Property Rights Foundation of America testimony in New York, 3/29/06

Press Release

On April 3rd, Carol W. LaGrasse, President of the Property Rights Foundation of America will testify before a hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Albany conducted by Senate Judiciary Chairman John A. DeFrancisco (R., Syracuse) on three eminent domain reform bills that are currently in the Judiciary Committee of the New York State Senate and another bill that is in draft stage.

In previous testimony before the New York State Legislature, LaGrasse has expressed the opinion that the Supreme Court’s June 2005 Kelo v. New London eminent domain decision was unconstitutional. The decision gave eminent domain carte blanche to government, she says, leaving property owners without the protection of the Constitution. She has been advocating that the state’s eminent domain law be reformed to prohibit any use of eminent domain to take property from one private owner to transfer it to another private owner, with no exceptions for blight or public health and safety, thereby requiring that eminent domain be used only for traditional public uses, such as highways, parks, or schools.

In addition, LaGrasse has been urging reforms to the eminent domain process to create a more level playing field for property owners, such as better compensation to property owners and the establishment of an eminent domain ombudsman, which is a property owner advocacy office.

The three bills in the Judiciary Committee are Sen. Marcellino’s S. 5936 to provide that the power of eminent domain only be exercised for economic development when the property being taken is blighted; Sen. DeFrancisco’s S. 5938/A.9079 to clarify the purposes for public projects for which property may be acquired by eminent domain and to subject eminent domain by an industrial development agency to a vote by the local legislature; and Sen. DeFrancisco’s S. 5961/A. 9710 to enact a Constitutional Amendment to permit eminent domain takings only when the taking is for a truly public use, prohibiting economic development takings or for the benefit of a private business, and prohibiting taking private property to transfer it to another private owner.

The bill in draft stage, by Sen. Alesi, would create an Office of Eminent Domain Ombudsman, would require a vote by a local government to endorse or reject a taking of private property by a private developer, require that the condemnee be reimbursed for relocation costs and require that the condemnor make a base officer of the highest appraisal plus replacement costs. The bill would also create a temporary commission on eminent domain reform.

Carol W. LaGrasse, Property Rights Foundation of America Inc,
Box 75, Stony Creek NY 12878, 518-696-5748

Sebastian tackles eminent domain: Florida Today (Melbourne FL), 3/15/06

By Kimberly Moore

More than 2,800 [Sebastian FL] voters turned out Tuesday to elect council members and approve a referendum.

Sal Neglia won re-election. Al Paternoster also won a seat on the Sebastian City Council.

And by an 88-percent margin a referendum to amend the city’s charter, forbidding the city to use the power of eminent domain to take a property and then transfer the rights to the property to a private party in pursuit of economic development.

That vote disallows the rights provided to cities by the U.S. Supreme Court in a ruling last year

Florida Today: http://www.floridatoday.com

City Wins Clifton Eminent Domain Battle: WXIX-TV19 (Cincinnati OH), 3/28/06

An 80-year-old woman has been ordered to move out of her Clifton house after a battle with the city of Cincinnati over eminent domain.

Emma Dimasi has lived on the corner of Dixmyth and Clifton for 47 years but now must find somewhere else to live.

The city wants to use the land that her house sits on to relocate Dixmyth Avenue. Dimasi says it's just a way to help Good Samaritan Hospital. Dimasi case is stating that the claim is not for a civic purpose but to help a private company. The state of Ohio has issued a moratorium against eminent domain for private development until further research can be done to explore the constitutionality of claiming land for private interest.

"She's very adamant about maintaining her independence," said Emma's son and lawyer Vincent Dimasi. "This is her home, this is basically all that she has and she's trying to hold on to that."

The Hamilton County Magistrate found this street project promoted public safety.

Dimasi has two weeks to appeal her case.

WXIX-TV19: http://www.fox19.com

Tougher eminent domain criteria pass: Ft Wayne (IN) Journal Gazette, 3/15/06

By Niki Kelly

The practice of taking private land through eminent domain became more difficult Tuesday when the [Indiana] Senate agreed to final changes on House Bill 1010 – sending it to Gov. Mitch Daniels for approval.

The Senate voted 49-0 to approve the legislation for the final time while the House had voted 89-8 late Monday on the measure.

All northeast Indiana lawmakers voted “yes.”

“This bill is good,” said Rep. Ryan Dvorak, D-South Bend. “It will help restrict eminent domain for private purposes.”

The bill specifically limits the ability of local governments to take private property through eminent domain and then turn it over to a private developer or entity for another purpose.

And in certain cases where such a practice can occur, the legislation requires that the government pay a premium price for the land.

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, has pushed the bill for several years.

Journal Gazette: http://www.fortwayne.com

Lawmakers Approve Measure To Limit Eminent Domain: CBS-TV4 (Denver CO), 3/14/06

By Steven K. Paulson, Associated Press

Reacting to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that gave local governments more power to seize people's homes for economic development, [Colorado] lawmakers on Tuesday took a first step toward placing limits on that power.

If approved by two-thirds of both chambers of the Legislature, voters in November will decide whether to approve the measure that would bar using eminent domain for economic development.

Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, said he proposed the referred measure because his ski shop was taken over by the Winter Park Recreation Association when Denver wanted more revenue.

"I have been subject to a takings of property. It's a very personal issue for me," White told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which heard from a parade of witnesses who said they lost property after governments seized their property.

The measure was amended to allow property to be condemned for public safety, though lawmakers rejected an attempt to allow the use of eminent domain to clear slums, blight or for public welfare. White said those uses led to abuses that allowed local governments to seize property for economic development.

It was also changed to allow access on private land for water rights.

Supporters told lawmakers it would be better for lawmakers to refer a measure than to leave it to drafters of a stricter initiative.

The issue erupted across the nation after the Supreme Court issued a ruling, Kelo vs. City of New London, that said New London, Conn., could seize homeowners' property to develop a hotel, convention center, office space and condominiums next to Pfizer Inc.'s new research headquarters.

The city argued that tax revenues and new jobs from the development would benefit the public. The Pfizer complex was built, but seven homeowners challenged the rest of the development in court. The Supreme Court's ruling against them prompted many states, including Colorado, to examine their eminent domain laws.

Jessica Peck Corry, a policy analyst for the conservative Independence Institute, said abuse of eminent domain has become a major issue in Colorado.

"This truly is the civil rights battle of the 21st century," she told lawmakers.

Several property owners told lawmakers they had been the victims of eminent domain, including Marsha Looper, an El Paso County resident who opposes a proposed 210-mile, Wellington-to-Pueblo road nicknamed "Super Slab."

"No one is safe from a condemning authority," she told the committee.

The committee also approved a separate measure (Senate Bill 154) that would consolidate all groups that have condemnation power in one place in statutes so property owners can determine which government agencies have power to condemn their property.

CBS-TV4: http://cbs4denver.com

Eminent domain debate deepens: Columbia (MO) Missourian, 3/15/06

By Jason Rosenbaum

In his testimony before the [Missouri] House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, lawyer Greg Smith said only 5 percent of eminent domain cases ever go to court.

Bill McLaren, a grain contractor from Pacific, counts himself among that group.

In a process that took a “couple of years from start to finish,” McLaren said part of a five-mile stretch of highway was built through his farm. He said he didn’t know about how the eminent domain process worked until the tail end of the proceedings, something McLaren said needs to change.

“There needs to a friendlier situation for the property that’s being condemned,” McLaren said. “We really need to know what our rights are.”

McLaren was one of many interested parties who packed themselves into a hearing room to testify on a bill sponsored by Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, and co-sponsored by House Speaker Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill, that would reform the state’s eminent domain regulations.

Hobbs introduced a comprehensive bill two weeks ago that would, among other things, notify the public about a project 30 days before a condemning authority could negotiate with a property owner on a price and provide a bill of rights for property owners.

“We don’t believe it’s correct that someone knocks on their door and says ‘I’m here, here’s an offer for your property, you have five days to consider it. If you refuse to do that, we will take your property and you won’t get anything,’” Hobbs said during his testimony.

The bill also bars eminent domain for “solely economic” purposes. “(Public use) is not tax enhancement, it’s not solely creating jobs and it’s not solely public benefit,” Hobbs said.

But Rep. Connie Johnson, D-St. Louis, took Hobbs to task for what the bill lacked: changes to the definition of “blight.”

“We have to have this discussion, we have to have this on the table in order to truly have some type of reform,” Johnson said.

The definition of blight has been a sticking point for many involved in the eminent domain debate. Some critics have said the definition, which classifies properties that can be condemned, is too vague and allows developers to take land that is not in the spirit of the definition.

Hobbs said the issue of blight was being addressed in a bill from Rep. Bob Johnson, R-Jackson County, that regulates tax increment financing, as well as in two other bills in the Senate.

“Quite frankly, we shied away from redefining blight in this bill as we introduced it,” Hobbs said.

Opponents of the bill, such as Smith, a lawyer with St. Louis-based Husch & Eppenberger, said the best way to revitalize areas such as St. Louis is to use eminent domain.

“The city of St. Louis, where I do much of my work, is a great success story,” Smith said. “But there’s much that remains to be done. And the best way to accomplish that task is to provide private capital and to continue to involve private transfers so that we can provide those essential services to the people who stayed to build our cities.”

Smith also chastised a provision in the bill that would award damages to the property owner if the condemning authority halts the eminent domain taking.

“The taxpayers are ultimately paying for this condemnation,” Smith said.

More testimony — and a vote — on Hobbs’ bill will occur after the General Assembly’s spring break, which ends March 27.

Columbia Missourian: http://columbiamissourian.com


Eminent Domain: Choreographing Long Branch's mayoral dance: New Jersey Eminent Domain Blog, 5/1/06

By William Ward

“It’s not unusual… It’s common. And until somebody makes it illegal, they’re going to keep doing it.”
— Alan Marcus, Republican lobbyist, New York Times (1/1/06)

Adam Schneider, incumbent and three term mayor of Long Branch, is in the fight of his political life with two challengers who are against eminent domain abuse, Rev. Kevin Brown, and Alfie Lenkiewicz and the New Wave Team.

Schneider’s hope is pinned on a split vote between the two opposition campaigns running against Long Branch’s eminent domain policy. If the opposition vote is split, Schneider could sneak in. Remember “one-term Byrne” in 1974? Everyone thought Governor Byrne was through because of the income tax passage. In the Democratic primary of 1974, he came through because the opposition in his own party was split, and he went on to beat the Republican candidate. Both opposition candidates (Brown and Lenkiewicz) need to take a long hard look at their chances. One of them has to step aside in order to defeat Schnieder, and it should be done soon because the election is less than two weeks away.

Eminent domain abuse in Long Branch is the biggest issue in the campaign. All of Long Branch is waiting for Judge Lawson’s decision regarding the MTOTSA area property owners’ objection to the “right to take” issue which was argued March 24, 2006 and scheduled to be decided in thirty days. The court’s decision is expected this week. The mayor and his administration have little sympathy for the havoc and destruction Long Branch is about to wreak on the MTOTSA area property owners. The mayor has said as much in his public statements. The property owners may or may not win in court with Judge Lawson. That is why the May 9, 2006 mayoral election is so important.

The mayor has said publicly that he is not supported in his candidacy by developers. This is patently untrue and the public records reveal that indeed the mayor has accepted donations from Applied Management, its Vice-President Greg Russo, city attorney James Aaron, and one of Aaron's corporations, ERBA. Perhaps the most revealing aspect of “pay to play” and the insidious way it affects an elected candidate are the donations Schneider has received from Executive Continental Inc., a company owned by former Senator John Lynch and John E. Westlake.

The New York Times (January 1,2006) reported that Lynch explains “Executive Continental’s mission as helping developers win government approvals for their projects. If they succeed, the firm is paid a colorfully named ‘success fee’.” This consulting firm has received large payments from Applied Management, the designated developer in Long Branch. According to the Asbury Park Press:

Their revenue from Executive Continental is “substantial,” said a person familiar with the business. Their most profitable relationship is with The Applied Companies of Hoboken, of which Executive Continental has been paid “hundreds of thousand’” according to Lynch.

Following the campaign trail, Lynch has donated money to the Schneider campaign through his PAC, New Directions Through Responsible Leadership, and Westlake through Alma, Inc. Alma and Executive Continental share the same office in Tinton Falls that was raided last November by federal agents. According to the Asbury Park Press (April 18, 2006), “Lynch has said in published reports that Executive Continental works as a subcontractor to Alma.”

Last December, Jackie Corley wrote about Lynch’s intrigues in Monmouth County. Lynch has contributed to several municipal campaigns in Monmouth County including the Atlantic Highlands Democratic Party, Manalapan Democratic Party and the West Long Branch Democratic Party. New Directions Through Responsible Leadership contributed to Adam Schnieder’s campaign.

So directly or indirectly, Schneider has received significant support from the developers, specifically Applied Management, the designated developer for Beachfront North and Pier Village in Long Branch.

Let’s not kid ourselves about Beachfront North Phase II. Another 180 condominiums ride on Judge Lawson’s decision – about $140M in gross dollars calculated at $800,000 per unit. This is why Applied Management and Hovnanian are desperate for Schneider’s reelection.

New Jersey Eminent Domain Blog: http://www.njeminentdomain.com

House panel seeks checks on eminent domain: Bradenton (FL) Herald, 3/14/06

By Stephen Majors

A [Florida] House select committee Monday decided upon its final recommendations for tightening the state's laws on the eminent domain powers of local governments.

The House Select Committee to Protect Private Property Rights approved a general bill and a proposed constitutional amendment for consideration by the full Legislature in the coming weeks of the session. Both measures would remove slum and blight as justifications for the government taking private property and would replace that standard with a more stringent "threat to public health and safety."

During the past six months, the 15-member committee has debated how to shore up Florida's eminent domain laws in reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of a city in Connecticut to take private property for the purpose of economic development.

Members of the committee generally agreed that economic development should not be a valid justification but have debated how restrictive laws should be.

A significant portion of the committee at one time held that local governments did not need the power of eminent domain to condemn property. Local police powers would be sufficient, they said.

But the measures now on their way to consideration by the full Legislature give eminent domain powers in restricted circumstances. The committee approved the general bill with a 15-0 vote and recommended the proposed constitutional amendment with a 12-3 vote.

According to committee member Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, the general bill would put specific laws regulating eminent domain on the books, while the constitutional amendment would enshrine general principles in the Constitution "so that future Legislatures can't go back and change it."

The general bill would treat property on a parcel-by-parcel basis. Any owner of property sought by local government would have the ability to challenge local government in court, without the court first giving the presumption of correctness to the government. Local government would have to prove with clear and convincing evidence - instead of by the preponderance of evidence in current law - that a property demonstrated a threat to public health and safety.

Lawmakers on the committee agreed Thursday that the Legislature should provide guidelines to the courts regarding what constitutes a threat to public health or safety, such as a fire hazard or vermin infestation.

Members of the committee debated Monday and eventually approved an amendment that would prevent local governments from transferring condemned property to private individuals for five years after the property is taken unless it was for a public purpose.

Galvano and three other legislators said the bill already made the standards local governments must meet strict enough and that going any further wouldn't serve the best interests of public policy.

"If we as a Legislature stay involved we have moved away from protecting the individual freedom of property rights and into the realm of dictating property views," Galvano said. "At that point we run awry of local control."

Rep. Greg Evers, R-Milton, the amendment's sponsor, and eight other lawmakers, wanted to go further.

"It could not be transferred back to a private individual, which is the reason we all sat on this committee to start with," Evers said. "It would allow for the taking but it would make them use it for traditional purposes such as a road or school."

House Speaker Allan Bense, R-Panama City, will next refer the legislation to standing committees, which could make changes before the two measures reach the chamber floors for a vote.

Bradenton Herald: http://www.bradenton.com

City OKs eminent domain: (Redding CA) Record Searchlight, 3/14/06

Airport pact could prevent action against landowners in Dunsmuir

By Kimberly Ross

[Dunsmuir] city officials could resort to eminent domain action against two Mott Airport neighbors to revive the closed airport and keep from losing about $77,000 in grant money meant to compensate those landowners.

But newly drafted agreements sent to the property owners Monday could satisfy their requests for a more detailed contract and avoid an eminent domain filing, city Finance Director Keith Anderson said.

"It's my fervent hope," he said Monday. "We've hopefully addressed those concerns."

The council's 3-1 Friday vote, allowing the city staff to use eminent domain if an agreement can't be reached soon, was necessary to protect the city from losing the remainder of an approximately $140,000 Federal Aviation Administration grant issued in 2003, he said.

Without the grant money, the city can't trim trees encroaching into planes' paths. Without taking safety measures like that, the airport can't regain its California Department of Transportation-issued certificate of operation, Anderson said. Mott has been closed two years.

"That’s why we’re taking such a drastic step," he said.

Landowner Genevieve Strande, 78, of Dunsmuir said she’s agreeable to letting the city cut her trees.

What she doesn’t like are other, vague stipulations in a first draft of the aviation and hazard easement. The way Strande interprets it, the contract would limit the number of people she can have at her 2.7-acre property, keep her from burning fall leaves that could send smoke onto the runway, force her to bury her propane fuel tank to avoid an explosion if a plane crashes, and eliminate lights that could create a glare for pilots.

"Are we going to be arrested or fined because we have people over? Or are we going to create smoke from the barbecue? You feel like you’re turning over your property rights to the city of Dunsmuir for an airport that has been going nowhere for a number of years," Strande said.

While scanning the new agreement, Strande read a line that mandates giving the city 30 days’ notice before any "activity."

"If we’re going to have an activity, in other words a barbecue, we have to give 30 days’ notice and a description of the activity," she said.

Anderson said he understands Strande and another airport neighbor, Ken Jimenez, want some clarification of the contract’s wording. But he thinks they are taking its intended safety measures to extremes.

Jimenez can build an airport restaurant on his property, as he has inquired, and Strande can have a party at her house, Anderson said. The agreement would prevent them from "congregating large numbers," however, Anderson said.

"We’re just saying, don’t sell the land to a school or build an apartment complex on it," he said. "The overall objective is for safety."

Nor would it support the installation of an industrial-grade smokestack that could cloud a pilot’s vision, he said. If the landowners agree to the new voluntary easement contract, Jimenez would get about $33,000. Strande would receive about $44,000, Anderson said.

"If she’s happy with it, she takes a check and we’re done. We don’t have to go through with the eminent domain," he said.

Mayor John Fisher said he prefers that solution, although he voted to use eminent domain in this case, if it becomes necessary.

"I don’t like eminent domain. I’m the guy who came on the council and said, ‘I have a problem with eminent domain,’ and I do," Fisher said.

"But when it comes to a stalemate, sometimes it seems the only thing to do," he said of the council’s decision. "It’s not an adverse situation, it’s just that we had to make a move to protect this money."

Record Searchlight: http://www.redding.com

House, Senate Hear Eminent Domain Testimony: WCCO-TV4 (Minneapolis MN), 3/13/06

Emotional testimony was heard in the Minnesota House and Senate Monday, over proposals regarding eminent domain.

Some lawmakers want to make it harder for the government to take away personal property for the public good.

One Big Lake, Minn. homeowner, Curtis Hed, said the city put his family through more than a year of stress by first taking legal moves to acquire his property for a grocery store and then abandoning the plans after he prepared to move.

"I just put my family though a year of misery, getting them prepared to be evicted from the house, the only house they have ever known," Hed said. "The house that I had built a fence with my own hands around."

The Legislature is considering a bill to make it harder for governments to condemn public properties for economic development.

WCCO-TV4: http://wcco.com

Eminent domain agreement sought: Denver (CO) Post, 3/14/06

Agencies, developers hope to ease proposed ban

By Chris Frates

Lobbyists for a business group and urban renewal authority are working hard to soften a proposed ban on government's ability to take land for economic development purposes.

Republican Rep. Al White, the sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 1001, said he is working on a compromise with local governments and developers because the proposal needs approval from two-thirds of both houses to go to the ballot.

"Two-thirds is a high threshold, so if we're going to get something passed we have to call those dogs off," White said.

The measure is up in the House state affairs committee today along with three other related Republican bills.

Democratic Rep. Paul Weissmann, chairman of the committee, said he thinks the parties are close to finding a solution that can get support from two-thirds of each chamber.

The other three bills, he said, "are dead" because they don't offer constitutional fixes.

Weissmann said he would not support White's measure as originally proposed.

"I think it would have shut down a lot of legitimate reasons for eminent domain," Weissmann said.

Opponents of the bill, White said, are "absolutely satisfied if nothing gets dealt with."

William Mutch of Colorado Concern, a group of more than 80 leading business executives, is "looking seriously" at White's concerns. The group, Mutch said, is trying to preserve government's use of eminent domain for urban renewal.

"I hope (White) doesn't have the impression that we'd be OK with his bill going away. We want to work with him so this can be the legislative response to Kelo," said Mutch, referring to last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London. The court ruled that it was a legitimate public use to take land for economic development.

Jerry Braden lobbies for the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, a quasi-government organization that helps redevelop blighted areas. "Quite frankly, we've only used eminent domain a handful of times in the last 10 years," he said.

The battle now is a technical one being fought out in the wording of a draft amendment.

For instance, White does not like language that would allow "morals and welfare" to be included as one of the grounds to take property because it is subjective.

And Mutch said his group is evaluating wording that would create one of the highest legal standards to take property.

An outside group has already begun gathering signatures to put a ban on the ballot if the legislature fails. But, White said, if deep-pocketed interests like developers decided to fight it, supporters could have a hard time.

Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com

Bill that would limit access to eminent domain headed for Owens' desk: Colorado Springs (CO) Gazette, 3/14/06

By Kyle Henley

Gov. Bill Owens is likely to sign a bill to make it much harder for private companies to condemn property to build toll roads.

Senate Bill 78 passed the House on Tuesday with a 64-0 vote. It’s already passed the Senate and now heads for the governor’s desk.

“He’s likely to sign it,” said Dan Hopkins, spokesman for the governor. “It’s the compromise he agreed to.”

Last year, Owens vetoed bill that barred private companies from having eminent domain powers to build toll roads. Owens didn’t want to shut the door on private funding for improvements to Colorado’s transportation system.

SB78 bars private companies from using condemnation powers, but allows them to access the tool if they partner with the Colorado Department of Transportation. CDOT would determine whether a proposed project has a public benefit that warrants condemnation.

“It’s been two years in the making,” said Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock, sponsor of SB78. “It will allow 100,000 people to sleep better at night.”

SB78 and previous efforts to curtail the condemnation powers of private toll road developers are a direct response to a proposed toll road on Colorado’s eastern plains. Dubbed Super Slab, the proposed road would run from above Fort Collins to the southern edge of Pueblo.

Many property owners – mostly farmers and ranchers – in the path of the proposed highway are vehemently opposed to the plan, charging that it is not right for private companies to have the power of eminent domain.

“Private toll roads companies that are making land grabs and seizing private property without proper justification and compensation won’t happen on my watch,” said Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, who sponsored the bill in the House.

Several others bills that putting tighter controls on private toll roads also are in the works at the General Assembly.

Senate Bill 115 requires toll road developers to submit their plans to counties impacted by a new road so the public can see them. It also would force private toll roads to be approved by cities and counties that are affected by them.

The bill has already passed the Senate and is waiting for a vote by the full House.

House Bill 1003 would force private toll roads developers to go through a rigorous approval process that is similar to that faced by projects built by CDOT. It would include studies on a roads economic and environmental impact.

HB1003 is waiting for a hearing in the House Transportation and Energy Committee.

Colorado Springs Gazette: http://www.gazette.com

Eminent domain fears aired: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 3/14/06

Assembly panel told by those affected that it's not fair

By Tom Baldwin

Gopal Panday says after he built Rainbow Liquors on Broadway in Long Branch into a million-dollar-a-year business, it turned worthless overnight in the eyes of New Jersey's much-maligned eminent-domain law.

"Under eminent domain laws, it doesn't provide you with anything for your business," Panday said Monday after testifying before the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee.

"Just the land," he said.

Flood victim Linda Brnicevic of Bound Brook described how she says eminent domain there is being used to uproot minorities. Residents of Camden's Cramer Hill neighborhood asked why eminent domain has them being moved out of a stable and tidy area.

Eminent domain, the process whereby government exercises legal steps to take private property for what it envisions as the good of the community, is under fire in New Jersey for instances in which it is being used to promote economic redevelopment.

Eminent domain laws, written in Trenton but employed from municipal buildings, is seen by many whose land is acquired as a process where government hands poor neighborhoods to developers who then build and sell pricey condominiums for the affluent.

Municipal officials say there are safeguards that ensure eminent domain is used in blighted areas only. With municipalities seeking ratables to keep down property taxes, though, critics say the power is sometimes abused.

"There aren't that many stable neighborhoods in Camden. Cramer Hill is a stable neighborhood. Why are they going after a stable neighborhood?" asked Amy Goldsmith, director of the New Jersey Environmental Federation, an umbrella group of activists.

"The state law gives people virtually zero rights. It gives everything to the municipalities," said Olga Pomar, community economic development coordinator for South Jersey Legal Services Inc., a legal aid organization serving, among others, people being told to move.

The Assembly commerce committee is holding a series of hearings that may end, before summer, with legislation being proposed to change the eminent-domain rules.

Many at the hearing Monday sought a moratorium on the process, which Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, was reluctant to embrace.

"The legislative process is moving. To do that, you'd have to review step by step each part of the process. I think you'd have trouble doing it as a broad step without being harmful to the parties," he said.

He added, "It was important that we heard from the people."

Burzichelli said he will get together with sponsors of eminent-domain reform measures and try to craft legislation that erases some of the horror stories — like that of Bruce McCloud.

McCloud said he had to be moved at gunpoint by Long Branch police when he lost his home to eminent domain. Condos replaced his 17-room home some 3 1/2 years ago. McCloud said he still has not gotten the $140,000 he was told by the municipal government to accept for the dwelling.

"It's not right, and I still have not been compensated," McCloud said.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com

Rules tighten for eminent domain: York (PA) Daily Record, 5/1/06

Stricter guidelines are expected to slow York's redevelopment efforts

By Mike Hoover

A baseball stadium and a massive effort to redevelop more than 29 acres of old industrial land in downtown York would be in jeopardy, if not dead, under proposed changes to the state's eminent domain law.

The new rules would eliminate a provision that allows the city to take properties by eminent domain to improve the social and economic well being of the community.

The city has used the criteria in approving plans to build a $29.5 million stadium and the Northwest Triangle Initiative, a redevelopment project expected to generate hundreds of jobs and millions in tax dollars and attract more than $100 million in investment.

Because the plans are already approved, the law will not impact the projects, said Matt Jackson, the city's economic development director and redevelopment authority coordinator. He believes local governments will still have 120 days after Gov. Ed Rendell signs the bill to get approval of redevelopment plans to take properties under the current rules.

"Under the new guidelines, the answer is probably no, we couldn't have moved forward with plans as quickly and easily. It would certainly be more difficult," Jackson said.

The state changes are in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June in which the city of New London, Conn., took 15 homes to build a mixed-use waterfront development to boost the local economy. The decision drew protests, prompting many states to change their laws on the government's ability to take private property.

Under the new proposal, a property can be considered blighted if it is a health or safety issue, abandoned or tax-delinquent for two years.

Currently, most of the city is considered blighted based on income guidelines and housing conditions. This has allowed the city to impose a higher and better use standard in initiating redevelopment areas involving entire neighborhoods.

The city cited economic and social well-being criteria to take three properties needed for the stadium project. It would be difficult to meet new criteria for some of the 23 properties because they were in use and current on taxes, Jackson said. Most of the properties were acquired through friendly negotiations, he said.

Citing another example, Jackson said the city would have had difficulty acquiring Keystone Color Works, a key property in the Northwest Triangle. If the owner balked at selling, the city's redevelopment authority would have little leverage under the new rules.

"No one can argue Keystone Color Works is a thriving economic generator but is still hanging on and is still on the tax rolls," Jackson said.

The city can still take blighted and delinquent properties, but the process will be more time consuming, more selective and more expensive in legal fees and acquisition cost, he said.

Local governments may begin "land banking" or acquiring one or two blighted properties at a time until the new standard of having over 50 percent of an area, constituting 50 percent of the land area, assembled to designate a large redevelopment area, he said.

Property owners could block revitalization efforts by refusing to sell or demanding prices well over appraised and assessed property values, he said.

"This could up the ante. A lone holdout could drive up the price or destroy the whole project," Jackson said.

Council President Cameron Texter said the new law better protects property rights by making it more difficult to acquire properties. But cities sometimes need the tools to wipe out blight quickly and effectively, he said without delays or more legal hurdles.

"It will make it more difficult to redevelop the city and redevelop properties," Texter said.

York Daily Record: www.ydr.com

Deadline passes or eminent domain ballot initiative: The (San Francisco CA) Exaniner, 5/1/06

By Beth Winegarner

Organizers with a Peninsula-based campaign seeking to impose limits on eminent domain will learn this week whether their proposal collected the 800,000 signatures required to qualify for the November state ballot.

The proposed amendment to the California Constitution, called the California Eminent Domain Limitations Act, was filed with the state by Daly City Democrat Annette Hipona, a school board member and neighborhood activist, and Republican Douglas McNey of Santa Clara County.

It would bar the taking of private property by the government for development by another private entity, and would require cities to pay property owners “just compensation” when taking land for public use.

Signatures were collected statewide with the aid of campaigners, including San Ramon business owners, Filipinos in Long Beach and a group of San Jose seniors known as the Ironhair Brigade.

The petitions were due Sunday, and organizers were not sure yesterday exactly how many signatures had been collected.

“There’s something very un-American about the idea that you are not secure in the ownership of your property,” campaign chairwoman and San Jose resident Lorraine Wallace Rowe said.

The ballot initiative is the latest response to the Supreme Court’s June 2005 ruling upholding cities’ authority to use eminent domain for private developments with a public benefit such as increased sales tax revenues.

The Supreme Court decision doesn’t apply in California, however, where eminent domain law is already more strict, according to Assemblyman Gene Mullin, D-South San Francisco, who has authored and sponsored a handful of bills on eminent domain.

“I’m not a big fan of the initiative process, but I have no position on the initiative,” Mullin said.

Instead, he proposes an independent study of eminent-domain abuse before further limits are imposed.

Eminent domain has touched many Bay Area communities. Officials in Redwood City were forced to pay out $3 million in a legal settlement with a property owner after a judge found they had improperly taken his property to build a theater and shopping center.

In Half Moon Bay, residents last fall overwhelmingly approved an advisory measure barring the city from taking private property for private projects.

The ballot initiative and other legislative proposals are not without their opponents.

Many would “make it impossible to use eminent domain for redevelopment,” said John Shirey, head of the California Redevelopment Association.

CRA is working with some legislators to make their bills more likely to gain redevelopers’ support.

The Examiner: www.examiner.com

Bill severely limits developers access to seized land: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 3/14/06

By Alan Gomez

Riviera Beach's community redevelopment plan took a hard hit Monday when House members studying Florida's eminent domain laws approved a bill that would make it nearly impossible for private developers to get their hands on property taken by eminent domain.

Riviera Beach's master developer, Viking Group Chairman Bob Healy, conceded that eminent domain could not be used under the proposal approved by the House Select Committee to Protect Private Property Rights.

With the Senate version of the bill considered even more protective of homeowners' rights, Riviera Beach and other communities in Florida may soon have to learn to live without eminent domain.

"It's light years different," said Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton and an eminent domain attorney. Florida homeowners "are going to wake up to a whole new world of property rights."

State lawmakers have been working to restrict the use of eminent domain for privately-owned economic development in Florida since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that such use by local government agencies is allowed.

The Senate bill (SB 7102) would allow government takings only for traditionally-accepted public projects such as government buildings, parks, schools, roads, bridges, airports, seaports and utilities.

But the House committee had been considering a more flexible bill (HB 1567) that would allow a government to take a home and turn it over to aprivate entity if the government could meet a very high level of proof that the house was a threat to public health or safety.

On Monday the state House shifted its stance and expressly restricted transfers of condemned land from private homeowners to private entities. The only exception is when a government agency takes a property, holds it for five years and then determines it's no longer needed.

Healy said losing eminent domain powers won't directly affect his part of Riviera's $2.4 billion redevelopment plan — partly because he hasn't used or threatened to use condemnations.

But he said it could indirectly cause some damage, because he believes that speculators — knowing that he and Riviera Beach won't be able to use eminent domain to take needed properties — would buy the remaining plots of land and increase the price for the builder redeveloping Riviera Beach.

"You can buy so much, but then you get to the stage where the economics are such that they don't work," Healy said. "They should have legislation that does not condemn homeowners. But they should condemn speculators."

Palm Beach Post: www.palmbeachpost.com

Public to get say on eminent domain: St Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 3/12/06

By Virginia Young

Rep. Steve Hobbs compares drafting an eminent domain bill to "walking on a trapeze wire."

Hobbs, R-Mexico, wants to bar developers from taking private property solely for economic development purposes. But he also wants to preserve the power of government to clear decayed areas.

The public can tell Hobbs this week whether his balancing act works. The House Judiciary Committee will open hearings Tuesday on his long-awaited bill. The meeting, which is expected to draw an overflow crowd, will start at noon in a Capitol basement hearing room.

Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court said cities could condemn homes and businesses that were not blighted and use the land for private development. The ruling ignited a national furor.

In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt and the Legislature's Republican leaders declared the overhaul of eminent domain a top priority. They tapped Hobbs, a farmer, to handle the legislation because he has a record of working to protect landowners' rights.

His bill would require that private property be declared blighted to be taken for economic development. The definition of "blight" would be tightened. Gone would be wording that says areas qualify as blighted because they have become "economic and social liabilities."

The new definition refers to areas that, because of "dilapidation, overcrowding, lack of ventilation, light or sanitary facilities or any combination of these factors are detrimental to public safety, health and morals."

Stan Wallach, a lawyer in St. Louis County who collaborated with Hobbs on parts of the bill, said the legislation would prevent abuses because it targets "a physically run-down area, as opposed to an economically run-down area."

To underscore that point, the bill provides: "Under no condition shall a piece of property be determined to be blighted by the sole consideration of the tax enhancements" that redevelopment would bring.

Hobbs said the bill would have prevented the use of eminent domain to force out a working-class neighborhood in Sunset Hills and a thriving Saturn dealership in Manchester, two controversial projects in the St. Louis area.

"Sunset Hills would not have happened," Hobbs said. "That was strictly about economic development. We're saying it can't just be about economic development."

Some activists question whether the bill goes far enough.

Jim Roos heads a St. Louis-based group called the Missouri Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition. Roos said he has been fighting eminent domain since it was used to take 24 buildings that his nonprofit housing ministry managed in St. Louis.

Hobbs' bill contains numerous provisions to make sure people who lose their land are treated fairly, Roos said. But making the process fairer doesn't make it right, he said.

"We think the taking of private property for private development is inherently unfair," he said. His coalition would prefer a total ban.

The Missouri Farm Bureau succeeded in getting many of its ideas incorporated in Hobbs' bill. For example, farmland and vacant land that has never been developed could not be declared blighted. Such land could only be condemned for public uses, such as roads and utilities.

Tuesday's hearing may follow an unusual format, said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs. Usually, all the supporters testify first, followed by opponents and those offering neutral comments.

Pratt plans to allow one hour for supporters, one hour for opponents and one hour for neutral parties.

"I want them to hear each other's perspectives," Pratt said. "We can better bring about compromise" if all sides are in the room at the same time, he said. He may reconvene the hearing at noon Wednesday to hear remaining witnesses.

Barb Geisman, executive director for development for St. Louis, plans to testify. She said preserving eminent domain is crucial for urban areas.

"We understand there are abuses of eminent domain out there, like Sunset Hills," she said. "But we're in a significantly different situation. We've got a whole lot of slumlords and speculators out there who have been leaching off our neighborhoods for many, many years."

The bill is HB1944.

St Louis Post-Dispatch: www.stltoday.com

Over 100 Bills Limiting Eminent Domain Fill State And Federal Hoppers: Mortgage News Daily, 3/13/06

When the Supreme Court, in June 2005, upheld a lower court's decision allowing the City of New London, Connecticut to proceed in seizing property from private owners to facilitate a redevelopment project by private developers, it set off a firestorm that shows no sign of abating.

The decision, Kelo v. New London concerned 15 homeowners contesting the seizure of their properties in the economically troubled Connecticut city on river adjacent property that also abutted a huge new R&D facility occupied by Pfizer Pharmaceuticals. There was no claim that the property was blighted, just a solid blue collar neighborhood, and Pfizer has been scrambling to convince the world that they had no connection with the case. The City had seized the property under Eminent Domain proceedings on the grounds that redeveloping the area into a mix of office, retail, and higher end residential properties would benefit the public by providing jobs and increasing New London's tax base. By a 5 to 4 vote the Supreme Court supported that rationale while issuing a broad invitation to local governments to review their own eminent domain procedures.

Well, invitation issued and accepted.

Our U.S. Senators and Congresspersons have introduced 47 pieces of legislation having to do with the Kelo decision. Some are resolutions condemning the Supreme Court ruling, other are laws attempting to limit the abilities of government to take private land for private purposes. As far as we could see, none of these have made it out of committee.

On the state level a total of 33 bills were introduced last year in 13 states. (Many of these were identical bills introduced at the same time in both houses of the legislatures.)

Most proposed legislation followed a similar line of reasoning; the government should not be allowed to take property from private landholders even if the end result would be to generate additional revenues and that property should never be turned over to another private interest regardless of the eventual public good.

Some of the bills have an exception for blighted properties, a few, in California and Ohio mandated a temporary moratorium on eminent domain proceedings or at least those for private purposes to allow time for more study. Only a few of the thirteen bills have passed. Here is the roll call for 2005

Alabama and Delaware enacted fairly typical legislation. Texas enacted standard legislation while defeating two other bills. However, the successful bill which was quickly enacted after the Kelo v. New London decision was handed down, contains a few exceptions to the private use concept. One of these is the taking of private property to build the new Dallas Cowboy stadium. Gotta love Texas.

Michigan has passed one bill through both houses of the legislature and that bill will be on the ballot for public decision at the next general election. Two other similar bills are in committee

Minnesota and Oregon both defeated all bills that were proposed in 2005.

California, Illinois, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin all had one or more bills in various stages of consideration at the end of the year. In the case of California there are now six proposed laws, five proposed constitutional amendments and several of the state's famed citizen initiatives in various stages of the legislative process.

New York and Ohio are considering bills with slight to significant deviations from those in other states. Two Ohio bills would create a task force to study eminent domain issues while another would require municipalities to gain specific legislative approval to use eminent domain rather than relying on any authority from the state constitution.

In New York a bill would require a vote from local government to approve any use of eminent domain to condemn private property for another private use and another would require that an approved economic development plan be the basis of any property taking for economic development purposes.

So far in 2006 20 states have introduced nearly 60 pieces of eminent domain legislation, most of which are in the early stages of study and review although some may have recently been enacted.

Our information on legislation comes from the National Conference of State Legislatures and we think there may be some omissions in its data, for example we have seen references to a new Utah law elsewhere and we know that Georgia recently enacted a far-reaching moratorium, but this was the most comprehensive information available.

For a complete list of states and a brief summary of legislation for both 2005 and 2006, see www.ncsl.org/programs/natres/emindomain.htm.

At present the ability of governments to take property for clearly public use such as building roads and schools is not under challenge as it is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is only the private use concept that has inflamed many people regardless of their political philosophies in other matters. However, John Broder, writing in The New York Times quotes The National League of Cities as identifying the proliferation of legislation as being the most crucial issue facing local governments. The organization is asking mayors and other local officials to call on Congress and state legislatures to stop the avalanche of bills to limit the power of government to take private property for presumed public good. Mr. Broder also quoted John D. Echeverria, executive director of the Georgetown Environmental Law and Policy Institute as stating that many states are beginning to seriously overreact to the Kelo decision, risking the destruction of a "significant and sometimes painful but essential government power."

Another view on the rush to enact new legislation has a more sinister bent.

Accusations are now being made that extreme private land rights people and organizations are attempting to tap into the anti-Kelo fury to pass legislation to gut existing environmental laws on the basis that these may reduce the value of an owners land without compensation. We will keep track of this argument and write more about it later.

Mortgage News Daily: www.mortgagenewsdaily.com

Eminent domain laws hurt property owners: The (Murfeesboro TN) Daily News Journal, 3/13/06

Letter to the Editor

In regard to eminent domain and in the revisions being made [in the laws], lawmakers need to keep in mind that not only homeowners are affected. Business owners need to be aware they could be affected or lose their business.

In May 1984, I opened an Exxon service station with a wrecker service. The station was next to I-24. In October 2001 I lost my business, our home, my wife, and had to file bankruptcy.

In a road-widening project by the Tennessee Department of Transportation I was affected by the project. I tried on several occasions to find answers as how would this affect my business. I was told by TDOT the underground storage tanks and gas pumps would be removed and I would still have my business. After the road was finished, I tried but failed at trying to run a service station without gasoline to sell.

I would like to see our state representatives pass some type of legislation that would protect all business owners and would allow lawsuits against the state for wrongful deeds. The way TDOT handled this is not right, but under current law, I have no choice.

My case is more complicated than most. I presently have a trial pending against TDOT, but whatever the outcome, it will not bring back what our family has lost.

I am sending this letter out to all our state representatives in pleading that Tennessee step up and do the right thing for all homeowners and business owners.

I would be willing to sit down and discuss with our lawmakers options that may be made available to prevent this from happening to future businesses.

Steven W. Taylor
Burt Burgen Road
Bradyville TN

Daily News Journal: http://dnj.midsouthnews.com

Woman vs. eminent domain: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 3/12/06

She may lose her home of 47 years

By Gregory Korte

Eighty-year-old Emma Dimasi has told friends and neighbors she wants to live the rest of her years on the corner of Clifton and Dixmyth avenues, in the small brick house she's owned since 1959.

The city has given her until Saturday to get out.

In a case that could have statewide implications, a Hamilton County magistrate will decide Monday whether the city of Cincinnati has the right to take Dimasi's house for a $4 million relocation of Dixmyth Avenue.

The taking of Dimasi's house is a routine and long-accepted use of eminent domain for a city like Cincinnati, which has filed 21 such court actions for road projects since 2003.

But Dimasi argues that private economic development - not public transportation - is driving the road project.

That's because Good Samaritan Hospital is contributing $1.28 million toward the project, which would give the hospital more room to grow as it continues a $122 million expansion. Under its agreement with the city, the hospital also stands to get whatever land is left over after road construction for $1.

The case is the first to test an Ohio law banning for one year the use of eminent domain for economic development if the property will ultimately end up in the hands of another private owner. And it's a prime example of what critics say is a legal system that stacks the deck against property owners.

State lawmakers are examining every aspect of that system in the aftermath of a U.S. Supreme Court case that held that states and cities have the power to take private property to give to another private owner. A case now before the Ohio Supreme Court will decide the issue of whether Norwood had the right to take residential property and give it to the developer of a shopping mall.

Dimasi's son and attorney, Vincent Dimasi, who owns an adjacent rental property being taken by the city, said his family isn't setting out to make new law.

"She's lived there almost 50 years. She's 80 years old. She's a widow. The one thing she has is the house," Vincent said. "The one thing my dad did before he died was to make sure she had the house free and clear so there wouldn't be any problems."

Dominico Dimasi died in 1999.

"My mother is not trying to cause trouble for anyone. She's just trying to do the fair thing. To take away her house - which takes away her independence - it would kill her," Vincent Dimasi said.

When Emma Dimasi first moved to Dixmyth Avenue in 1959, the house was valued at $5,570. Good Samaritan had just completed a $5.8 million addition that added 100 beds, a new X-ray department and 12 operating rooms.

The only direction for the hospital to build was up.

A new 15-story tower in 1982 added more beds. The current project is a 10-story tower that can support five more stories that can be added later. The Catholic hospital - the oldest and largest teaching hospital in the region - is now owned by TriHealth.

Landlocked on three sides by Burnet Woods, the Hebrew Union College and Martin Luther King Drive, Good Samaritan has been trying to buy up the property on the north side of Dixmyth Avenue for decades.

Dixmyth hasn't moved since it was a 19th-century cow path named for Richard Smith, a pioneering editor of the Cincinnati Commercial Gazette. (It's thought the spelling was changed to get around a city ordinance that forbade naming streets after living people.)

At one time, Dixmyth ran all the way to Central Parkway, before Cincinnati City Council renamed part of it for King in 1987.

City engineers say they've wanted to straighten and widen Dixmyth since at least the late 1980s, and point to crash data showing the accident rate on Dixmyth is 40 percent higher than the city average.

The current plans began in 2004, and city officials don't deny that the project is closely intertwined with Good Samaritan's expansion.

"It clearly makes the project better for Good Sam. There's no question about it," said Timothy M. Burke, the TriHealth lawyer. He also represents Norwood in the eminent domain case now before the Ohio Supreme Court.

"It's costing us to do this," hospital vice president Stephen Schwalbe testified in court last week. "But at the end of the day, we could improve the traffic flow around Good Samaritan Hospital for generations to come."

Dimasi points to evidence that the city is really acting on behalf of the hospital: Good Samaritan is contributing 32 percent of the estimated cost of the road, plus land it owns north of Dixmyth. After the road is completed, the city will sell any remaining land - including what's left over from the Dimasis' property - to the hospital for $1.

Unapproved conceptual drawings show the hospital constructing medical office buildings north of Dixmyth after the road is done.

Then, there's the timing.

The hospital's last offer to Emma Dimasi came on May 18, 2005. Good Samaritan offered her $99,000 - plus free use of an apartment around the corner for the rest of her life. That offer stayed on the table through at least May 31.

Two days later, the city manager introduced an "intent to appropriate" ordinance to take the Dimasi properties. City Council adopted it, 8-0, with no debate. (Councilman David Pepper was absent.)

When the city filed the eminent domain cases in December, it deposited with the court the amounts that the city said the properties were worth: $150,000 for Emma Dimasi and $160,000 for Vincent Dimasi. The Hamilton County Auditor has them valued for tax purposes at $109,400 and $140,300.

For a third Dixmyth property taken by eminent domain for the project, owned by Philip Giuliani, the city offered $172,500.

That case settled last week, with the city paying $225,130 plus relocation expenses of $14,870 - 28 percent more than the city was first willing to pay.

Dimasi makes an innovative argument, but the law may be on the side of the city.

Under Ohio law, the government's power to take property for roads is almost absolute. All it takes is the say-so of a city council - or in most cases, one man: Gordon Procter, the director of the Ohio Department of Transportation. In fact, the government doesn't even have to show that it has the money for the project - just plans.

The year-long moratorium on economic development takings also may not apply because Cincinnati City Council adopted the ordinance to take the Dimasi properties before the moratorium took effect.

If the Dimasis lose, they can file an objection to the magistrate's decision with Common Pleas Judge Melba D. Marsh.

If they lose there, the city gets the property and the case goes straight to a jury trial to decide the property's value. The Dimasis cannot appeal the city's right to take the property until after that trial - by which time the houses will probably be torn down.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Township, is the co-chairman of a 25-member legislative task force now studying eminent domain law in Ohio. He said it's unlikely the state would make any changes that would restrict the use of eminent domain in cases like Dixmyth Avenue.

"Yes, I understand the man's argument," Seitz said. "I would argue that any kind of transportation project that has public use of the thoroughfare - like Dixmyth Avenue - is going to be a proper taking."

But Seitz said there could be procedural changes that would help people like Emma Dimasi, some of which the task force will discuss at a public hearing in Columbus on Thursday:

Should the city have to pay a homeowner's relocation expenses?

If a property owner loses at a right-to-take hearing, should she have the right to immediately appeal that decision to a higher court?

If a court later decides that the property is worth significantly more than the city has offered, should the city have to pay her attorney fees?

"The purpose of this task force is to try to reassess the right balance of power between the sovereign and the property owner," Seitz said. "That is the bottom line."

Mrs. Dimasi, who gets her medical care at Good Samaritan, did not appear in court last week. She declined to be photographed for this story. Her son said she didn't want to become a "personality."

"It's (a) tough experience. She's determined to stay, even though she's 80 years old. She's basically said, 'Bring it on.' "

The Cincinnati Enquirer: http://news.enquirer.com

These sham eminent-domain bills must be defeated: (Fredricksburg VA) Free-Lance Star, 3/11/06


By Steven Anderson

Virginia's Senate and House recently passed legislation reforming the state's horrid eminent-domain laws. Unfortunately, the two competing visions of reform demonstrate the clash between those who want to save their homes and those who want the power to take such properties.

House Bill 94, as amended by Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, provides the exact protections necessary for Virginians to keep what they own. This legislation limits the power of eminent domain to those situations where the government or the public at large will own and occupy the property taken — things like schools and roads — and where it will be used for public-service companies.

Under HB 94, eminent domain could no longer be used to take farms, homes, or businesses for private commercial development, which the public nearly universally despises.

Senate Bill 394, however, contains almost no restrictions. Under that bill, private property could be taken for a big-box store or other private uses. The bill also reinforces the presumption that any government taking is correct, a significant and often insurmountable judicial obstacle to challenging public use.

Worse yet, SB 394 leaves a gaping exception for condemnations under the Housing Authorities Law, which is routinely used to take property under bogus "blight" designations. It's no surprise the beneficiaries of eminent-domain abuse are SB 394's strongest proponents.

Another cause for alarm is House Bill 699, which contains broad factors for condemnation so often abused by governments across the state for private development. It must be rejected.

For real guidance, legislators could look to Pennsylvania's recently passed Senate Bill 881, which overhauled that state's blight statutes. It could also look at model language offered by the Castle Coalition.

As it was sent to the Senate, House Bill 94 provides sensible and long-overdue eminent-domain reform. Senate Bill 394 is a sham. Virginians are watching and can tell the difference.

Free-Lance Star: http://fredericksburg.com/News/FLS

Steven Anderson is an attorney and coordinator of the Castle Coalition, the national grass-roots property-rights activism project of the Institute for Justice


Opponents Take Aim At Eminent Domain: Turn to 10 TV (Providence RI), 3/10/06

Joseph Mollo's family has owned his farm in Smithfield since 1911.

But the state ordered Mollo to give it up so Fidelity Investments could have a pristine landscape around its business campus.

Mollo, a two-time war veteran, doesn't feeling like rolling over for the state.

"There are two ways you're going to get me off my property," he said. "Lock me up or kill me."

It's called eminent domain and it's a method for governments to take private land. Typically land is taken for some public purpose like a highway.

"I live on that property," he said. "I'm on the verge of bankruptcy. I went from a nice garden center with seven rents to nothing."

In recent years though, it's been used to take land for business and that has some legislators concerned.

"A person's family can have roots going back generations," Rep. Charlene Lima said. "But those roots can be torn up by a bulldozer working for modern day robber barons."

For the last three years, Lima has submitted bills to restrict the type of takings authorized by the state.

"This legislation would prohibit the taking for private development," she said.

She said since the Supreme Court ruling allowing the city of New London to take private property to allow a developer to bring big stores downtown, the public opinion has swung strongly in her favor.

Since many other legislators have submitted legislation in the wake of the New London case and that the leadership team in the House is in favor of the bill, Lima said she's hopeful it will pass.

Turn to 10 TV: www.turnto10.com

Eminent domain bill clears Senate: The (Huntington WV) Herald-Dispatch, 3/10/06

House must approve changes before measure reaches Manchin

By Bryan Chambers

The eminent-domain bill passed by the [West Virginia] state Senate on Thursday would leave some room for urban renewal efforts such as the proposed Artisan Avenue project in Huntington, but it could make them more difficult.

The state Senate unanimously passed the measure (HB4048), designed to prohibit cities from using their eminent domain powers to take private property for economic development purposes. The bill allows cities to continue using eminent domain in slums and blighted areas, but it also gives property owners an appeal process.

"We've accomplished two major objectives," said Sen. Ed Bowman, D-Hancock. "We continue to give urban renewal authorities the ability to declare areas as slums and blighted, which is a good way to eradicate problems such as drug dealers or deteriorating housing. At the same time, we've given protections to the property owner above and beyond what is in current law."

Huntington officials have followed the bill closely because it could halt a plan to redevelop a four-block stretch of Artisan Avenue that was declared a slum and blighted area last year.

The city plans to purchase 31 vacant, dilapidated homes and lots on Artisan between Hal Greer Boulevard and 20th Street and use the property to build 17 new affordable homes and duplexes. The city does not plan to purchase any occupied homes.

City officials say they do not want to use eminent domain to take the property, but need it as a tool to bring property owners to the bargaining table.

Eminent domain has been a hot-button issue for states since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in June that cities could use eminent domain to take private property and give it to private developers.

The ruling stems from a case in which the city of New London, Conn., acquired property from several unwilling homeowners so a developer could build a hotel, office complexes and marina.

Since then, more than 40 states have revisited their eminent domain laws.

According to the bill, property owners would have to prove to the urban renewal authority proposing the condemnation that their property is not a slum or blighted and should not be condemned.

If the property owner succeeds, the urban renewal authority would be responsible for showing through nine detailed steps why the condemnation of the property is essential to the redevelopment project it is proposing.

If the property owner does not succeed, they would be able to appeal the urban renewal authority's decision in court, Bowman said.

"They would be able to appeal not only the taking of their land, but also the value of the land that's been established by the city," he said. "Property owners have never had this right in the past in West Virginia."

While several senators applauded the amended version of the bill, some still had concerns.

"It does appear that the property owner would have to appeal to the same agency that wants to condemn their property in the first place," Sen. Vic Sprouse, R-Kanawha, said.

"It seems to me like we're making the property owner whose property has been condemned prove that it is not," said Sen. Clark Barnes, R-Randolph. "Why haven't we placed the burden of proof on the condemning authority? That can be a very expensive process for the property owner."

The House passed the bill during the first month of the legislative session. The Senate's amended version must be approved by the House again before it can go to Gov. Joe Manchin for his signature.

Herald-Dispatch: www.herald-dispatch.com

Voters Take Stand On Eminent Domain: CBS-TV11 (Dallas-Ft Worth TX), 3/9/06

By Mary Stewart

Texans voting in the republican primary this week sent a clear message to state lawmakers. 94% supported a constitutional amendment preventing the government from taking private property through eminent domain for economic purposes.

Several projects in North Texas have infuriated private property owners who feel that the government wants their land and doesn't have to be nice about it.

The upcoming Dallas Cowboys’ stadium is one of those projects. It has claimed many houses that stood in its way.

The Trinity River Vision in Fort Worth is next. Plans call for flooding the locations of several northside businesses to make way for a bypass channel.

Many people are opposed to the project. Stephen Hollern is with the Tarrant County Republican Party. He said, "The Tarrant County Water Control District is couching this as a flood control measure when only $10 million of the $435 million is going to flood control.”

An overwhelming majority of those who voted in the Republican primary want a constitutional guarantee protecting private land from government takeover for economic uses.

But properties in New London, Connecticut will also face the bulldozers to make room for offices and condos. Homeowners took their case to the United States Supreme Court and lost.

New London city leaders claim the decision will benefit all residents by producing new taxes.

In that Supreme Court case, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor issued a stinging dissent, saying the court’s decision will favor those with "disproportionate influence and power ...including large corporations and development firms."

CBS-TV11: http://cbs11tv.com

House passes eminent domain reform: Atlanta (GA) Business Chronicle, 3/9/06

By Ryan Mahoney

The Georgia House of Representatives on Thursday overwhelmingly approved Gov. Sonny Perdue's omnibus eminent domain reform package.

House Bill 1313 has been touted as the nation's most comprehensive proposal to curtail government's power of eminent domain for economic development since a June U.S. Supreme Court decision opened the door for states to restrict the practice.
Perdue floor leader Rich Golick (R-Smyrna) outlined HB 1313 prior to the 173-1 vote. The bill would:
  • Ban eminent domain for economic development
  • Strictly define the conditions of blight and public use under which property may be taken
  • Require those conditions be applied on a property-by-property basis, rather than across entire neighborhoods or portions thereof
  • Require housing and development authorities to get approval from the elected bodies that appoint them before using eminent domain
  • Require the government to prove that condemnation is necessary, rather than the property owner to prove that it isn't
  • Give owners more compensation for confiscated property and allow them to testify about its value
  • Allow owners to repurchase property if the government does not use it

Also speaking in favor of the bill were House Judiciary Chairman Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs), whose committee debated HB 1313 for more than 30 hours; Ways and Means Chairman Larry O'Neal (R-Warner Robins), who sits on the judiciary committee; and first-term Rep. Steve Davis (R-McDonough).

"We're footsteps away from really making history," O'Neal said. He called HB 1313 "the first meaningful legislation that attempts to restore our very precious property rights."

"Government is not here to subject its citizens to tyranny," said Davis, whose district borders property pursued by the city of Stockbridge in a highly publicized eminent-domain-for-economic-development case. "When you went to court, it was always assumed that the government was right ... this bill changes that."

Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) was the only member to vote against HB 1313 or House Resolution 1306, an accompanying constitutional amendment that passed by a similar margin.

The measures now go to the Georgia Senate.

Atlanta Business Chronicle: http://atlanta.bizjournals.com

Panel seeks eminent domain bill: Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch, 3/8/06

Legislation came forth after justices allowed use for development

By Greg Edwards

Two very different bills aimed at curbing the use of government condemnation power are headed for a [Virginia] General Assembly conference committee.

The eminent-domain bills, sponsored by two Virginia Beach Republicans, Sen. Kenneth W. Stolle and Del. Terrie L. Suit, started through the legislature as very different proposals.

Stolle's bill, only 15 lines long, said simply that the condemnation of private property for the "primary purpose" of economic development was not a public use allowed by the Virginia Constitution.

Suit's bill, which stretched to 79 lines, sought to limit condemnation while allowing its existing use for such things as blight removal and building utility lines and roads.

Both bills responded to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision last June in a Connecticut case. The high court ruled that the U.S. Constitution does not block the condemnation of private property for an economic development in which the property is then turned over to another private entity. But the court added that the states can impose more stringent limits on eminent domain.

At one point during the two months of lawmaking, Suit's and Stolle's bills were very similar in form and substance. But now they are starkly different proposals.

Suit's bill got a radical makeover in the House of Delegates, where its journey began, but was restored by the Senate yesterday. It looks much the same as it did when she introduced it.

Stolle's bill, which is a floor vote away from passage in the House, bears little resemblance to its original format.

Suit's measure is favored by local governments and others that use condemnation powers. The House version of Stolle's bill is closer to the legislation sought by property-rights advocates who want a strong law to prevent abuse of eminent-domain power.

A conference committee will have to dish up something that both sides can swallow.

Also yesterday, the Senate passed a bill that defines a blighted area or property for the purposes of redevelopment and the use of eminent domain. Again, the Senate measure differs from the House version.

Times-Dispatch: www.timesdispatch.com

City moves to condemn SBC church using eminent domain: BP — The Baptist Press, 3/9/06

By Erin Roach

City leaders in Long Beach, Calif., have classified the Filipino Baptist Fellowship’s building as a blighted area and are forcing the congregation out in order to make way for condominiums.

The path for the case was laid when the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 last summer in Kelo v. New London, Connecticut that a city’s use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private party to another may qualify as a “public use” protected by the Constitution.

John Eastman, director of The Claremont Institute’s Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence who is defending the church, said the case — the first involving a Baptist church — may play a key role in reversing the high court’s eminent domain decision.

“In my view, the Supreme Court made a terrible mistake in Kelo, and I think they know that and they’re going to be looking for a way to extricate [themselves] from that case,” Eastman told Baptist Press. “It seems to me that the best challenge to the principle of that case is a church case, where there is no economic output, so any economic development could then be utilized to take out the church under the Kelo theory.

“That’s preposterous, so I think getting a church case up there in very short order may get them to rethink Kelo,” Eastman said.

Currently, there are eight other active cases of eminent domain abuse against churches across the country, according to the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm in Arlington, Va.

The city of Long Beach will hold a “hearing of necessity” March 13, when they are slated to vote on a resolution authorizing the city attorney to begin proceedings to condemn the property, said Eastman, who is working to stop the move.

During a segment on Fox News’ “Hannity & Colmes” March 3, church member Sally Derro said when the church building was given to the congregation, it was an answer to many years of prayer.

“Every day, the young kids pray that this church would not fall,” church member Jovine Agustine added.

Roem Agustine, pastor of the Filipino Baptist Fellowship, said the city has made proposals for an alternative site, but none of them have been acceptable.

“Either they are small in area or they are in the redevelopment area of the city, and we don’t want to move to a place where later on we’ll be told to move out again,” the pastor said.

One of the proposed relocation sites was a bar.

Eastman, on Fox, said the church building is not in any shape to be condemned.

“It’s not blighted. We’re not talking about a rundown slum that’s boarded up with bars on the windows,” he said. “The church is a vibrant church. So we’ll challenge whether they’re allowed to take it at all.”

The congregation has adequate legal grounds to argue the case, Eastman, a former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, said.

“This is a church, and the Supreme Court’s decision ... didn’t involve a church,” he said. “I think the fact that it’s a church means we’re going to have to force the court to [re-examine] whether you can just take people’s private property for economic development when you’ve got an institution that doesn’t have an economic base — it has a spiritual base for its contribution to the community.”

Part of the problem, Eastman said on Fox, is that the government has lost its way regarding its purpose.

“It’s supposed to protect our inalienable rights to things like our own property. They think their job is to collect as much tax revenue as they can to make things prettier in other parts of the city,” he said.

Meanwhile, Agustine, the pastor, said the church has united over the issue and is trusting God to work it out.

“We’re just resting on the promise of the Lord that He will not leave us nor forsake us,” he said.

Eastman told BP it’s ridiculous for a church building to be condemned in favor of a shopping center or something that would bring in more revenue for a city, and church members across the nation should be aggressive in fighting any attempts to take their land. In addition to the legal arguments, church members can have a political impact as well, he said.

“A lot of eminent domain is done by a redevelopment agency that is actually the city council people wearing redevelopment hats,” he said. “That means they all face elections, and in many places in the country they can face recalls.

“What I would propose is people be ready with recall efforts or election efforts the day after any condemnation vote is taken, that councilmen who vote for these things ought to be held accountable,” Eastman said.

He also recommended ensuring that churchgoers show up at hearings on the issue in large numbers in order to get the attention of councilmen.

“In most jurisdictions, the board is required to have a public comment session, and they get one minute each. Well, one minute each by three people is not a big headache for them, but one minute each by 100 people or 300 people starts putting these things down until midnight or 1 a.m. and makes condemnation decisions very uncomfortable for them,” Eastman said. “We’ve got to start pushing it that way.”

The Baptist Press: www.bpnews.net

Knoxville lawmaker proposes temporary elimination of eminent domain: WBIR-TV10 (Knoxville TN), 3/10/06

By Herryn Riendeau

One Knoxville lawmaker says he has a new bill that would prevent the government from taking citizens' property. But some say the issue is not that simple, that eminent domain is not a bad thing and sometimes it is necessary.

Representative Stacey Campfield's bill would temporarily stop the government from taking property by eminent domain and giving it to someone else. It is an idea the owner of one downtown Knoxville landmark is all for.

The McClung warehouses are a first impression of downtown Knoxville. Its owner, Mark Saroff, says he wants to make it a better impression. But he is worried KCDC will take it away.

"That's what's on the table is the taking of the property. Well now we've made our commitment, as you can see, to the redevelopment of the properties," said Saroff.

But it is not that simple. The building is in a redevelopment area and considered blighted.

"The main elements have to do with physical deterioration of the building and structural deficiency, the windows being out," said William Lyons, Knoxville's Senior Director of Policy Development, when describing blight.

Saroff must submit a plan showing he has the money to repair the property.

"We have all sorts of plans, and we have submitted a substantial portion of those, some portions are not public," said Saroff.

If KCDC says the plan is satisfactory, the threat of eminent domain goes away. If not, the process moves on. Other developers can submit their plans for the building, and if Saroff still cannot come up with a plan KCDC says is satisfactory, he could be forced to sell it.

"It's immoral and it's theft. I made this investment. I made this commitment to the property," said Saroff.

City leaders say sometimes eminent domain is necessary to get buildings fixed that are dangerous or in disrepair.

But one thing city leaders and Saroff have in common is the hope he will be successful in redeveloping his property.

"We're hoping that now that we're moving on the project that the city will be supportive and cooperative and corroborative," said Saroff.

A representative from the city says in the past couple years, they have only used eminent domain a handful of times.

Saroff will find out whether his plan was accepted later this month.

WBIR-TV10: www.wbir.com

Eminent Domain Appears Imminent: Shore Publishing (Madison CT), 3/9/06

By Ben Rayner

The shouts started early and lasted into the night last week when [Branford CT] residents and town officials discussed the newest development proposal for the Queach property. With the announcement shortly after the meeting that First Selectman Cheryl Morris would back eminent domain seizure of the parcel, the shouting seems to have been heard.

The 159-acre Queach parcel owned by local developer Alex Vigliotti was a pen stroke away from becoming a golf course just a few years ago but now has become the rope in a tug of war between the owner, town officials, environmentalists, and Branford taxpayers.

However, in an unexpected move just a day after the meeting Morris has asked the RTM to support the use of eminent domain to the size the property if necessary. The administration was in favor the RTM's passage of a resolution to seize the parcel back in November but, after the election, a focal point of criticism was the announcement that negotiations with the developer were still in progress.

“The town has spoken, they don't want it [development]. I think this was a fair process and done the right way. The public spoke as one on this, Morris said.

The crowd may have helped the Morris administration choose sides – almost every public comment at last week's meeting was in favor of seizing the parcel immediately by eminent domain regardless of cost. In stark contrast to other municipalities where this issue has lined up residents against eminent domain, Branford voters seem to want it enforced in this instance.

Morris said of her decision to move forward with eminent domain, “I felt it was too critical and too important for taxpayers not to be involved in this process. This is a huge issue for Branford.”

Al Ippolito, attorney for developer Alex Vigliotti, did not wish to comment when told of the administration's decision to move forward with eminent domain. Morris had been heavily criticized by some opponents for negotiating with the developer after the RTM voted to both approve and fund an eminent domain seizure of the property.

“Eminent domain was always a last resort and I would be negligent if I did not put this proposal before the taxpayers of Branford,” Morris said at the meeting.

After the decision was announced Morris said she was disappointed in the tenor of some of the attacks on her and her administration but said that her effort was simply to make sure the process was open and impartial and that resident's concerns were heard.

“Some of the accusations were unfair in that they were unfounded. Many assumed that I was somehow advocating for development or a deal; I wasn't. I always felt it was far better to reach a negotiated settlement than to go down road of eminent domain but the people want this,” Morris said.

The Vigliotti plan was complicated and has many contingencies. Much of the information, such as percentage of run-off allowed, effectiveness of 55-and-over senior housing restrictions, and Grand List impact are disputed by various sides of the issue.

Experts including engineers disagreed over how sensitive the land is and what the actual environmental impact could be. Financial experts were also divided on how development would effect taxes.

In the end, voters simply did not want development and in this case they have indicated they want their government to exercise enforcement of the eminent domain statute.

“I don't think they [Morris administration] had a hell of a lot of choice. The voice of the public spoke loud and clear last week, “RTM member Kurt Schwanfelder [R] said in response to the announcement. “I'm pleased that we had the turnout we did. I'm happy to see the community pull together. This is the right direction for the town, I think.”

Tom Cleveland was also pleased. Cleveland was instrumental in getting a state-of-the-art fishway constructed recently at the Supply Ponds, an environmentally sensitive area that was in danger of being adversely affected by any development.

“I think this is a good sign that the Board of Selectman is listening to the will of the electorate,” Cleveland said. “We will be watching to se how vigorously the acquisition of the property is pursued.”

Shore Publishing: www.shorepublishing.com

Eminent Domain Reform: Minnesota House of Representatives, 3/8/06

By State Representative Gregory M. Davids

Eminent domain has risen to the top of hot political issues being discussed since the Kelo vs. New London decision in 2005. There is much confusion surrounding this issue, and I would like to try to clear the air.

The Kelo vs. New London decision was handed down by the U.S Supreme Court last summer. While the Supreme Court upheld the ability of local governments to take property for private economic development purposes, the majority opinion also stated that there is nothing in the Court’s decision to prevent states from placing further restrictions on eminent domain uses. Several bills were introduced by Minnesota legislators, who were meeting in a special session when the Kelo vs. New London decision was announced. My name was on the two bipartisan bills that were introduced as a response to Kelo vs. New London.

The need to reform Minnesota’s eminent domain laws is not a partisan issue. Neither liberals nor conservatives nor anyone in between have a corner on this issue. On January 5th, a press conference was held at the capitol to outline the major elements of a bill that would reform our eminent domain laws. Chief authors Rep. Jeff Johnson (R – Plymouth) and Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL – Cook) stated that while a few people might think the legislation goes too far, some others may believe that it does not go far enough.

The three key provisions of their proposal include: 1) a prohibition of government entities from forcing the transfer of private property to other private entities; 2) a requirement to compensate for the value of a business as well as the value of the property when taking business property for legitimate public purposes; and 3) a provision for reimbursement of attorney fees if a taking is successfully challenged.

A broad spectrum of groups was present at the January 5th press conference to support this proposed legislation. A sample representation of supporters includes the Farmers Union, Farm Bureau, NAACP, National Federation of Independent Business, Minnesota Petroleum Marketers Association Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association, the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association and former Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Tim Penny.

However, no one drove the point home at the January 5th press conference better than Jim and Beverly Meide, a couple from Champlin who live in their dream home and simply want to live out their lives in that house. The Meides are worried about the prospect of their home being taken by the city – not for a school or road construction or a public facilities project – but for condominiums and a marina along the city’s riverfront.

Anyone who says that eminent domain laws are not abused in Minnesota needs to think back no longer than a decade, when the City of Richfield condemned homes and small businesses to make way for the Best Buy headquarters. I believe our nation’s founders would turn over in their graves if they knew that the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment was abused to this extent. No amount of new tax revenue for a local government is worth disrupting the lives of private homeowners and small business owners.

I introduced legislation to address this issue in the special session last year, and will introduce similar legislation the 2006 legislative session. However, I will support any bill that protects the private property rights of individual homeowners and small business people against an overzealous government chomping at the bit to close a deal on that next big development. Private property rights have been a crucial element of our individual freedom since our nation’s founders wrote the Constitution and Bill of Rights. There is nothing partisan about private property rights and I gladly promote and defend them.

Gregory M. Davids is Chairman of the House Agriculture and Rural Development Policy Committee: rep.greg.davids@house.mn

Mayor Takes On The Fight Over Eminent Domain: NY1.com (New York NY), 3/8/06

By Sandra Endo

Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg is racking up some frequent flyer miles in the battle over taking people's property for private development projects he says would be for the public good.

Bloomberg says sometimes it has to happen, otherwise, “Every big city would have all construction come to a screeching halt.”

The mayor's been to the nation's capital twice in as many weeks, meeting privately with lawmakers to make the case local governments shouldn't lose the right to determine when eminent domain is legitimate in the interest of the public.

Bloomberg is backing the controversial Brooklyn arena project which could potentially displace many homeowners.

“In the real world you can't say, ‘Well, it's just school or just hospitals.’ The economics are what pays for those schools,” said the mayor.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling last June supported giving broad leeway to governments to seize private property. It caused a backlash among many conservatives, and Congress is now considering measures opposing the ruling.

Eminent domain lawyer Michael Rikon has represented hundreds of clients under threat of getting their property possessed, and says the interpretation of who private development projects benefit is sometimes clouded.

“The basic bottom line is that some individual is going to make a lot of money and not necessarily improve the city,” said Rikon.

The debate is heated, since there are many shades of gray as to what defines a project that would benefit the public enough to require taking private property, which are people homes and businesses.

“It’s not necessarily the case that the fact that a private interests developing property means that there is no public value. The question is adequate compensation and adequate process for the people who are dispossessed,” said David Birdsell of Baruch College. “And those are very, very difficult questions to try to guarantee in a very fraught environment.”

It's an issue making distinctions in the upcoming race for governor, and which will continue to spark loud debate.

NY1.com: www.ny1.com