the Supreme Court that upheld the right of New London, Conn., to seize nine homes as part of an attempt to revitalize its waterfront.

Writing for the majority, Justice John Paul Stevens said there was extensive precedent for the court to interpret the "public use" clause of the Fifth Amendment as permitting a variety of public purposes. He said a redevelopment plan designed to increase jobs and tax revenues "unquestionably serves a public purpose."

O'Connor dissent
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor — who has since retired — passionately disagreed.
"Under the banner of economic development, all private property is now vulnerable to being taken and transferred to another private owner, so long as it might be upgraded -- [meaning,] given to an owner who will use it in a way that the legislature deems more beneficial to the public," O'Connor wrote in her dissent. "Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory."

The ruling has led a handful of states to enact laws restricting eminent domain, and the Institute for Justice — a libertarian law firm that has closely followed the controversy — estimates at least 40 state legislatures have proposed limits.

In November, the House of Representatives passed a bill that would limit the scope of the high court's ruling, which is known as Kelo v. New London after homeowner Susette Kelo. The measure is pending in the Senate.

The National League of Cities, has sent members of Congress a letter urging them "not to preempt or displace state laws and constitutions that govern the local application of eminent domain in their haste to scramble onto the property rights bandwagon."

The group warns of possible "irreparable damage" to federal programs, such as affordable housing or brownfield reclamation, if eminent domain is severely limited.

In New Jersey, the Assembly's Commerce and Economic Development Committee hearing Thursday included testimony from William Potter, a lawyer representing the New Jersey Coalition Against Eminent Domain Abuse. He said homeowners are being treated as pawns by developers.

"They are not detritus," Potter said. "They are not something to be scooped out by bulldozers so wealthy people can move in. It's become too darn easy to say an area is a redevelopment area. This is a violation of the letter and spirit of the Constitution. It's a cleaning of lower-income people from these municipalities. This is not justice."

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, said the committee would listen to affected homeowners.

"The word 'abuse' has our attention," Burzichelli said. "This is a troubling matter for our residents."

But Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley said the threat of an eminent domain action helped turn around Sutton Towers, a blighted 1,000-unit apartment complex.

Ten years ago, after threatening to seize the property, the borough came to an agreement with GE Capital, the mortgage holder, to renovate the units. Of the $45 million project cost, Collingswood kicked in $7.7 million — more than its annual municipal budget.

As an equity shareholder, Collingswood stands to profit when the building is sold. The borough has taken on a number of other projects, some using eminent domain. The downtown "renaissance" has led to soaring property values in the Camden suburb, he said.

Merkt said that while he would support bills that limit eminent domain, a constitutional amendment would be far more useful.

"The problem with legislation is that what one legislature does, the next legislature undoes it," Merkt said. "We do it all the time."

Coniglio said his bill would establish a bipartisan commission that would "examine ways which eminent domain can be used in a manner that honors citizens' property rights and benefits the public as a whole."

John H. Buonocore, an attorney with the Morristown firm of McKirdy and Riskin who has practiced eminent domain law for more than 25 years, said the Legislature's efforts may prove to be just "window dressing."

"Our eminent domain law, properly applied, is OK," Buonocore said. "But what's happened is that in recent years, municipalities have really tried to stretch the criteria for whether an area really is in need of redevelopment. What we need to do now is tighten the standards."

Dozens of N.J. battles
Attorney Bruce Rosenberg, who represents a number of small-business owners, said he hopes that the spotlight on eminent domain will lead to improvements in the process.

"I think that we're going to see issues addressed, such as whether compensation to private owners is adequate and whether the process is fair," he said. "For instance, in some cases an owner might only receive a 10-day notice from a planning board that his property is being targeted for redevelopment, yet he has to somehow marshal the resources to fight it."

The variety of bills and the complexity of the issues mean months may pass before any legislation is put to a vote. But there already are dozens of eminent domain battles raging statewide, including court fights in Lodi, North Arlington and Little Ferry.

'Woke everyone up'
Some taxpayers say the issue can't wait.

"I think they need to put in a moratorium right now, so they have time to look into this mess and stop people from having their homes stolen out from under them," said George Mytrowitz, an auto-body shop owner in Newark who is a member of the Mulberry Street Coalition. The group has been battling for three years to block the city from taking their businesses and homes for a new condominium development.

"Unbelievably, that [Supreme Court] ruling was actually a help, because it woke everyone up," said Mytrowitz, whose family business dates back nearly a century. "At the rate we're going, who in 20 years won't know someone who has had this happen to them?"

That was the idea that led Larry Reid, a real estate agent from River Vale, to attend Thursday's hearing, even though he is not personally involved in any eminent domain case.

"It could be anybody that has a desirable piece of property," he said. "It could be you next."

NorthJersey.com: www.northjersey.com

Don't spoil eminent domain bill: The (Charleston SC) Post and Courier, 2/26/06


Remember the outrageous U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the taking of private property for private use? South Carolina legislative leaders vowed to make sure that can never happen in our state. Charleston Sen. Chip Campsen drafted the Senate-approved constitutional amendment for the November ballot that would provide the needed protection. Unfortunately, there's the potential that the House this week will play the role of spoiler.

The way it looks to Sen. Campsen, some House members are trying to replace a "sure winner with a sure loser" when it comes to eminent domain legislation. His proposed constitutional amendment is clean and simple. Private property could only be taken only for public use. Period. That would eliminate the possibility it could be taken for the far more vague "public benefit" that was a key factor in the Connecticut case decided by the Supreme Court. In that instance, economic development by private interests was construed to meet that state's "public benefit" test.

Actually, the South Carolina Supreme Court has consistently held that eminent domain may only be allowed for a public use. But as Sen. Campsen and others have noted, the high court's views could change with new members. The court's strict guidelines should be written into the constitution.

The House doubtless agrees with that. But it has written its own eminent domain bill that now includes an unexpected, highly controversial provision dealing with the compensation of property owners for regulatory reductions in land use.

Charleston Rep. Ben Hagood joins Sen. Campsen in his concern that the provision will sink the eminent domain amendment. He is concerned that the land use provision could "severely jeopardize" the ability of local government to enact appropriate land use regulations that could, for example, "protect historic resources and our quality of life."

The lawmaker emphasized that he isn't opposed to looking at the land use compensation issue. But, he said, "It's a separate issue that needs to be looked at carefully."

Sen. Campsen is among those who have spent months looking carefully at the eminent domain issue. His legislative package includes the creation of a study committee that would evaluate which of the 53 public agencies that have the power of eminent domain should retain that power.

When it comes to eminent domain, the House should stick to the issue and give voters a clear-cut constitutional amendment that severely limits government's right to condemn private property. To jeopardize its passage with what Rep. Hagood calls "a Christmas tree bill" would do private property owners a grave disservice.

The Post and Courier: www.charleston.net

Initiative would regulate use of eminent domain: KVOA-TV4 (Tucson AZ), 2/25/06

Property rights supporters, including current and former public officials, have begun a voter initiative to limit government's power to condemn private property and also to require compensation for owners when land-use actions diminish property values.

The group, known as Arizona Home Owners Protection Effort, filed the initiative Thursday with Secretary of State Jan Brewer's office. The group needs to submit signatures from at least 122,612 registered voters by July 6 to get the measure on the November ballot.

Among the group's members are John R. Norton, former undersecretary of agriculture under the Reagan administration, and Carol Springer, former state treasurer and a current Yavapai County supervisor.

Initiative supporters contend the government has abused its powers of eminent domain, a term that until recently has meant the right of a government to appropriate private property for public use.

Representatives of local governments whose condemnation powers have been under siege argue that eminent domain is a valuable tool for economic development and that proposals to curtail their authority have been overreaching.

While governments have traditionally used eminent domain to build public projects such as roads, reservoirs and parks, the U.S. Supreme Court has been expanding the definition of public use for decades, allowing cities to employ eminent domain to eliminate blight.

In a controversial decision last summer, the high court handed down its strongest ruling on the issue, allowing local governments to seize private property and turn it over to private developers for projects that will generate more tax revenues.

"That is a perversion of eminent domain as intended by our founding fathers," Norton said.

The case, Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., sparked voter initiatives and new legislation around the country to stop governments from using eminent domain to condemn private property for private use.

Norton predicted the Arizona initiative will ruffle some feathers.

"Any time you attempt to curb, restrict, or impair the powers of any bureaucracy or elected official, you have bought into a classic confrontation," he said. "They do not accept erosion of their power lightly."

The initiative also addresses another contentious issue known as takings. Under its provisions, landowners would be able to seek compensation from local or state agencies if land-use regulations reduce the value of their properties.

Voters in Oregon in 2004 approved an initiative on compensation for diminished value, but supporters of the Arizona measure said their proposal only would apply to effects of future government actions. An Oregon judge ruled the law violates the state and federal constitutions, but the Oregon Supreme Court upheld the law Tuesday.

The Arizona initiative strongly resembles two eminent domain resolutions pending in the state House of Representatives and the Senate, and initiative supporters said they just want to make sure there's a "Plan B" if legislators scale back the resolutions.

"You can't really count on a referral to the ballot from the Legislature," said group member Lori Klein. "This is a way we can make sure we can get on the ballot."

However, Rep. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa, sponsor of the House resolution, said he's optimistic that the Legislature will approve its version of the ballot measure.

KVOA-TV4: http://kvoa.com


Federal court kicks case back to state of Michigan

J. Michael Harris, 4910 Lakeshore Road, Fort Gratiot, Michigan 48059 filed an Eminent Domain complaint filed in U.S. District Court. He reports that the the Federal judge described State Court decisions as having been 'wrongly' made. However, the case was dismissed with instructions to go back to state Court. However, he notes that attempts at settlement at the state level have gone on for 17 years without relief. "Therefore," he says, "we are at a standstill."

To read the complaint as filed in federal court, click here:

Local gov't officials endorse eminent domain reform: Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St Paul MN) Business Journal, 2/24/06

By John Vomhof Jr

Mayors and city council members from several Minnesota communities have declared their support for reforming the state's eminent domain laws.

The mayors of Anoka, Dover, Duluth, Ham Lake, Maplewood and North Branch, along with city council members from Brooklyn Center, Deephaven and New Brighton announced their support of the eminent domain reform bill proposed by Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Virginia, and Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth.

"We need strong and uniform protection of every home, farm, church and small business," Anoka Mayor Bjorn Skogquist said at a press conference Thursday. "No Minnesotan should fear the threat or actual use of eminent domain for the benefit of private corporations. We are mayors, not developers."

Eminent domain reform has become a hot issue in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld local governments' rights to condemn land and transfer it to private developers if it would result in a public benefit. The ruling allows eminent domain to be used for projects that would generate more jobs or increased tax revenue, as well as public-use projects such as roads and parks.

On Wednesday, a different group of local government officials gathered in St. Paul to urge caution in address the eminent domain issue. That group proposed more moderate reform that would prohibit the use of eminent domain for economic development except for projects receiving state funding.

"We are calling for responsible eminent domain reform that balances the needs of individual property owners with the livability of our communities," said Jim Miller, executive director for the League of Minnesota Cities.

Twin Cities Business Journal: http://twincities.bizjournals.com

Eminent Domain Case Heard In Appeals Court: WCCO-TV4 (Minneapolis MN), 2/23/06

By Pat Kessler

On Thursday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments in a case that could help shape one of the state's most divisive debates.

The case is about eminent domain, and the debate is about how far a city can go to take private property and use it for a different purpose.

There is now an empty lot in Brooklyn Center, Minn. where the Hmong American Shopping Center used to be. The city called it blighted and condemned it through eminent domain, but the Southeast Asian immigrant who owned it said he's been treated unfairly.

"I feel like a very scared and a nightmare for me," said business owner Cha Fong Lee. "I worked very hard. And one night, one day all gone. I have nothing left right now."

The struggle of Lee to keep the land is part of a fight against eminent domain that Minnesota lawmakers expect to address this year: Is it right for governments to take private property for other uses?

At the Minnesota Court of Appeals, lawyers for Brooklyn Center said the site was contaminated and had to be demolished before new development could be attracted.

"That is necessary sometimes, to get things going, because developers won't bid on projects where there is known contamination," said attorney Marc Manderscheid. "They want that contamination cleaned up first. Only then will they submit proposals."

Lee and his son-in-law, Dan Vang, are welcome to submit development proposals along with other developers, which they call unfair, because they lost their land, even though Brooklyn Center has no specific project to replace it.

"We're fighting for the average American, the taking is done," Vang said. "This is not the American dream, this is the American nightmare, to wake up one day and have everything taken from you."

This year, Minnesota lawmakers are taking up a bill to restrict just how far government can go, using the powers of eminent domain.

WCCO-TV4: http://wcco.com

CBS4 Investigates Fight Over Eminent Domain: CBS-TV4 (Denver CO), 2/23/06

Property owners across Colorado are fighting to restrict the government's use of eminent domain. From the courthouse to the capitol, property owners are doing battle after the U.S. Supreme court ruled last year that it is a legitimate public use to take land for economic development.

The high court ruling has dozens of property owners in Sheridan fighting for the land and businesses they've owned for years.

Richard Downey's story is both the American dream and an American nightmare.

"For the business owners, they're just going to be wiped out," Downey said.

Downey is one of a growing number of property owners in Colorado and across the country who are losing their property to eminent domain.

"Developers have convinced lawmakers that creating revenue should basically replace all their property rights in the big picture, and that's not what this country was built on," Downey said.

Downey began buying up land in Sheridan 25 years ago, and in the process created a lucrative 16 acre storage business. Now, what looks like a junkyard actually grosses Downey $500,000 a year.

The city of Sheridan declared Downey's land and the 120 acres around it blighted. The city also has condemned it, meaning the city will take the land, giving Downey and others "fair market value," regardless of their desire not to want to to sell the property.

"That's the scary part of this," Downey said. "It sets a pattern, and once the pattern is set, the courts start to go along with that pattern, and pretty soon eminent domain will mean we'll take anything for any purpose."

It used to be that cities could only use eminent domain for a public use like a highway or an airport. But last year the U.S. Supreme Court said it was OK for cities to use eminent domain to take someone's land and give it to another private party for development. That's what is happening in Sheridan.

The city plans to give the land in question to a private developer who will spend millions cleaning it up. That developer plans to redevelop the land with restaurants, theaters and big box stores, which would create jobs and increase the city's tax revenues.

Sheridan's mayor Mary Carter said the land was a former landfill that is now contaminated.

"In some places along this area the trash is 60 feet deep and keeps bubbling up from the ground," Carter said. "We can clean up an area that desperately needed it and allow that area to develop into something that we can all be proud of."

Downey doesn't agree.

"If I was standing in the way of a major highway or bridge, you take your lumps and go on, but this is simply a grab for retail tax dollars," Downey said.

But its not just landowners like Downey who are rebelling against eminent domain.

In dozens of state legislatures, including Colorado's, new laws are being introduced that would limit the use of eminent domain. Rep. Al White, a Republican from Winter Park, is sponsoring a Colorado measure that would outlaw using eminent domain to increase tax revenues.

"i believe we are abusing individual citizens' rights to own property by taking them for purposes of increasing tax bases, and I think that's wrong," White said. "I don't think that's an adequate purpose for taking someone's private property in this state and country."

It's too late for Downey in his battle with city government in Sheridan, but he says his plight should serve as a warning.

"It's not just Sheridan, it's a little disease that's going around, that people are beginning to wake up to because they are wondering what's going to happen to any property they might own," Downey said.

The city of Sheridan has offered Downey $1.7 million as fair market value for his property. He believes that's about half of what it is actually worth.

CBS-TV4: http://cbs4denver.com

Eminent domain on city's mind: Iowa City (IA) Press-Citizen, 2/24/06

Officials fear lawmakers may overreact

By Hieu Pham

As a controversial bill to restrict local governments from using eminent domain powers awaits a decision in the Iowa Senate, Iowa City officials fear the proposed bill will cripple the local economy.

City Council member Regenia Bailey said the bill to restrict local governments' power to condemn or take away private property for public use is "disappointing" because it assumes cities will abuse their eminent domain powers.

"In our community, we have used it carefully. ... I am disappointed that the Legislature sees fit to re-examine it," she said.

City manager Steve Atkins said the proposed bill also will be "detrimental in the long term."

Recently, Atkins wrote a letter to Rep. Vicki Lensing, D-Iowa City, and other elected officials to remind them that the bill restricts the city's economic development initiatives, particularly the construction of landfill and sewer treatment facilities.

"We are by law required to provide certain public facilities. Water and sewer facilities require large tracts of land, and if we are precluded from obtaining large tracts of land, how are we going to be able to do that?" Atkins said.

Since the controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling of Kelo v. City of New London in June, eminent domain has become viewed by some as too expansive.

In response, some Iowa legislators proposed a bill that would restrict local government from abusing its eminent domain powers in specified areas. Also, the bill proposes to shift the burden of proof in eminent domain cases from property owners to the government. In addition, an amendment by Rep. Wes Whitehead, R-Sioux City, would assure that people forced to relocate by eminent domain wouldn't have to pay higher property taxes on their new homes for 10 years.

The bill was approved by the Iowa House on Feb. 9 and has been passed to the Iowa Senate where it most likely will undergo many changes, officials say.

Atkins said it's important that local government be able to condemn properties without having to go through extra proceedings that could take years. Currently, condemning properties require public notices, hearings and appraisals, and compensation figures are determined by a jury of citizens appointed by the district court.

Also, the bill would place too much power in the hands of property owners, Atkins said.

"If we (local government) have to pay more, if we don't have condemnation rights, the people (taxpayers) will have to pay more," Atkins said, adding that wastewater and landfill facilities that aren't optimally located will have higher energy and operation costs and can cost the public "many millions of dollars."

The practice of eminent domain to acquire land is so widely used that it is routine, officials say. Cities condemn properties to build schools, courthouses and highways. In Iowa City, about 90 percent of condemnation occurs in the construction of streets and highways, said Atkins.

Lensing could not be reached for comment.

Iowa City Press-Citizen: www.press-citizen.com

Lawmakers collect data on eminent domain in NJ: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 2/24/06

By Michael Symons

[new jersey] Lawmakers have kicked off what promises to be a months-long examination of eminent domain, and its use by government to promote economic development, with an academic-like review of current practices.

Assemblyman Guy Gregg, R-Morris, said the public has a deep interest in the issue.

"Whenever I bring up the term 'eminent domain,' it is electric, wherever it is," said Gregg, who wants the state constitution amended to bar condemnation for economic development.

In a two-hour hearing Thursday, the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee heard from invited guests about the legal framework for eminent domain use in New Jersey.

"If we're going to change something, we should understand what it is that we're considering changing," said Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, the panel chairman.

Last year, in the landmark New London, Conn., case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of government's power to seize property for private economic development projects but invited states with concerns about that practice to adopt laws limiting it.

The controversy over that use of eminent domain has been raised in Long Branch, where the city has filed condemnation orders against 23 properties in the Beachfront North Phase II section, proposed for Marine and Ocean Terraces and Seaview Avenue.

Homeowners there have been very vocal in their opposition to the city's plan, part of its ambitious waterfront redevelopment, and have gone to court to stop the taking of their properties. Arguments are expected to be heard in state Superior Court, Freehold, on March 24.

Long Branch officials have said, though, the city did not use economic development provisions as motivation for its oceanfront redevelopment.

In Neptune, the redevelopment of West Lake Avenue has prompted concerns over eminent domain.

And in Belmar, a proposed redevelopment plan designed to remake the downtown is being undertaken without acquiring homes but is facing two lawsuits filed by area businesses.

A handful of bills intended to govern the use of eminent domain were proposed in the Legislature this year and last. Burzichelli is planning three or four hearings focused on criteria for using that power and compensation for residents and business owners who lose their property.

Steve Eisdorfer, an attorney at Hill Wallack and a land-use expert, said the issue "touches the most sensitive nerve" but is specifically mentioned in the national and state constitutions. The state constitution allows the power to eliminate blight.

"Existing New Jersey law is consistent with the law of virtually all other jurisdictions in the country," said Eisdorfer, who also said lawmakers in 37 states have eminent-domain proposals before them.

The next hearing will be open to anyone who wants to speak on the subject. The date hasn't been set.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com

Kelo Eminent Domain Battle Moves to Jersey Shore Community: Huntington (WV) News Net, 2/23/06

News Analysis/Commentary

By David M. Kinchen

The fallout from last summer’s Kelo vs. the City of New London U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain – called by some the worst decision by the high court since Plessy vs Ferguson in 1896 – is roiling Long Branch, NJ., on the Atlantic Ocean south of New York City.

Courtesy of conservative radio and TV commentator Sean Hannity, who brought the Riviera Beach, FL eminent domain battle to national attention last year, the story focuses on a senior citizen and World War II veteran named Louis Anzalone. He bought his oceanfront house in 1960 for less than $30,000. Houses in the area are selling for more than $600,000, according to Anzalone, 89, and his son Tom, who appeared on the Hannity radio show. The show is broadcast on more than 500 radio stations across the nation. I listened to it on the Internet stream of WBAP talk radio in Dallas-Ft.Worth, TX.

Anzalone is not the only senior affected by the Jersey Shore city’s attempt to take their houses and build high-end condos and townhouses to boost the city’s tax base. Among the others: Arnold Giordano is 80. Rose La Rosa is 80. Anna DeFaria is 80 years. Lori Vendetti is 80. Lillian Anzalone – like her husband Lou – is 89. Al Viviano is 93. All of these senior citizens were originally from the City of Newark and now live in Long Branch, according to news reports.

Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider appeared on Tuesday’s Feb. 21, 2006 Sean Hannity radio program to defend the decision to use eminent domain to develop the “blighted” oceanfront of Long Branch. Houses would be condemned to build high-end condominiums and art galleries and upscale shops.

“We were a city that was on the brink of absolute bedlam,” he told Hannity. The market had failed to avoid the blight and crime on the ocean front properties, many of which had been converted to rooming houses. The oceanfront of the city had become the most dangerous part of the city, Schneider asserted. Even a strip club on the city’s beachfront closed because of the crime in the area, he added.

The often acrimonious conversation ended up with Hannity defending Anzalone who said he had been offered $304,000 for his tidy oceanfront house.

“What I said on Hannity and Colmes [on Fox News Channel] is I think we’ll win in court,” Schneider said on Tuesday’s radio program. Hannity, broadcasting from Miami, FL, had a phone link, allowing Anzalone to talk to Schneider. Anzalone told the mayor he’s going to fight to stay in the house. Tom Anzalone also challenged the city’s contention that the neighborhood was blighted. Schneider said within 100 yards of the house it was a “horror show.” They also got very “inside baseball,” when Hannity interrupted the exchange.

Hannity said the move represents the “big hand of the government” crushing people who’ve lived in his house for 46 years. Schneider said the move represents the rebuilding of the city over at least 10 years, dating back to 1996. The mayor said that most of the accepted offers came in at higher than the appraised value –$304,000 – in the case of the Anzalone transaction. The case will be heard in a New Jersey court on March 24, 2006, Tom Anzalone told Hannity.

Schneider said the city doesn’t make the offer…it’s made by the Hoboken, NJ-based developer. He told Hannity: “You’re simplifying things and losing the details. A few people have swapped for condos, which sell for about $500,000 each,” Schneider said, added that he’s a practicing attorney in the state of New Jersey.

“Why can’t you admit you’re going to kick an 89-year-old man out of his house,” said Hannity to Schneider in his best attack mode.

Anzalone’s house is one of about 36 residential properties and vacant lots the city of Long Branch wants to raze and turn into high-end condominiums. City officials are prepared to use eminent domain if necessary.

Property battles such as those in Long Branch have attracted renewed attention since the Supreme Court ruled in June 2005 in Kelo vs City of New London CT. that the Constitution does not forbid state and local governments from seizing homes for private development in return for fair compensation. The justices on the losing side of the 5-4 decision urged governments on the local and state level to pass legislation restricting such eminent domain takings. At least 40 states – and many local jurisdictions – have begun to do so, while some local governments – including the city of Long Branch – argue that it is a mistake to ban what can be a valuable tool for rejuvenating depressed neighborhoods.

"We're not taking this for a strip mall to bring a couple jobs in," said Howard Woolley, Long Branch's business administrator. "We're taking properties ... to redevelop the central core of the city."

The redevelopment effort in Long Branch includes far more than the 36 properties and so far has netted the city $1 billion in private development, 1,200 new residents and 500 jobs, Woolley estimated.

Huntington News Net: www.huntingtonnews.net

Minnesota lawmakers will consider eminent domain legislation in next session: (Walker MN) Pilot-Independent, 2/21/06

By Bill Hanna

When lawmakers gather for a compacted legislative session March 1, awaiting them will be a proposed eminent domain law for Minnesota that was triggered by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last April.

The power of government to take private property has always been of concern in a country born out of revolution against England and its sovereign claim to all property in the colonies. But it became energized coffee shop/water cooler/bar talk anew when the nation's high court broadened the government's reach in Kelo v. New London (Conn.). The ruling held that the Constitution allows governments to take homes and businesses for potentially more profitable, higher-tax uses.

State Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, sees the bill, co-written in the House by Republican Rep. Jeff Johnson of Plymouth, as both addressing a real concern in the state and also serving as a preemptive strike against more aggressive government demands on private property for business development in the wake of Kelo v. New London.

"This will not block economic development. Nor does it infringe on needed public projects. But it will provide some protection for private property owners, individuals and small businesses, who should not be at the mercy of government power," Bakk said.

The Bakk/Johnson bill represents a bipartisan coalition itself — the state senator from the traditional DFL bastion of northeastern Minnesota and the conservative Republican state representative from a western Minneapolis suburb.

In addition, the group Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform shows an equally diverse mix of supporters that include among others, the Hispanic and Hmong chambers of commerce, the NAACP, Minnesota Family Council, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, Outdoor Advertising Association of Minnesota, Minnesota Truckers Association, the Farmers Union and Farm Bureau and Hospitality Minnesota.

Bakk said opposition may come from the League of Minnesota Cities and other groups with concerns that the bill could block economic development projects for communities. A call to the League of Minnesota Cities for comment was not returned.

But Bakk said such fears are unfounded. He said the measure just calls for safeguards to protect homeowners and small businesses from feeling intimidated by governments that want new development no matter the personal loss.

"The power of using eminent domain remains. We're just better defining the 'public use' part of it," Bakk said.

And Lee McGrath, executive director of the Institute for Justice/Minnesota Chapter, said the bill is needed to level the playing field for individuals in eminent domain conflicts with government entities.

"Eminent domain should be the last resort, but too often it has been the first resort for governments. And that creates a lot of intimidation," said McGrath, whose group defended Susette Kelo and other property owners in the New London Supreme Court ruling.

Bakk and McGrath said the bill's most important element is clarity to "public use" in eminent domain proceedings. The bill states in part: ... The public benefits of economic development, including an increase in tax base, tax revenues, employment or general economic health, do not by themselves constitute a public use or public purpose."

However, they said it's also important that people know what the bill will not do, meaning it won't block legitimate "public use" development.

"Public use means that land can be taken for parks and government buildings, utilities' projects, to mitigate blight or to reduce abandoned property that is causing a public nuisance, such as an environmentally contaminated area," Bakk said.

Regarding abandoned property and blighted areas, the bill has specific language. For abandoned property it states:
... property not occupied by a person with a legal or equitable right to occupy it and for which the condemning authority is unable to identify and contact the owner despite making reasonable efforts and that has (1) windows or entrances boarded up or closed off, (2) multiple window panes broken, (3) broken or unhinged doors, or entrances that are continuously unlocked, (4) gas, electric or water service terminated or (5) rubbish, trash or debris accumulated.

For blighted areas it states:
Seventy percent of the area is occupied by buildings, streets, utilities, paved or gravel parking lots or other similar structures.

More than 50 percent of the buildings in the area are dilapidated. It then spells out what constitutes a dilapidated building.

Regarding what is an environmentally contaminated area, the bill is also specific:
An area that contains, in more than 50 percent of its surface area, any substance or substances defined, regulated or listed as a hazardous substance, hazardous material, hazardous waste, toxic waste, pollutant, contaminant or identified as hazardous to human health or the environment under state or federal law or regulation.

Regarding just compensation for eminent domain acquisitions, the bill reads in part:
If the final judgment or award for damages, as determined at any level in the eminent domain process or by the parties themselves, is more than 20 percent greater than the last written offer of compensation made by the condemning authority prior to the filing of the petition or the amount deposited with the court, the court shall award the owner reasonable attorney fees, litigation expenses, appraisal fees, other experts fees and other related costs in addition to other compensation and fees already authorized.

McGrath said the eminent domain decision by Richfield, Minn., to get homes and several businesses to clear the way for Best Buy Co.'s international headquarters on Interstate 494 is the "poster child" for the issue in Minnesota.

"Two car dealers, 67 homes and several small businesses were taken by eminent domain. And in 2001, the Minnesota Supreme Court voted 3-3 to uphold a Court of Appeals ruling that it was for a public use," he said.

McGrath also pointed out that even though only 15 of the 115 homeowners involved in Kelo v. New London officially balked at being bought out for a commercial development, eminent domain can be a tool of intimidation that affects others behind the scenes.

"And don't the rights and wishes of the minority also deserve consideration?" he asked. Bakk said the bill will have to clear several legislative committee hurdles in a short 2.5-month session. But he does believe it can be done and that there will be bipartisan support for it. He said the governor's office has also indicated its support for an eminent domain bill in some form.

One lawmaker who has worked with Bakk on the bill said just what "form" it does take will be open to plenty of debate in the session, although she predicted it will pass.

"Oh, it will pass in some way this session. But there are areas such as blight and compensation and other areas where some modifications are needed, especially regarding utilities. It's a more complicated issue than it may seem on the surface.

There are many underlying issues to also consider," said Sen. Sheila Kiscaden, a former Independence Party lawmaker who switched to the DFL Jan. 9. She is also DFL gubernatorial candidate Kelly Doran's lieutenant governor choice.

The Pilot-Independent: www.walkermn.com

Small-business owners crowd House hearing on eminent domain: Maryland Business Gazette, 2/23/06

Everyone wants some protection, but no one is sure what or how much

By Douglas Tallman

Twice in six years, the federal government pushed Tammy Hnarakis’ business out the door to make room for the College Park [Maryland] Metro.

"Now we’re very concerned because the city of College Park has a redevelopment plan and the administration wants to redevelop Route 1, so our hackles are up. I’ve decided to become pro active,” Hnarakis said last week.

Hnarakis was among the small-business people who crowded into a packed House Environmental Matters Committee hearing room Tuesday to testify on 28 bills before the panel. The Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee — chaired by Sen. Brian E. Frosh (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda — will hold similar hearings Thursday.

Fueling the concern is June’s U.S. Supreme Court decision that governments can use their eminent domain powers to condemn property for economic development.

"The Supreme Court ruling sickens me because I’m very familiar with the inadequacy of the programs that are there to help those that are displaced,” Hnarakis said.

Her store, Precision Small Engines, sells mowers and other garden equipment. In 1987, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority forced her out of one location, so Hnarakis moved a short distance away; WMATA had assured her the agency would lack funding to continue the project for another 20 years.

Then in 1993 WMATA was back and forced her to relocate again.

Several other organizations, however, are eyeing the proceedings cautiously.

"History shows that government acquisition of property is a critical component to the success” of projects, said David Bliden, executive director of the Maryland Association of Counties. "We’d hate to see the legislators create insurmountable impediments.”

Environmentalists support preserving eminent domain, because it can revitalize communities and focus development away from greenfields, said Dru Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland.

Both political parties want to do something, and several proposals have bipartisan support. The questions revolve around what to do.

Several bills hope to have government shoulder more of the costs of seizing land, by eliminating a $10,000 cap on subsidies that pay moving expenses or by forcing the government to pay the property owner’s legal fees.

Business would be reimbursed for losses that go unrecognized now, including the loss of intangible assets or future net operating income.

Bliden said MACo would oppose most of these proposals because it takes Maryland "outside the mainstream.”

"These elements are not available in other states because they are inherently speculative,” Bliden said.

But some advocates, like Ellen Valentino of the National Federation of Independent Businesses, want to take fear out of the process.

"We think there need to be provisions to protect the small business owner from every possible economic loss in any case of eminent domain,” said Valentino, NFIB’s state director.

If property is condemned, but never used, several lawmakers would force governments to sell the property back to the former owner or the former owner’s heirs.

Other bills would redefine terms such as "public use,” to exclude specifically efforts to increase tax revenue or employment.

One area that has exposed a partisan divide is how to enact the changes, through statutes or with changes to the state constitution.

Sen. Allan H. Kittleman said the GOP believes prohibitions for eminent domain for economic development should be written into the constitution.

"Our plan is no loophole,” said Kittleman (R-Dist. 9) of West Friendship. Thirteen of the Senate’s 14 Republicans and 42 of the House’s 43 Republicans have signed on to constitutional amendments.

House Speaker Michael E. Busch rejected a constitutional amendment, saying a statute will give future legislatures the flexibility to handle unforeseen issues.

"We need to balance the rights of property owners and the overall benefit of the community,” said Busch (D-Dist. 30) of Annapolis. He was confident that the complexity of the issue and the range of proposals would not deter the legislature from enacting sweeping legislation this session.

Kittleman, however, remarked on the imbalance between those who defend themselves in condemnation proceedings and those who benefit from them.

"People who lose businesses are small businesses. Nobody seems to condemn a wealthy corporation’s property. No one seems to condemn a rich person’s house,” he said.

Business groups are divided on the issue. The Greater Baltimore Committee, a private organization that serves as a catalyst for business projects, opposes reform.

"We think there’s no need for alterations in authority and we would hope the legislature would reject any attempt to hinder those authorities or to make compensation at a level that could be prohibitive,” said GBC President Donald C. Fry, a former legislator.

Thomas S. Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association, favors the reforms proposed by a task force that outlined 11 changes to the law, including greater compensation to displaced businesses. Saquella cited a study by the Institute for Justice that showed Maryland led all states in condemnations.

Maryland Business Gazette: www.gazette.net

Eminent-domain laws to get scrutinized in state Assembly: Asbury Park (NJ)Press, 2/23/06

By Gregory J Volpe

Activists, lawyers and elected officials provided a sneak preview Wednesday of what [New Jersey] state lawmakers will be dealing with today as they begin considering changes to eminent-domain laws.

At a redevelopment conference sponsored by New Jersey Future, a nonprofit planning group, the debate about eminent domain — the practice of government taking private property in the name of public good — resurfaced eight months after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld government's right to take private land for commercial development and the day before a state Assembly panel will begin looking at how the practice is used in New Jersey.

Some see eminent domain as a necessary tool for governments to revive run-down areas, but others say it's an abused power that takes land from the poor to give to the rich.

"Eminent domain as a redevelopment tool has historically fallen disproportionately on racial/ethnic minorities, the elderly and the poor," said Douglas Gershuny, a lawyer who represents residents threatened by eminent domain. "Without legislative reform, that will continue."

Edward McManimon, a lawyer with the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said eminent domain has helped towns such as Collingswood and New Brunswick revitalize. There are safeguards in the law, he said, that ensure it is only used for blighted areas.

"Local governments in New Jersey cannot use redevelopment powers simply because they want to engage in economic development," McManimon said. "There's a daunting process in addition to that that they have to undertake, so it's not like the mayor or a council member can take your property."

Richard Gober, who became an activist when he thwarted an eminent domain proposal pursued in his Ventnor neighborhood, said that he isn't against the concept of eminent domain but that government uses it too often and exaggerates the term "blighted" in the name of getting more ratables.

" 'Don't worry, we'll only use eminent domain as a last resort.' That statement I've heard about as many times as people saying to me, 'How can they do that? How can they take your home in the United States of America?' " Gober said.

Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley, who used eminent domain to redevelop his Camden County borough and initially represented Gober in court to protect his home, said officials in fully developed towns feel pressure to use eminent domain as a way to relieve pressure of rising property taxes.

"One of the things that motivates a governing body to do the redevelopment is the yelling from all of their residents that they need to do something about property taxes," Maley said. "The constant, constant issue of property taxes."

While debate occurred inside the Trenton Marriott at Lafayette Yard, property owners touched or threatened by eminent domain protested outside.

Kusumaker Kuchaculla, 60, of Neptune, said his town wants to take the liquor store he's owned for 20 years to build senior housing and stores.

"It's not for the public use," Kuchaculla said. "If it was for a school, it would be another matter."

He was accompanied by Dorothy Argyros, 77, of Neptune, who lost her home more than a year ago to widen a highway.

"They want valuable property so they can give it to their friends," Argyros said. "You don't own your property anymore; you rent it until some rich guy wants it."

Those seeking eminent-domain reform want it to be used as a last resort, to provide fairer compensation for displaced property owners, and not to lead to homelessness.

Assemblyman John J. Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, who will lead hearings on eminent domain, said he doesn't expect a ban on eminent domain for economic redevelopment.

"Is everybody going to be happy in the end? I don't know; I doubt it," Burzichelli said. "Will there be changes when we finish? I think there may be. Will there be wholesale changes? I don't know."

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com