Some Ustick Residents Face Eminent Domain: KBCI-TV2 (Boise ID), 6/20/06

By Thanh Tan

Before the Ada County [Idaho] Highway District can move on with its plans to widen Ustick Road, it must acquire 137 pieces of property.

ACHD spokesperson Christy Foltz-Ahlrichs says the district has about 58 more deals to settle before construction can begin in the winter.

On Wednesday at noon, ACHD commissioners will consider whether to exercise the government option of eminent domain on three different homes on that road.

Despite the agency's promises residents will be fairly compensated for giving up their land to benefit the general public, many people living in the Ustick neighborhood say the money doesn't make up the fact they're losing a right to property they've worked hard to earn.

Ben Hart's family bought this historic home off Ustick Road last year, and he says they knew nothing about the widening project — until it was too late.

Now, the government is considering whether to condemn a portion of their property lining Ustick in order to seize it.

"It's like you're being bullied. They get to do what they want to do. This is their offer, take it or leave it," he said, describing a previous experience with an ACHD negotiator.

For now, he says they're leaving the offer.

But not far down the road, Ustick resident Reba Bartrop says her family had to take the money.

"I feel we were kind of pressured into it. They knew about our (financial) situation and they took advantage of it," Bartrop told KBCI CBS 2 News. "But you know, you keep hearing that the government has the right to take whatever they want. It's just not right."

ACHD Spokesperson Christy Foltz-Ahlrichs says eminent domain is an emotional issue.

"We try to do as much as we can to make it as easy as we can, and we don't like to get to eminent domain. We like to work with people to reach a compromise," she said. "All I can say is we give them the fair market value that we can. We're not trying to cheat people out of their money."

Homeowners like Hart say there's more to it.

"The thing is, we're going to have the road eight feet closer," he said. "We have a 100-year-old house with single pane windows, and just replacing those wood windows, keeping the integrity of the house is going to cost more than (what the agency has offered)."

Those families faced with eminent domain say their options are few.

Bartrop is putting her house on the market.

"I'm going to lose a lot of money when I sell it. The realtor already told us that," she said.

Ben Hart and his wife say they'll hold off as long as they can.

"We're not really sure what we want to do. I'd rather move, she'd rather stay so we'll see what happens," Hart said.

KBCI-TV2: http://www2.kbcitv.com

Palmetto aims to take theater through eminent domain: Bradenton (FL) Herald, 6/20/06

By Carl Mario Nudi

The [Palmetto FL] city commissioners voted unanimously Monday to take ownership of an historic theater through the eminent domain process.

Cindy and Joel Jarvis, owners of the Olympia Theatre, 512 10th Ave. W., said through their attorney they would use whatever legal means necessary to protect their rights to the property.

Attorney Recinda Perry told the commissioners the law allows a government to take private property only as a last resort.

The Jarvises do not feel the city has the legal grounds to proceed with eminent domain, considering the recent action of the commission to purchase a nearby building for a theater, Perry said.

Commissioner Eric Ball said there is a difference between the agreement the city was trying to negotiate with the Manatee Players and what they are trying to accomplish with the condemnation proceedings.

"Manatee Players theater was for their use and not the public's," Ball said. "The Olympia Theatre will be for the public."

The city plans to renovate the 48,000 square-foot building to provide space for meetings, wedding receptions, art shows, activities and performances.

According to the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution "private property (shall not) be taken for public use without just compensation."

The commission approved two resolutions, one commencing the eminent domain proceedings and the other outlining the process. They also agreed to offer the Jarvises up to $600,000 - $120,000 more than the appraised value of $480,000.

Mayor Larry Bustle read a statement giving his reasons why the commission should vote for "taking" the property.

Bustle noted that the Jarvises acquired the building from the city 11 years ago for $1, and since then have "bought, renovated and sold many properties for profit, while leaving the theater as a low priority."

He also said property taxes on the property were unpaid for the past two years and that the city had to take the Jarvises to court for delinquent utility bills.

"I believe, with staff, that it would be unwise for the City to enter into a partnership or agreement with property owners who have relied upon loopholes to avoid taking the right course of action," Bustle said.

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

Bill targets eminent domain: Utica (NY) Observer-Dispatch, 6/20/06

By Elizabeth Cooper

A state Senator representing part of New York Regional Interconnect's proposed power line route has introduced legislation to block the privately-owned company from using eminent domain.

Senator John Bonacic, R-Mount Hope, had the bill printed Friday and it's now eligible to come up for a vote. Sen. Raymond Meier, R-Western, is a co-sponsor on the legislation. William Magee, D-Nelson, is cosponsoring the corresponding bill in the state Assembly.

If passed, the bill would strike a section of the state's Transportation Corporations Law that allows electric companies to use the power of eminent domain to take private land.

"We don't think that NYRI should be using state law is the basis for taking New Yorkers' property for their greed and benefit," Bonacic's counsel, Langdon Chapman, said. "It's not a public purpose if it raises rates upstate."

Power company spokesman Jonathan Pierce said New York Regional Interconnect was aware of the legislation.

"We are looking forward to having further substantive discussions on this matter," he said.

New York Regional Interconnect wants to put a 1,200-megawatt power line from Marcy to Orange County downstate. According to the company's application to the state's Public Service Commission, the plan would reduce energy costs downstate by as much as 28 percent, while increasing those costs upstate by up to 7 percent. Company officials have said they would use eminent domain to purchase land from any unwilling sellers along the 66-foot wide right-of-way they are planning to use.

One local resident, whose Clayville home is about 15 feet from the railroad tracks the right-of-way follows in Oneida County, said he likes Bonacic's idea but fears it wouldn't be enough.

"Just from some of the information I've read, the state has traditionally honored the eminent domain rights of private companies," he said. "I think the Supreme Court has supported that, so how effective this bill will be remains to be seen."

Chapman said states have the power to allow utilities to use eminent domain, and can take that power away.

"The state legislature has absolute authority to do it, and if it makes big energy unhappy we don't care, this is about people," he said.

Steven Anderson of the Institute for Justice, which represented homeowners whose property was taken by eminent domain when the city of New London, Conn., wanted to take their land in the interest of economic development, said to his knowledge, the state could adopt such a law if it wished.

"It's a matter of state law, if the state wants to change it I don't see any reason why they can't," he said.

But, he added, utilities have a long-standing history of using eminent domain for their projects.

Chapman said the language in the bill would apply to a range of other utilities, including ones like National Grid. A National Grid spokesman could not be reached for comment.

The legislature's session ends Thursday, which doesn't leave much time for the negotiations. Chapman declined to speculate as to whether it could be passed in that time frame.

Bonacic represents all of Delaware and Sullivan counties and parts of Ulster and Orange counties.

Observer-Dispatch: http://www.uticaod.com

Signatures turned in for Nevada amendment to limit eminent domain: KESQ-TV3 (Palm Desert CA), 6/20/06

Supporters of a [Nevada] state constitutional amendment to limit the taking of private land through eminent domain say they turned in a petition with 136 thousand signatures.

That would be far more than the 83 thousand signatures needed to place the initiative on the November ballot.

The measure would prevent the government from taking land for private development while still allowing the taking of land for public uses such as schools and roads.

In addition, land owners would be given "the highest price the property would bring on the open market."

In order to change the state constitution voters must approve the amendment this November and again in November 2008.

KESQ-TV3: http://www.kesq.com

N.C. Senate committee, appeals court, act on eminent domain: Wilmington (NC) Morning Star, 6/20/06

A [North Carolina] Senate judiciary committee agreed Tuesday on a bill that would bar local governments from using eminent domain authority to take land for private projects.

The provision stops short of proposing a constitutional amendment that proponents argue would better protect owners worried about having their property condemned.

A House bill that would put an amendment on the state election ballot in November 2007 was considered Tuesday by a House committee. It was sent to a subcommittee for more work. One of that bill's primary sponsors, Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said he didn't know what that meant for the measure, which has nearly 90 sponsors out of the chamber's 120 members. Bills often are sent to subcommittees to die out of sight.

The measure recommended by the Senate panel - and already passed by the House - would repeal any laws giving condemnation authority to specific local governments beyond statewide restrictions already in the law starting July 1. The bill would affect at least nine local measures on the books.

The bill would limit eminent domain exclusively to public uses already set out in law. Those include improvements such as building or expanding roads, parks, sewer lines and government buildings.

Several bills addressing eminent domain powers have been filed since a U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that allowed the town of New London, Conn., to take houses on property for a hotel and convention center.

Also Tuesday, the state Court of Appeals upheld a Mecklenburg County trial court ruling that awarded $2 million in damages to the owners of 3.6 acres of property near Charlotte-Douglas International Airport. The land was condemned by the City of Charlotte in 2002.

The city deposited $842,500 when it took the land from John and Linda Hurlahe, who had used the law for 16 years for car rental and airport parking. A jury in 2004 determined that the couple deserved more.

The city appealed, arguing in part that the judge shouldn't have allowed evidence about the Hurlahe's future use of the property or the profits of a hypothetical valet parking business to determine a value for the land. A three-judge panel of the appeals court disagreed.

Wilmington Morning Star: http://www.wilmingtonstar.com

State Supreme Court Strikes Down Eminent Domain Petition: KOTV-6 (Tulsa OK), 6/20/06

The Oklahoma Supreme Court Tuesday ruled an initiative petition proposing to restrict government use of eminent domain is unconstitutional.

The state high court held that Initiative Petition 382 violated the single-subject rule of the Oklahoma Constitution and may not be submitted to a vote of the people.

A legal challenge had been filed to the ballot title by several economic development and business groups. The court said that issue is now moot.

KOTV-6: http://www.kotv.com

Florida city sued over development: The Washington (DC) Times, 6/18/06

By Joyce Howard Price

Two Riviera Beach, Fla., residents have sued the city to try to stop condemnation of private property for development of a $2.4 billion, 400-acre waterfront project.

Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican, has asked the state attorney general to review the legality of the city's bid to bypass new state regulations against the use of eminent domain for such projects.

Russell Schweiss, a spokesman for the governor, said Mr. Bush thinks Riviera Beach may have violated state sunshine laws by its limited public notice of a City Council meeting on May 11. During that meeting, a resolution was approved authorizing a contract between the city and New Jersey-based developer Viking Inlet Harbor Properties for the redevelopment project. The next day, Mr. Bush signed the eminent-domain legislation.

Two Riviera Beach property owners who would be affected directly by the waterfront redevelopment project filed a lawsuit in the Palm Beach County Circuit Court on June 7, charging that the hastily called City Council meeting violates Florida statutes designed to ensure open government.

"Normally, we hear about a meeting five or seven days ahead of time," unless it involves a weather emergency, plaintiff Fane Lozman said. "But this was just a little notice on a [City Hall] bulletin board the day before."

Mr. Lozman said he lives on a houseboat in the city-run marina of Riviera Beach, which he says would be taken over by Viking under the redevelopment agreement. He said he is certain that he and as many as 200 other people "who live on boats in the marina" would be displaced so Viking "can make way for high-end yachts" and a multistory garage to house them.

"I want to remain on my houseboat in this city I love," he said.

Mr. Lozman said his partner in the lawsuit, Virginia Merchant, initially signed a contract to sell her property for $2 million but later sold it for $800,000, when she was told she would receive only $572,000 if the site was condemned.

Meanwhile, the Pacific Legal Foundation (PLF) sought an injunction Monday to stop the project, which the low-income city says is crucial for its economic survival.

The public interest law firm said the Riviera Beach project is unlawful because a contract to proceed with the redevelopment was signed a week after Florida lawmakers "overwhelmingly" passed legislation "to prohibit cities from using the power of eminent domain for purposes of economic development."

What's more, PLF said, it was known that Mr. Bush was "set to sign the measure into law on May 11," so the council "raced to pass a resolution authorizing a contract between the city" and Viking a day earlier.

PLF is representing Jerry and Rene Corie, residents of Riviera Beach who live in the area slated for redevelopment, as well as the Coalition for Property Rights, an Orlando-based nonprofit that "opposes threats to the sanctity of private property rights."

The Washington Times: http://washingtontimes.com

Eminent domain mulled for Pike land: Metro West Daily News (Boston MA), 6/18/06

By D. Craig MacCormack

[Framingham MA] Selectmen will ask the town's Economic Development and Industrial Corp. to study how to broker a deal with a local developer to take over part of the MBTA park-and-ride lot for a possible restaurant.

Michael Laurano, lawyer for Timothy Hanna, asked selectmen to consider an eminent domain land-taking from the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority of 1672 Worcester Road, with Hanna financing the acquisition costs.

Under the proposal, selectmen would then deed the property to Hanna for the purposes of creating a new business, which Laurano said would likely be a new restaurant.

"Mr. Hanna has the will and the resources to do this project," said Laurano during Monday's selectmen meeting.

The park-and-ride lot has 250 parking spaces, said Laurano, but most days finds only about 20 cars parked there. He said the Turnpike Authority has let its ownership stake in the land lie dormant for several years.

"The Rugg-Gates house is practically a blighted building," said Laurano, referring to the historic home that is on the land.

In 2001, Hanna, who owns Ken's Steak House, scored a victory in his long-standing battle with the Turnpike Authority when his suit challenging the legality of taking the same land from him was reinstated on appeal.

But the state Appeals Court in 2004 affirmed a Superior Court ruling, saying the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was justified in taking the entrance to a proposed hotel and office park in 1994.

The suit alleged the Turnpike took the land as an eventual gateway to a private development. The suit further alleged the Turnpike was aware the site was inappropriate for a park-and-ride facility and that other nearby land was available for that purpose.

Selectman Charles Sisitsky asked Laurano whether the board has the authority to take land by eminent domain from a state agency. Laurano said the taking is legal as long as the public use is not changed, and the park-and-ride lot would remain under Hanna's proposal, although a smaller version.

Chairman Dennis Giombetti called the idea "very appealing," saying it would continue the town's push to redevelop parcels that have passed their prime.

Sisitsky wondered if, with the EDIC's help, the board and Hanna could work with the Turnpike Authority to broker a deal without being forced to take the land by eminent domain.

The land, which borders the Turnpike and Rte. 9 and sits near the 9/90 complex, is part of Boston Properties' proposed $40 million hotel-office complex. The design calls for an access road to run beside the park through Hanna's former land.

Boston Properties wants to build a 150-room hotel on a loop ramp north of the Turnpike and two 150,000-square-foot office buildings to the south.

In 1997, a jury awarded Hanna $750,000 to supplement the $1.4 million the Pike paid to the bank that held the mortgage on it.

But Hanna refused the money to appeal for $780 million — half the potential value of the properties to which his former land serves as a gateway.

Metro West Daily News: http://www.metrowestdailynews.com

Pacific Legal Foundation launches eminent domain blog

The Pacific Legal Foundation, America’s oldest public interest legal foundation dedicated to defending private property rights, has launched an pnline information clearing house for news and opinion regarding the abuse of eminent domain.

In the year since the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, declaring that government may seize homes and businesses under eminent domain then transfer the property to private developers, Americans have begun joining grassroots crusades to demand protection for their property. New laws in over a dozen states seek to restrict the use of eminent domain, and lawsuits in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Florida, and other states have demanded that judges recognize the constitutional restrictions on this power.

The Pacific Legal Foundation will maintain an ongoing records of abuse, opinions, information about events, and other useful information at the new website. Check it out at:

Freeport ground zero in court: Houston (TX) Business Journal, 6/16/06

Legal dispute between city, family business tests landmark ruling on eminent domain

By Jenna Colley

The fate of a 56-year-old family shrimping business in Freeport has become more momentous as a New Orleans federal court weighs oral arguments made last week in a dispute over eminent domain.

Western Seafood Co. filed a lawsuit in 2003 against the City of Freeport to protect against seizure of company-owned property. The city responded by invoking the power of eminent domain to pave the way for development of a waterfront theme area by a Dallas firm.

After losing in U.S. District Court in Galveston, the company filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals in New Orleans, which put the case on hold last year pending a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the case of Kelo v. City of New London.

The high court's June 2005 decision enabling cities to seize private property through power of eminent domain for commercial development purposes sent shock waves of controversy across the country.

Western Seafood stands to absorb a lot of this shock. The City of Freeport gets added impetus to advance existing plans for a waterfront marina and additional development along a stretch of the Old Brazos River.

On June 7, the New Orleans appeals court heard oral arguments, and both sides now await judgment day.

Lee Cameron, director of economic development for Freeport, says the city used eminent domain only after Western Seafood rejected a buyout offer and filed suit.

Western Seafood spokesman Wright Gore III, grandson of the company's founder, says the business has spent $400,000 on legal fees.

Says Gore: "It's been an enormous financial and emotional burden. This was never about money. We simply want the right to remain in business."

Interest in the eventual outcome extends beyond Freeport, seen as the first significant test of the Kelo decision.

Keeping especially close watch is Matt Deal, a partner with Houston-based Lewis Realty Advisors.

His clients include both government entities trying to acquire land through eminent domain and private owners being approached by government entities.

Says Deal: "Everyone in the eminent domain arena is watching this."

Strategic tracts
The Freeport economic development group has been working with Dallas-based Freeport Waterfront Properties LP since 2002.

The company run by H. Walker Royall and partner John Powers pursued plans to develop a private marina with capacity for 475 private yachts on about four acres of land.

The city already controlled some land, but two of the three remaining strategic tracts are owned by Western Seafood.

Trico Seafood Co., owner of the third, initially resisted but agreed to a settlement offer where the city will rebuild the company's facility at a different location.

Cameron says the cost will be about $250,000.

The city initially offered $400,000 for the pair of Western Seafood tracts, he says, but now an amount of only $269,000 is on deposit in an account for purchase of the land.

Freeport economic developers hope the plan will revitalize the small community by attracting tourism and additional projects.

Cameron estimates the marina and subsequent retail, restaurant and hotel development will create between 100 and 150 new jobs. The initial marina will generate 18 jobs.

As part of the deal with Freeport Waterfront Properties, the city has agreed to loan the Dallas company $6 million toward the marina project through the Freeport Economic Development Corp.

In order to collect, however, Royall and partner Powers have agreed to invest $1 million in the project and contribute a portion of land valued at $750,000.

The city also has granted the developer a seven-year, 100 percent tax abatement and plans to assist the company in getting a similar tax break from the county.

Cameron calculates an eventual 10-fold return on the city's $6 million investment based on financial indicators compiled by The Brookings Institution.

Figures from the nonprofit research think tank, Cameron says, indicate a yield of $60 million in subsequent investments due to stimulated economic development.

The only remaining hurdle is Western Seafood. But Cameron says he's optimistic that the appellate court will rule in the city's favor.

He says Western Seafood indicated early support for the project before negotiations broke down and set off the legal actions.

Says Cameron: "When it got time to sit down and give us an amount, it went south. That's when they filed a lawsuit. If they hadn't filed a lawsuit, we never would have filed eminent domain."

Western Seafood's Gore reiterates that his family's fight isn't about money.

Says Gore: "We don't want to sell any of the property. We want the developers and city government to quit ganging up on us and leave us alone. We don't want to sell and we don't want their money. It's really just that plain."

Houston Business Journal: http://www.bizjournals.com/houston


Eminent Domain Ballot Push Falls Short: CBS-TV4 (Denver CO), 6/17/06

A proposal to bar the government from taking over private property for economic development projects [in Colorado] won't be on the November ballot.

Marsha Looper of Colorado Citizens for Property Rights said that the proposal's supporters were 38,000 signatures short of winning a spot on the ballot.

The group had wanted to amend the state constitution to bar government from using the power of eminent domain to take homes, farms and businesses and convert them into shopping centers to boost sales tax revenues.

Governor Owens recently signed a similar ban on eminent domain powers.

But Looper worried that home-rule cities could argue the law doesn't apply to them.

She said the group may try to get the issue on the ballot in 2008.

CBS-TV4: http://cbs4denver.com

Concerns expressed in eminent domain proceedings: South Bend (IN) Tribune, 6/17/06

Council members voice collective opinion about case against local landowner

By Chris Gautz

Plymouth Common Council members sent a letter to the aviation commission this week asking them to halt eminent domain proceedings against a local landowner.
The letter states; "Although the Common Council understands that the Board of Aviation Commissioners has the authority to proceed with the airport expansion and the land acquisition by condemnation, all members of the Plymouth Common Council have a concern over the present land acquisition, especially in light of the fact that the airport expansion may never be accomplished."
The recommendation has no legal bearing, and serves only as a statement of the council's collective opinion, as the aviation commission is an autonomous government body, created by state statute.

But the city isn't completely helpless in the matter either, as the mayor controls who sits on the commission and the council controls the commission's budget.

Plymouth Mayor Gary Cook said he wouldn't consider replacing board members with those who are against the expansion plan.

"I'm not going to hold that over their heads," Cook said. "I don't think that's the appropriate way to handle business."

Cook has appointed or reappointed three of the four members of the commission.

Commission member Rick Huff is the only one Cook has not appointed, and his term ends this year.

"If he would like to be reappointed, I have no problem in reappointing him," Cook said.

Most council members said they wouldn't consider cutting money from the airport, but Chuck Ripley, R-1st District, and Jack Greenlee, R-4th District said at least a discussion is possible.

"I can foresee some discussion on their budget when the time comes to set that," Ripley said.

Don Gardner, D-2nd District, said the airport is an important part of Plymouth, but doesn't like the way the commission is approaching its plans.

South Bend Tribune: http://www.southbendtribune.com

Governor's task force to study eminent domain usage: New Mexico Business Weekly, 6/16/06

New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson has established the Governor's Task Force on the Responsible Use of Eminent Domain.

The group of appointed task force members will recommend ways for New Mexico to prevent or prohibit abusive condemnation practices that could result because of the ruling in June 2005 by the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.).

That case established that local governments have the right to invoke eminent domain and can force owners to sell their property to make way for private development when local public officials believe it would be good for the community, even if the success of the new development is not guaranteed.

The case arose out of the condemnation by the city of New London of 90 acres of privately owned waterfront property so that it could be used as a part of a comprehensive redevelopment plan. The court ruled, in a 5-4 decision, that the benefits enjoyed by a community from economic growth constituted "public use" under the "takings" clause of the Fifth Amendment.

The city of Albuquerque has invoked eminent domain at least once in the recent past, condemning a SE Heights property and taking ownership of it.

The governor's task force will be co-chaired by J.D. Bullington, senior policy advisor and director of New Mexico government relations for the Brownstein, Hyatt & Farber law firm and John Salazar, a partner with the Rodey Law Firm.

New Mexico Business Weekly: http://albuquerque.bizjournals.com

Attorneys challenge Boynton eminent domain suits: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 6/17/06

By Will Vash

Attorneys fighting two eminent domain lawsuits [in Boynton Beach] are hoping to keep 11 lots out of the city's hands because the fine print was wrong.

County Circuit Court Judge David Crow is expected to rule as early as next month on a motion to dismiss two cases involving lots in the Heart of Boynton redevelopment area on the grounds that the city improperly amended their complaints after the suit was filed in October.

If the minor misstep causes the case to be dismissed, the city cannot file a lawsuit on the properties again because the state's eminent domain law changed in May. The lots, which include a restaurant, convenience store and vacant parcels, are key pieces of the first phase to redevelop the blighted neighborhood near Martin Luther King Jr. and Seacrest boulevards.

Attorneys John Little and Barry Balmuth said the city made a mistake when they filed the complaints, omitting the state statute for taking the land. Although the city later amended the complaint, the lawyers contend that Florida case law, what the courts have ruled in the past, is on their side.

Little said amendments in eminent domain proceedings are held to a higher standard.

"The courts have repeatedly held it is the harshest civil procedure under the law," he said.

Kerry Ezrol, the city's eminent domain attorney, said the intent of the eminent domain lawsuits was clearly stated in the initial filings even if the exact statute wasn't included.

"It's a very technical argument. I disagree with it," Ezrol said. "We'll have to wait and see what happens."

Meanwhile city officials are anxiously awaiting a decision. Community Redevelopment Agency members agreed earlier this week to request development proposals on the first two phases of the project along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

"I would hope our ongoing action would stand," Mayor Jerry Taylor said Friday. "If it doesn't, we'll have to find another route. Somehow we'll have to acquire these properties."

CRA Director Lisa Bright said if the lawsuits are dismissed one option might be to require the future master developer to obtain the lots.

"The question would become how much more money are we going to spend to get these properties," Bright said. "It may just come back to good old fashion real estate negotiations."

Palm Beach Post: http://www.palmbeachpost.com

California county's use of eminent domain upsets developers: San Jose (CA) Mercury News, 6/17/06

By Samantha Young, Associated Press

A 17,000-acre swath of farm land that is rich in water reserves went up for sale two years ago, catching the eye of real estate developers but alarming local officials who feared its water would be siphoned off to satisfy Sacramento's sprawling suburbs.

The sale set off a costly court case when the Yolo County Board of Supervisors decided to seize Conaway Ranch through eminent domain, saying it wanted to protect the water rights and open space. The ensuing fight has pitted a rural county against a consortium of wealthy Sacramento developers who maintain they have no plans to build on the land.

But it also has sparked wider interest. Property rights advocates upset over last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision expanding the governments' right to seize land point to Conaway as another example of eminent domain abuse.

The controversy has become a flashpoint during a year in which an initiative seeking to restrict the use of eminent domain appears headed to California's general election ballot in November.

Two courts so far have sided with the county, ruling that it has a legal right to protect the area's rice fields, water and wildlife from the threat of development by its owners, the Conaway Preservation Group.

"I believe to my core if these guys were to keep this property, they would market this water to the highest bidder," said Supervisor Mike McGowan, one of the lead negotiators in the county's talks with the developers. "Their motive is to make money. They've acquired this ranch as an investment."

In court, attorneys for the Conaway Ranch's owners have argued the county has manufactured a "self-created threat or fear of development" that puts agricultural land across the country at risk of government takeover.

"Speculation does not serve as a ground that allows government to take private property," wrote attorney Gary Livaich. "Conaway ranch and its resources are being preserved and protected under the stewardship of its private owners."

In the spring, Conaway Ranch is covered by rice paddies and alfalfa crops. A few buildings are clustered at the center of the ranch - a warehouse used by the tenant farmers and two others that serve the ranch's duck-hunting club.

About half the land also is used during the winter as a floodplain when the Sacramento River reaches dangerous levels, serving as a crucial outlet for rising waters and as a key link in Sacramento's flood-control plans. Because of that, only the westernmost sliver of the ranch between Woodland and Davis, home to a University of California campus, is eligible for development.

Supporters of the county's eminent domain effort say precedent for the action already exists, pointing to the federal government's buying development rights from farmers in 2002 to protect land at Point Reyes National Seashore.

Antonio Rossmann, an adjunct professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley and an expert in land-use law, said the courts have given local governments the prerogative to buy land to preserve it.

"I think the county is on firm ground," Rossmann said. "The Conaway Ranch case is essentially a political dispute that the landowners are trying to divert into a legal case."

Nevertheless, the case has fired up local property rights advocates who complain the county has no business buying a working ranch from unwilling sellers.

The next twist in the case is expected to come this fall from a Yolo County jury, which will decide how much the county should pay to the Conaway Preservation Group. If the developers are not satisfied with the result, they could appeal.

The coalition of developers paid $60 million for the ranch in 2004 after the county began its eminent domain proceedings on the ranch. Their appraisers now estimate it is worth as much as $240 million for its development potential, water resources and hunting rights.

In another twist, the Rumsey Band of Wintun Indians, which operates the Cache Creek casino in northwest Yolo County, has offered to loan the county the money to buy the land. That has prompted concern among critics that the tribe might seek favors from the county in the future.

McGowan, the county supervisor, said there's no such deal between Yolo County and the tribe. He said the Rumsey Band simply wants to be "a good neighbor" and that the property would never be home to a casino. He promised full disclosure of the loan details when the terms are set.

The land comes with title to 30,000 acre-feet of water from the Sacramento River and another 20,000 acre-feet from groundwater wells. Combined, that's enough to supply 200,000 people a year - 15,000 more than the population of Yolo County, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Over the years, county elected officials have fought proposals by area farmers to sell their water outside the county. It is among a dozen jurisdictions in the state that regulates exports of groundwater but lacks the authority to regulate water drawn from rivers.

Experts in state water law say Conaway Ranch owners could sell their rights to Sacramento River water.

"If we can have a fair price for the land, then I think it would be a good idea for Yolo County to secure its water supply," said Richard Howitt, a professor of agriculture economics at the University of California, Davis, who has studied the impacts of water transfers out of Yolo County.

The farm land also presents an attractive target for housing developers, said Dave Jarnette, a commercial appraiser in Rocklin, a Sacramento suburb.

"In the grand scheme of things, looking out 10 to 20 years, it certainly seems to make sense, because we're running out of land to develop," Jarnette said.

All but 2,000 acres of the ranch is designated as farm land under a state law granting farmers tax incentives to maintain agricultural use.

But in a preliminary development proposal drawn up for the Conaway Preservation Group, a private planner hired by the group suggested that 3,800 acres could be turned into a planned community of 12,000 houses, commercial and retail buildings.

In spite of those plans, Conaway Preservation Group representatives said they have no interest in developing the land. The development proposal was pitched to investors when the group president, Steve Gidaro, wanted to buy the land in 2004, but the investors scuttled the plan in January 2005, said Tovey Giezentanner, a ranch spokesman.

Instead, the property will be marketed as a conservation investment to developers looking for open space that can be preserved to offset their building enterprises elsewhere.

"The difference between now and the early 1990s is there wasn't money in conservation then, whereas there is now," Giezentanner said.

Neither Gidaro nor any of the investors agreed to be interviewed for this article.

The Yolo County Farm Bureau and the ranch's 20 tenants are opposed to the county's eminent domain bid.

"There are ulterior motives behind their quest," said Joe Martinez, the farm bureau president. "They want to divert the water to urban use."

That point resonates with farmers who have watched elected officials snap up parts of the ranch at least three times to meet the needs of area residents - by Woodland and Davis for sewage treatment and by the county for a garbage dump, Martinez said.

Martinez said farmers trust the Conaway Preservation Group not to sell the water because several of the group's leaders are avid duck hunters and have an interest in preserving the land for open space.

San Jose Mercury News: http://www.mercurynews.com

Citing eminent-domain conflict, report urges ban on dual-office legislators: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 6/16/06

16% of lawmakers hold 2nd elected title

By Gregory J Volpe

[New Jersey] State legislators should not be allowed to hold another elected position because it causes conflicts between state and local interests and creates entrenched politicians, concludes a report on dual office holding released Thursday.

One example is lawmakers' attempt to curb local governments' use of eminent domain for private redevelopment projects.

"You're essentially asking 20 percent of the Legislature to curtail their powers as local officials," said Assemblyman Michael Panter Jr., D-Monmouth, who wants to ban dual office holding.

Of the two lawmakers who sponsored eminent domain measures and head key committees that grapple with the issue, Assemblyman John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, is mayor of Paulsboro, and Sen. Ronald Rice, D-Essex, is a former Newark councilman. And four of the 12 legislators on the two committees considering eminent domain reform are mayors.

Panter said Burzichelli "has allowed input from everyone" in crafting his eminent domain bill, "so I don't think, in John's case, (holding a dual office) been an issue."

Burzichelli said his measure would make it tougher and more expensive for towns to use eminent domain for private purposes.

Sen. Leonard T. Connors, R-Ocean, who is also Surf City mayor, said the proposed legislation could be an argument against dual office holding — except he opposes the ban.

"Eminent domain should be used just for public use and not for broader perspective," said Connors, who defends holding two offices because he says his local experience gives him greater expertise, and voters can choose not to re-elect those holding dual offices.

Tom O'Neil, the report's author, said eminent domain "is affected by dual office holding."

"It certainly makes the conflict of obligation on the elected local official serving as a legislator more apparent," O'Neil said.

His report also said holding two offices gives a greater re-election advantage, blurs the system of checks and balances, boosts politicians' pensions, amplifies "pork spending" and blocks others from serving in politics.

According to the report, 16 percent of New Jersey legislators hold another elected office. That doesn't include those who hold appointed government positions, which will be the subject of a subsequent report.

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com

Downtown advisory committee offers eminent domain recommendations: Moorpark (CA) Acorn, 6/16/06

By Sylvie Belmond

The Project Area Committee (PAC) completed its mission last week, asking city [of Moorpark] officials to limit eminent domain power to commercial and industrial properties and exclude residences.

The committee was formed last year to review and make comments on an amendment that will reinstate the agency's ability to use eminent domain.

The Moorpark Redevelopment Agency had indicated plans to include some residential properties in the amendment, which caused concern among downtown residents. Homeowners showed up in large numbers during the PAC committee meetings in recent months, expressing concern that they might lose their modest family homes for the benefit of developers and newcomers.

The redevelopment agency had the power to use eminent domain to acquire private property for public use without an owner's blessing until 2001, when the authority expired after being valid for a 12-year period. Now the city is trying to reestablish the authority so it can proceed with plans to revitalize the downtown area.

To appease residents, the committee decided the agency should have only the authority it had before, which didn't include authority over any residentially-zoned properties, said David Moe, redevelopment agency manager.

"The public told us they don't want the residential properties to be involved," said Dale Whitaker, who predicted the city will probably override the committee's recommendations.

But Moe said the agency is going to take a hard look at the PAC's recommendation and they'll take into consideration the large number of people who attended the meetings.

If the agency doesn't agree with the committee's recommendation and chooses to expand the eminent domain authority to include residences, the issue will ultimately go to the voters, as required by state law.

Moe said the people who attended the meetings were also concerned about an easement plan on Walnut Canyon Road. That matter isn't related to the eminent domain authority that the city is currently reviewing, but a private arrangement between a developer and the property owners. Homeowners must negotiate directly with the Sun Cal developer who's building 110 homes on the east side of Walnut Canyon, Moe said.

Sun Cal must purchase an easement from the property owners on the west side of the road to put in a curb and a gutter before it can move forward with plans to build the homes, Moe said.

Moorpark Acorn: http://www.moorparkacorn.com


Eminent-domain issue spells trouble for Democrats: Des Moines (IA) register, 6/15/06


By David Yepsen

The political landscape surrounding the eminent-domain issue at the Iowa Statehouse may be changing.

Some House Democrats are saying privately they're going to go along with Republican calls for a special session of the Legislature to consider overriding Gov. Tom Vilsack's veto of legislation restricting governments' ability to take private property.

If so, it would represent a change of heart for them. Until now, many Democrats have been trying to prevent a veto-override session to protect the Democratic governor from embarrassment. Others have sided with Vilsack in wanting to rework the bill before coming back to consider it. Republicans are saying no; the old bill is fine.

But some rank-and-file House Democrats are saying to heck with Vilsack. "There isn't one of us he talked to about this," said one. "We look like we're against property rights, and we're not happy with the position he put us in."

He added: "Political protection trumps party loyalty on this. We can't worry about whether we make Tom Vilsack look good. This issue has taken on a life of its own."

Also, he notes Vilsack is a lame-duck governor who isn't running for re-election. They are. Why should they take a bullet for him?

But Senate Democrats are less willing to bypass Vilsack. Leaders there say some members may be willing to come back for a veto session, but a majority agree with the governor that a deal should be cut with the GOP on an alternative bill before they return.

Why the difference between Senate Democrats and House Democrats? Senate Democrats are virtually assured of taking control of the Senate in November. They aren't as jittery as those in the House, who see their chances of grabbing a couple of marginal Republican seats evaporating over this.

Republicans are saying Vilsack, city-hall politicians and the developers who write them all big campaign checks just want to water down an already-watery bill. And don't think developers lack influence. (Did we all notice a tanned and smiling Bill Knapp standing behind Chet Culver at the victory party on primary night? It's no surprise aides say Culver supports Vilsack's position.)

Despite the shifting sentiments among House Democrats, there won't be a special session if Senate Democrats don't agree. It takes a two-thirds agreement of both houses for the Legislature to call itself back into a special session.

So, for now, a special session seems unlikely, despite the complaints from House Democrats. Vilsack's veto will stand. Republicans will have their issue.

Vilsack complains Republicans are playing politics with the issue and, well, come to think of it, they are.

Why wouldn't they "play politics" with an issue where they hold the good cards? Polls show most people agree with them that more restrictions are needed on government land grabs. (Sometimes "playing politics" is also known as "reflecting the will of the people.")

Senate Democrats shouldn't be stupid and walk into this GOP trap by walking away from a special session or a vote on a veto override. They have an interest in seeing House Democrats take control of that chamber if they hope to enact a Democratic agenda.

All legislative Democrats should agree to a special session. Take a vote to override the veto. (We do pay legislators to take votes, not avoid them.) If lawmakers override, or simply re-pass the same bill, fine. If not, they can then work out a compromise.

But they should get this issue behind them. If Democrats keep ducking a veto vote, you can see the Republican ads now: (Bring up your best Robert Mitchum or Sam Elliott voice here.)

"If you support personal property rights in Iowa, vote for the Republican candidates for governor and the Legislature. If you don't, vote for the Democrats."

Or: "Do you think Archie Brooks should remain free to threaten small East Village business owners with taking their property so he can sell it to someone else? If so, vote Democratic. If not, vote Republican."

If the GOP dumps a bunch of ads like that, they'll be saying: "Democrats. They're what's for dinner."

Des Moines Register: http://desmoinesregister.com

Developer gets power of eminent domain: St Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 6/13/06

[Florissant MO] City officials on Monday night granted the power of eminent domain to Spirit Energy Inc., of Clayton, for a proposed development on the northeast corner of Dunn and New Florissant roads.

The developer says he believes he will not have to use the power.

Chris Kemph, president of the company, said he was in negotiations with one business owner and was optimistic those negotiations would be successful. Spirit Energy was chosen by the city to develop the commercial corner after a proposal search.

Kemph said the plan was to raze the buildings on the site, including a gas station and a vacant building, and to build a 4,000-square-foot convenience store, a gas station and a carwash. Kemph said the new commercial area would generate about $9 million in revenue, which means more sales and utility tax for the city. Final approval of the proposal could come as early as the June 26 meeting.

St Louis Post-Dispatch: www.stltoday.com

General Assembly votes to limit eminent domain: WIS-TV10 (Columbia SC), 6/15/06

The [South Carolina] General Assembly has passed legislation protecting property owners.

In a statement Thursday, Governor Mark Sanford said he was happy the House and Senate passed an amendment to eminent domain legislation. The amendment was passed Wednesday.

The legislation limits the power of the government to condemn and take property.

The proposal would require a change to the state constitution. It will go on the ballot in November.

WIS-TV10: http://www.wistv.com

Judge's ruling could awaken eminent domain battle in Camden: Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier Post, 6/15/06

By Alan Guenther

Superior Court Judge Michael Kassel today permitted the city [of Camden NJ] to build affordable housing in the Cramer Hill section, which could reawaken the issue of eminent domain.

"This is a major victory for our city," said Randy Primas, the state-appointed chief operating officer. "We are very pleased with this decision because it allows us to provide a far better quality of housing for the citizens of Camden."

But Olga Pomar of South Jersey Legal Services said Kassel's decision could allow the city to take up to 43 homes from residents in the Cramer Hill section. About a dozen of those homeowners have fought the city's right to take property from people who oppose redevelopment. Pomar said she will likely appeal Kassel's decision.

The new affordable homes will be built by the Michaels Development Co. of Marlton. Primas was formerly a business partner in the firm.

In the wake of the judge's decision, it remains unclear how many homes will be built, and how many could be taken. Ed Weirauch, spokesman for the Camden Redevelopment Agency, said about 140 units will be built, which would require the city to take some homes from residents who don't want to sell.

But a scaled-down version of the affordable housing plan is also being considered by the city. If Michaels Development Co. builds 78 units instead of 140, no homes would have to be taken, Pomar said.

Pomar had filed suit against the Michaels' development because it was originally part of the Cramer Hill redevelopment plan, which would have displaced 1,200 families while building 6,000 new homes. But when the Cramer Hill plan was thrown out by Kassel on a technicality, the city asked for permission to move forward with the construction of the affordable housing.

The city also has said it will re-introduce the Cramer Hill plan so that it will not displace so many people.

Courier Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com

Eminent domain off his agenda for now, state senator says: New Bunswick (NJ) Home News Tribune, 6/15/06

By Gregory J Volpe

[new jersey] State Sen. Ronald Rice said today he will not act on eminent domain reform during the budget season, which ends June 30.

While his Assembly counterpart, John Burzichelli, D-Gloucester, has said he hopes to have a measure out of the Assembly this month, Rice, D-Essex, said he will hold several public hearings throughout the summer, if necessary, before a holding a vote.

Both lawmakers are sponsoring legislation aimed at curbing the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment and head legislative committees grappling with the issue.

The Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee is expected to vote on Burzichelli's measure Monday. Rice held a hearing on his measure today by his Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee but has not scheduled a vote.

Critics say neither measure goes far enough in protecting property owners against land grabs by government and private developers, and they complained that Rice didn't schedule testimony from activists fighting perceived eminent domain abuse or those who are in jeopardy of losing homes.

Rice opened his hearing by "scolding" them because he plans to have other hearings where other interests would be represented.

Home News Tribune: http://www.thnt.com

Appeals panel backs landowner in eminent domain case: Asbury Park (NJ) Press, 6/15/06

Long Branch deemed area blighted

By Carol Gorga Williams

A state appellate panel ruled against the city [of Long Branch] Wednesday in an eminent domain case involving a former landowner who appealed a 2005 decision on properties in Beachfront North.

That means the case will be sent back to Freehold so a new "just compensation" figure can be set by a jury.

"It is significant to Mr. (Dennis) Spanos because he gets to have his day in court," said Kenneth D. McPherson Jr., who argued the case on appeal. The city's attorney, Paul V. Fernicola, could not be reached.

The case began in 1982 when Dennis S. Spanos and his wife, Theonie, purchased adjacent vacant lots identified as 32 Ocean Ave. North that they hoped to use as a retirement investment.

In 1984, the city deemed as blighted the area in a redevelopment project — not the one currently under way — and the lawsuit said the Spanoses "put their future plans of building and operating a restaurant on the property on hold."

In early 1987, the Spanoses received a letter from the lawyer from the Long Branch Redevelopment Agency offering to buy their property for $127,000, but they declined. Soon afterward, a nearby property owner offered to buy their property for $650,000, but the deal fell through, the lawsuit says.

In December 1988, the city revalued the property, assessing the lots at $414,800.

Then, on Jan. 9, 1996, the city enacted an ordinance increasing the maximum permitted development density in some zones from 18 units an acre to 30 units an acre.

On Jan. 23, 1996, the city adopted a resolution designating much of the city's oceanfront, including the Spanos property, as an area in need of redevelopment. On Jan. 23, 2001, the city authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire the property, appraising it at $152,600.

In arriving at the assessed value, the ap-praiser, Hugh A. McGuire of McGuire Associates, did not mention the less restrictive 1996 zoning ordinance, which the appellate panel said would have undoubtedly increased the value of the property.

A condemnation commissioners' hearing was held Nov. 25, 2002, in which McGuire was the only witness. The commissioners fixed compensation at $294,000.

On Dec. 6, 2002, the city appealed that award, but the Spanoses never filed a cross-appeal. Meanwhile, after receiving the city's notice of appeal, the Spanoses' lawyer contacted Jon Brody of the Appraisal Consultants Corp., who determined the market value of the Spanoses' property was $1,070,000.

The trial judge agreed with the city, granting its motion to fix the final compensation at $294,000. But the appellate panel disagreed, saying the failure to file a cross-appeal was not fatal to the case, and that Long Branch's failure to reveal the less restrictive zoning ordinance was problematic.

". . . The city cannot claim prejudice due to (the Spanoses') attempt to receive full fair market value for their property in light of the applicable zoning regulations," the appellate panel wrote. The Spanoses' "right to receive "every reasonable consideration' before the invasive power of eminent domain may be exercised warrants a remand so that their land may be properly valued."

Asbury Park Press: www.app.com

Council shoots down proposal to restrict eminent domain: El Paso (TX) Times, 6/14/06

By David Crowder

Divisions on the [El Paso TX]City Council over the Downtown redevelopment plan, the use of eminent domain and rules governing some discussions with the public sparked a series of rowdy confrontations at Tuesday's council meeting.

More than 40 people alternately applauded and booed City Council members as they debated what to do with East-Central city Rep. José Alexandro Lozano's proposal to ban the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment Downtown.

Then they angrily piled out of the council chambers, shouting insults at council members who killed Lozano's proposal on a 4-3 vote without hearing from people who had signed up to speak.

Mayor John Cook said he regarded Lozano's proposal as being out of order and premature because the place for public comment was at the series of continuing public meetings, not on short notice without hearing from the consultants who developed the plan or its supporters.

"If the property owners are not satisfied, we are not going to move forward, period," Lozano said to cheers from the audience. "We have to kill this plan unless the owners give us permission to continue."

Boos greeted Cook when he said, "If you're finished with your soapbox, I would entertain a motion to postpone this until the first meeting in July."

Voting down Lozano's proposal were West Side city Rep. Ann Lilly, West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd, East Side city Rep. Presi Ortega and South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

Northeast city Rep. Melina Castro and East Valley city Rep. Eddie Holguin supported Lozano.

The same 4-3 split later downed Holguin's proposal to alter the rules of order at City Council meetings by reinstituting a policy that allows members of the public to place items directly before the council for discussion and action.

The council did away with that practice last July and now requires the public to go through a council member to place agenda items.

But council meetings begin with a public comment session, which has led to squabbles because council members aren't allowed to debate the issues raised by speakers.

"This council is completely out of control," H. Vanoy Barton said. "If we can't put items on the agenda, is this America?

"We have a constitutional right — and I think that trumps City Hall — to petition our government for redress."

El Paso Times: http://www.elpasotimes.com

Eminent Domain Buyback More Costly: Free Market News Network, 6/13/06

Eminent domain isn't always cost-effective. Look at the Caffe Appassionato in Seattle, Washington, for instance, where the site was supposed to be demolished for an extension to the monorail system. The city confiscated the property and paid its owners nearly $600,000 in the process, notes Paul Jacob in his latest Common Sense.

Then the rail extension funding went belly-up, and the project was canceled. So the taking was voided, and the property was scheduled to be returned to its Korean-immigrant owner, Talki Hong Lee. However, Jacob notes, the attorneys for the monorail fiasco determined they could not legally sell it back for the same price, since the building's market value had risen by about another $70,000.

The Lee family are apparently delighted to have their café back, despite the loss of a year's income, as well as now being in further debt in order to pay the extra $70,000. "I want to yell, "Hey, that may be how they do things in Korea, where you come from, but here in America you have rights!" says Jacob, but then he reconsiders, concluding with, "But, well, that IS how things are done in America. Sadly."

Free Market News Network: http://www.freemarketnews.com

Lawmaker proposes stricter eminent domain terms: Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier Post, 6/13/06

By Gregory J Volpe

[New Jersey] Assemblyman John Burzichelli has changed the definition of blight in his eminent domain proposal that was quickly panned last week because it lacked a clear, objective definition of when government can take land for private redevelopment.

Burzichelli, D-Paulsboro, announced the changes Monday as his Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee meeting held its first hearing on the bill. The panel postponed a vote until June 19.

The changes aim to restrict government from using reasons like "stagnant' or "underutilized' when taking homes.

"I don't think there's any more vagueness here," Burzichelli said.

Satisfaction and confusion
Some critics of the original version were pleased, others confused.

"It's gotten better, but it's still a long way to go," said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of the Sierra Club.

William Giordano, who said his Long Branch home is "under siege" by government, asked lawmakers for simple legislation that makes it clear eminent domain would rarely be used for private redevelopment.

"If I pay my mortgage, if I pay my taxes, and I keep my property up to code standards, I should be able to keep my home," Giordano said.

Bill Potter, chairman of the New Jersey Coalition Against Eminent Domain Abuse, said the flurry of changes to the proposal has him stumped.

"I'm still not sure what is the new definition of blight," Potter said.

Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen, who issued a report in May calling for a limited, objective definition of blight, issued a statement saying the proposal meets that standard.

"It revises the definition of blight so that it is more clear and objective, and appropriately restricts the ability of municipalities to use eminent domain for private redevelopment to those areas that are truly blighted," Chen, who had jury duty in Union County, said in a statement.

The advocate's only criticism was that the proposal did not impose stricter pay-to-play rules restricting political campaign donations for those involved with redevelopment projects.

Assemblywoman Amy H. Handlin, R-Middletown, a member of the committee, called for a six-year blackout of political contributions between a redeveloper and the municipal government, as well as an anti-nepotism clause to ensure relatives of government officials couldn't profit from a redevelopment project.

"I see this as a common sense, kitchen table provision that's necessary to give ordinary citizens confidence in the fairness of the process," Handlin said.

Burzichelli said pay-to-play issues could be addressed through other legislation.

Common ground
The bill, which Burzichelli said is still "fluid," has some points that even critics agree with: requiring that residents receive at least what it would cost to replace their home in the same community; providing more notification a municipality is looking to redevelop and possibly take homes; and shifting the burden on government to prove redevelopment is necessary.

A similar Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Ronald K. Rice, D-Newark, is scheduled for a hearing, but no vote, Thursday. An original version that circulated last week did not call for residents to receive a level replacement but did implement more objective standards than Burzichelli's original proposal.

State Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-West Deptford, is expected to push a measure identical to Burzichelli's.

Groups representing builders, real estate agents and municipalities all supported Burzichelli's bill Monday.

Courier Post: http://www.courierpostonline.com