Erie Neighbors & Residents Against Eminent Domain

Erie Neighbors & Residents Against Eminent Domain (ENRAGED) are opposing the development of a intermodal rail yard on 400 acres of property in Erie Township Michigan. The project has been proposed by the Monroe County Industrial Development Corporation.

Opponents are concerned about how this project will impact nearby residential communities and the future development of quality business sites in the area. Particular issues involve:
  • Air, water, noise, and light pollution
  • Increased traffic & railroad crossing delays for the region
  • Minimal economic benefits for the Township
  • Project is inconsistent with Land Use Plans

For information: http://www.erieenraged.com

Post-Kelo Reforms Aren't Strong Enough: The Reason Foundation, 6/23/06


Can our system protect property rights if community "needs" reign supreme?

By Adrian Moore

A year ago, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision on eminent domain created two diametrically opposite reactions. On one hand, many local government officials rejoiced at the affirmation of what they feel is a necessary tool to reshape their communities. On the other hand, people everywhere grew so outraged by the decision that it could be “one of the best things that ever happened to the national property rights movement,” as Reason’s Len Gilroy wrote.

This divide has reinforced the fact that the Kelo decision threw the issue of eminent domain back to the states. The fight over where, when and how eminent domain can be used is now mostly a local fight, spilling from state houses down to inner city and suburban neighborhoods and even to rural areas.

Most state legislatures responded to Kelo by considering some form of eminent domain reform legislation. But what looked like a firestorm at first, soon fizzled out. As Harvard Professor David Barron described in the Boston Globe, most states did not actually pass legislation. And what did pass often had loopholes big enough to shove a Home Depot through.

It turns out that city and county governments and redevelopment authorities are pretty effective lobbyists. They managed to retain significant authority to use eminent domain and define limits in very subjective terms. As Barron wrote:
Americans have long been of two minds when it comes to property rights. On the one hand, there is the old notion that ownership is inviolable, a home is a castle, and the government has no business messing with private property. On the other hand, there is the equally old notion that no one is an island and that the value in any individual's property is deeply interconnected with the health of the community as a whole.

In a world where legislators and much of the public have gone squishy on what constitutes a right, passing a law that just plain says, “look, you can’t take someone’s land except on rare occasion for public infrastructure projects like roads and dams” appears just too extreme.

There is a conflict of visions. As one city manager told me, “What about the community’s right to improve itself and create new jobs?” There is a reason the Constitution doesn’t mention “community rights” — they don’t exist. Only individuals have rights. Communities have desires.

Local officials’ grand redevelopment schemes emanate from a vision in which community needs trump individual ones – on everything from public safety to how a privately-owned building should be used.

That is why the loopholes Barron described are so pernicious. It may seem reasonable to allow eminent domain to deal with “blight,” because we all picture scenes of the worst of inner city Detroit — burnt out shells of buildings and empty lots piled high with trash—when we think of blight. But in fact, blight is in the eye of the beholder. Everything from an empty desert to a row of successful businesses to a neighborhood of modest but clean homes has been declared “blight” by people who have an alternative vision of how their community should look.

This is all the more reason to acknowledge those legislatures and local governments that did pass rules limiting eminent domain abuse in the aftermath of Kelo.

But with a resurgent property rights movement out there, the issue isn’t going away. I expect there will be more high profile suits like Kelo and more local interest in cases of outrageous eminent domain abuse. Kelo brought the issue out into the light of day. Local officials can no longer exercise eminent domain on the q-t without anyone noticing.

And Kelo has brought us back to a fundamental question: Is a property right in fact a right that the system will protect — even when it’s most inconvenient to do so?

The Reason Foundation: http://www.reason.org

Additional Commentary on Eminent Domain from Analysts at
The Reason Foundation:

Leonard Gilroy: Where the Property Rights Movement Stands Now

Shikha Dalmia: Private Developers Can Get Land Through Voluntary Deals

Tim Cavanaugh: New London's Long-Range Plan Fails

Santa Rosans launch referendum drive against eminent domain: 6/23/06

Press release

Santa Rosa CA citizens launched a referendum petition drive today to force a citywide vote on the Gateways Redevelopment Project. The City’s use of eminent domain tops the list of concerns. The Redevelopment Agency’s inclusion of eminent domain in the 1,102 acre project area was approved by the City Council this week. Spearheaded by the Santa Rosa Avenue Area Business Association (SRAABA), the petition drive will gather about 9,000 signatures by July 20 to place the issue before voters this Fall.

According to SRAABA’s vice-president, Rosa Koire, “Small business and property owners do not want the threat of eminent domain hanging over them for 12 years. Our concerns are real.” The Redevelopment Agency will have the power to take private property for private use for 12 years. Citizens who are also concerned about gentrification and the possibility that small businesses will be pushed out by large developers have hotly contested the adoption of the Gateways Redevelopment Project. The citizens advisory committee on the Gateways project voted against it, and recommended that it not be adopted.

“Let the voters decide.” Koire said, “Santa Rosans deserve a voice on eminent domain. Today, the one year anniversary of the Supreme Court decision on eminent domain, is the day that voters can begin to turn the tide.”

Santa Rosa Avenue Area Business Association
Rosa Koire, Vice President: tokoire@aol.com
Box 14842
Santa Roas, CA 95402

Boynton abandons eminent domain in Heart area: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 6/22/06

By Will Vash

Eminent domain is dead in the Heart of Boynton [FL] redevelopment area.

After a closed-door session to discuss ongoing litigation, city commissioners voted 5-0 late Tuesday to end all eminent domain proceedings in the northeast redevelopment district.

That means the city will drop three lawsuits to acquire about 12 properties along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard from Seacrest Boulevard to Northeast First Street.

"We are pulling out," Mayor Jerry Taylor said. "We just figured it's going to be costly in the long run. Too many people would be willing to fight it."

John Little, attorney for several of the property owners, said he was surprised at the city's decision.

"This is a great day," Little said. "This now puts everyone in the position to negotiate freely in the open market. My clients can voluntarily decide if they want to sell."

The five-year Heart of Boynton plan calls for shops and businesses with affordable condominiums in place of weed-strewn lots and ramshackle buildings.

Single-family homes, affordable condos and park space are in the full project. Under that original blueprint, the CRA would collect the mostly nonconforming properties and rezone the area. Developers would compete for the projects.

The city and its community redevelopment agency have bought 16 lots, nearly half of the phase one area needed. Changes to the eminent domain law in May and the rising costs of land have complicated the process.

CRA members will consider today requesting proposals from developers on the first two phases of the Heart of Boynton area along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, from Seacrest to U.S. 1.

Commissioner Mack McCray, who represents the northeast district, said the master developer will be faced with acquiring all properties the city and CRA couldn't obtain.

"It was going to be astronomical," McCray said if the city had continued with the lawsuits. "The developers should now pick up the costs. They will have to come in with some real hard plans and real hard dollars."

Vice Mayor Carl McKoy said the community's opposition to the eminent domain process is one reason he voted to end the litigation.

"This really comes down to listening to what the people in the community have said," McKoy said. "They don't want the city to take what's theirs."

The Rev. E.J. Maddox of Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ, on the northwest corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Seacrest, refused to sell his lot because there was no other place for the church to go in the neighborhood.

"They were trying to take our property that's been in this community for decades and give it to a private developer without giving us the benefit of deciding. All of sudden we the people in this community, our voices were null and void," Maddox said.

McKoy said the city could have faced five to six years of court appeals if the lawsuits had gone ahead and the commission's action will let the project move forward.

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

Morristown eminent domain debate to hit court: Parsippany (NJ) Daily Record, 6/22/06

Property owner to battle parking authority over restructuring of Epstein's site

By Rob Seman

The owner of a retail building on DeHart Street and the Morristown Parking Authority will face off in court Friday in an eminent domain battle that affects parts of the redevelopment of Epstein's department store.

For more than a year, property owner Cedric Shabsis, a former Morristown resident who now lives in Florida, and the Parking Authority have been at an impasse in negotiations over the sale of Shabsis' building at 11 DeHart St.

The bright blue sliver-shaped building houses Hollywood Tans, and is in the area that the parking authority has planned to build a loft building and an entrance to a nearly 800-space parking deck.

The area would be first used as a staging ground for the rest of the project, which includes the demolition of the department store and current parking deck, and construction of hundreds of condominiums and apartments as well as the new parking deck.

The parking authority filed suit against Shabsis, who refused offers of $1 million, or a land swap of the Parking Authority's building on Pine Street for Shabsis' building.

Although his building is assessed at $492,000, Shabsis contends it is worth $3 million to $5 million because his tenants pay for maintenance and a portion of the tax.

If the judge rules in the parking authority's favor, the authority would take Shabsis'property. A three-person commission then would be named to determine a fair market value that the authority would pay Shabsis. The parking authority has already deposited $650,000 with the court for the property.

Shabsis, who was previously represented by another attorney, has enlisted John J. Reilly of Westfield, who has experience in condemnations and eminent domain.

Defense outlook
Reilly said that he planned to question whether the parking authority can, by state law, pursue such a taking for anything other than public purpose, and whether the construction of an entrance to the parking deck is simply a pretext to being able to construct the loft building.

"We're having difficulty seeing where the supposed public purpose begins and ends and where the simultaneous private interests begin and end," Reilly said.

"Rehabilitation, I don't think is one of the purposes of the parking authority," Reilly said.

The parking authority's attorney, Robert Goldsmith, however, said the authority is not motivated by private interests.

Goldsmith, an attorney in a Woodbridge-based law firm, is a past president and member of the executive committee of Downtown New Jersey and a member of the board of advisors of Main Street New Jersey.

Goldsmith has served as special counsel to numerous towns in the state in regard to redevelopment projects.

In Morristown, he has served as the attorney to the parking authority since 1983 and the Morristown Partnership special improvement district since 1994. Goldsmith also served as special counsel to Morristown on the Headquarters Plaza Project from 1978-1990.

Need for property
Goldsmith said that Shabsis'property is needed as a staging area for massive sections of the pre-cast parking garage and an entrance to that garage.

A judgment in Shabsis' favor would delay some parts of the project, but "not the overall project," Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith said that some perspective is needed in the case. He said his associates were discussing with Shabsis'tenants the possibility of allowing the tanning salon to become one of the businesses in the new storefronts of the project.

"We're not displacing any families, any residents, and when you look at the value of the project being contemplated overall to the community it's unbalanced," Goldsmith said. "I think it's one of the most significant projects in Morris county in decades."

But Shabsis, an 85-year-old World War II bombardier, also contends that the building holds some personal significance to him.

Personal attachment
Shabsis said that the building was the final location of the knitting shop owned by his late wife, Miriam "Mimi" Shabsis. That store was originally owned by her mother and located at 2 Pine St.

The Knitting Lounge relocated once before moving again to the site on DeHart Street, where it stayed until Mimi Shabsis retired in 1986. Cedric, who worked in the garment industry in Manhattan, had already retired.

The Shabsises then rented the building to various businesses until Hollywood Tans took a five-year lease in 2003. The tanning parlor has an option to renew the lease for another five years, Shabsis said.

Daily Record: http://www.dailyrecord.com

House ready to override eminent domain bill veto: Des Moines (IA) Register, 6/22/06

The Senate's Democratic leader, however, says there is no consensus on action

By Jonathan Roos

Republican and Democratic legislative leaders continued their jockeying Wednesday over vetoed property rights legislation.

House Speaker Christopher Rants, a Sioux City Republican, sent Secretary of State Chet Culver a letter declaring that the House is ready to return for a special session to override Gov. Tom Vilsack's veto. Rants asked that House File 2351 be returned to the chamber by Friday.

Senate Democratic leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs said there is still no consensus on what to do about the veto of the eminent domain legislation. He continues to favor negotiations with the governor that would lead to passage of a new property protection bill in a special session.

Republicans and Democrats share power in the Senate because of a 25-25 tie.

The bill passed by the Legislature in early May would have restricted local governments' power to confiscate property for business development. Vilsack, a Democrat, said in vetoing the legislation that it did not contain the proper balance of protecting property rights and allowing economic development.

The issue was raised by a June 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld the use of eminent domain in the development of a Connecticut project that included offices, a riverfront hotel and health club.

Culver is the Democratic candidate for governor.

Des Moines Register: http://desmoinesregister.com

One Year Later — Eminent Domain Abuse Skyrocketing: North Country Gazette (Chestertown NY), 6/20/06

Wonder whether the threat of eminent domain abuse has grown worse since the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo ruling one year ago this week?

Consider this fact: in just the past year, more than 5,700 properties nationwide have been threatened by or taken with eminent domain for private development - a figure that compares with more than 10,000 examples over a five-year period preceding the Kelo argument, according to one of five reports released Tuesday by the Institute for Justice (which argued the Kelo case before the U.S. Supreme Court) and its grassroots activism project, the Castle Coalition. Coupled with this increase in eminent domain abuse, however, has been a virtually unprecedented grassroots and legislative response to the most universally despised Supreme Court ruling in recent memory.

Friday, June 23, is the one-year anniversary of the now-infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision that stripped Americans of any meaningful federal constitutional protection for their private property. To mark that date, the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition issued four separate reports today that 1) document the growing problem of eminent domain for private development, 2) chronicle the legislative response to Kelo, 3) demonstrate failed redevelopments that followed government's use of force to acquire property, and 4) expose the common myths put forward by developers and cities defending eminent domain for private use. In another document also released today, the Castle Coalition offers homeowners who face eminent domain abuse an "Eminent Domain Survival Guide." All are available at www.CastleCoalition.org.

In its report, "Opening the Floodgates: Eminent Domain Abuse in the Post-Kelo World," the Institute for Justice documents how the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo ruling opened the floodgates that had once partially restrained land-hungry developers and tax-hungry cities. In just one year since the ruling, local governments pressed forward with more than 117 projects involving the use of eminent domain for private development. Local governments threatened to use eminent domain against more than 5,429 homes, businesses, churches, and other properties if the owners did not agree to sell, and government also filed or authorized at least 354 condemnation actions. These 5,783 properties either threatened or condemned for private development in a single year are more than half the 10,282 in the five years between 1998 and 2002.

Before the Supreme Court's Kelo decision, cities abused the power of eminent domain. But Kelo became the green light that Justice O'Connor and Justice Thomas warned of in their dissents. The Court ruled that the U.S. Constitution allows government to use eminent domain to take and bulldoze existing homes and businesses for new private commercial development, holding that the mere possibility that a different private use could produce more taxes or jobs is enough reason for condemnation.

Justice O'Connor predicted that in the wake of the decision, any Motel 6 could be taken for a Ritz-Carlton, any home for a shopping mall, and any farm for a factory. As documented in Opening the Floodgates, her predictions are coming true - cities are pushing out motels for commercial development and replacing small businesses with upscale hotels. Homes are being replaced by shopping malls, but the stronger trend has been the replacement of middle-class residences for other, more upscale ones. Agricultural land has been taken for still more retail development. Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner authored the report. She said, "The Kelo decision emboldened officials and developers, who started new projects, moved existing ones forward, and, especially, threatened and filed condemnation actions. The threat of condemnation for private development is just as much an abuse of eminent domain as the actual filing of condemnation proceedings. Cities know that now they rarely need to file condemnation actions because owners largely give in rather than fight what they believe, after Kelo, to be a hopeless battle."

The information in Opening the Floodgates comes from news stories, public documents and court decisions. All sources are footnoted. Because there is no official data available on the use of eminent domain for private parties, there are undoubtedly many other projects, threats and takings for private use that have not been included; this report thus represents merely a fraction of the private-to-private takings since Kelo.

"A vast majority of Americans have expressed outrage over the Kelo decision because they understand the dangers of eminent domain abuse," said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice. "These reports underscore how valid their outrage is."

At the same time Kelo encouraged the use of eminent domain for private development, it has become a catalyst for national reform. One year after what appeared to be a total victory for local governments allied with private developers, 25 states (out of the 45 that had legislative sessions this year) enacted legislation aimed at curbing the abuse of eminent domain. If governors sign additional bills that have already been passed by their state legislatures, that number will grow to 28 - meaning that more than half the states will have passed eminent domain reforms. In "Legislative Action Since Kelo," the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition detail the legislative response to Kelo in each of the 50 states and Congress.

"Given the political muscle of local governments and developers, the passage of so much reform legislation is a remarkable and historic response to the most reviled Supreme Court decision of our time," said Berliner. "Of course, more work is needed, because many states have yet to pass reform, and some states' reforms are incomplete. That's all the more reason why Congress needs to pass legislation preventing the use of federal economic development funds to those state and local agencies that use eminent domain for private commercial development." Currently, a bill that would do just that - the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2005 (HR 4128) - is stalled in the U.S. Senate. It passed the House by a vote of 376-38 in November 2005.

Do private redevelopment projects that use government force live up to their billing? Hardly. Many are outright failures, as demonstrated by "Redevelopment Wrecks: 20 Failed Projects Involving Eminent Domain Abuse," the first-ever collection of failed redevelopment projects that used eminent domain to acquire property.

This report details 20 prominent examples of those failures that fall into two categories. The first kind occurs when, after cities and developers condemn homes and businesses to make way for private redevelopment projects, the promised projects never materialize. The second kind of failure involves projects that, although completed, simply do not live up to the grandiose promises and lofty projections that were used to justify the abuse of eminent domain. For example, the new developments eventually fold, or, even if they survive, they produce fewer jobs and less tax revenues than promised - sometimes less than before the project was built. Quite often, the public's financial costs - in the form of new debt, subsidies, other spending and foregone revenues-go through the roof.

Bert Gall, an Institute for Justice attorney, said, "The argument is always the same: bureaucrats and developers with big visions of how other people should live claim that the use of eminent domain is necessary for economic development. They promise glitzy development in the name of more taxes and jobs. There is a strong incentive for cities and developers to over-hype the benefits of private development projects involving eminent domain in order to garner political and public support. But it turns out that many of these projects are failures."

Since Kelo, municipalities and developers have begun to spin myths in defense of the government's use of eminent domain for private commercial development. In response to those myths, the Castle Coalition offers something far more compelling-the truth. Among the myths debunked in "Myths and Realities of Eminent Domain Abuse" are:
  • Eminent domain is used only as a last resort.
  • The political process is enough of a check against eminent domain abuse.
  • Economic development requires eminent domain.

Activists nationwide have used the Castle Coalition's online "Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide" to successfully fight illegitimate land-grabs. Now the Castle Coalition has released this information in a easy-to-follow printed guide. The guide expands on the most effective practical strategies to protect property outside of the courtroom and provides a comprehensive roadmap for any grassroots battle against eminent domain for private development.

North Country Gazette: http://www.northcountrygazette.org

Hollywood loses eminent domain fight: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 6/23/06

By John Holland

The city [of Hollywood FL] cannot take a family's downtown property and give it to a private developer, a judge ruled Thursday, ending a two-year legal battle and potentially jeopardizing a $100 million condominium complex.

Broward Circuit Court Judge Ronald J. Rothschild's ruling in favor of the Mach family, which has owned the 2,900-square-foot building on Harrison Street for decades, came as a blow to Mayor Mara Giulianti and city commissioners.

They wanted to use eminent domain to replace the Mach structure with a 19-story condo and retail tower as part of downtown revitalization plans.

The ruling also means developer Charles "Chip" Abele will have to either renegotiate with the Machs or come up with a new design plan for his condos. He said he has already offered the Mach family $1.2 million for the property, which is valued at $800,000.

"This just shows that a lot of people unified can stand up to a bully, to a government that they don't think is doing the right thing," said David Mach, whose late father bought the building after immigrating from Hungary and died during the negotiation process with the city.

Mach said he and his mother have no intention of selling their building, which houses a beauty salon and other business at the corner of Harrison Street and 19th Avenue.

"I just got off the phone with my mother and she was crying," Mach said. "She was too emotional to be here, but she is very happy."

The Mach case has dragged on for two years and become a cause for property-rights advocates, particularly in light of the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, Kelo vs. New London, that said cities can take property from individuals and sell it to private entities.

Citing those two cases, the Florida Legislature earlier this year changed Florida law to ensure that private property can be taken only for public use, such as to build highways, schools, railroads or other public projects.

Judge Rothschild's ruling was very narrow and followed a three-day trial in April and May. He said testimony showed the city and Abele didn't need the building to complete the project, a must for eminent domain. And he said the city's argument that taking the property would help save some portions of the historic Great Southern Hotel had no legal basis or precedent.

As part of an agreement Abele reached with the city two years ago, commissioners agreed to use eminent domain powers on his behalf if he preserved part of the hotel. The final plans would have saved some of the facade but gutted the hotel's interior.

Rothschild also found that neither Abele nor the city did anything improper during the eminent domain process, but said they did not have legally sufficient grounds to win in court.

There was one consolation for the city: Rothschild rejected arguments by Mach's lawyers that the entire Community Redevelopment Agency, which authorized the taking, was illegal and improperly structured.

"We are extremely pleased that the judge ruled that the CRA was proper and that the city dealt with everyone fairly," Giulianti said. "I just don't want to see Chip [Abele] up his offer to the Machs, because it sends a message to property owners that they can demand whatever they want from developers."

Abele, who has already spent millions on building plans and assembling the surrounding parcels, said he's not sure what happens next. He'll likely ask the city to appeal the ruling, which they must under terms of the development agreement he reached with commissioners two years ago.

Abele will pay the costs.

"It's a little bit complicated, and I know the judge was very careful in his ruling, but I'm not sure he was right," Abele said. "If the question is, do we need that property to physically build our project, then the answer is no.

"But if you're looking at the whole needs of a community, to make sure that it's safe for pedestrians and foot traffic all around, and that you keep redeveloping the area, then there's no question that we need that property," said Abele, who is also building a $325 million condo and retail complex on the northeast side of Young Circle.

With this year's legislative changes, Mach is one of the last cases in Florida pitting private owners against developers backed by elected city officials. Now, without eminent domain powers, developers will have to deal directly with landowners.

Abele said he hopes to resume negotiations with the Machs. "I do know that if we build around his place, that 2,900-square-foot building isn't going to be worth anything near what we're offering."

South Florida Sun-Sentinel: http://www.sun-sentinel.com

Eminent-domain suit targets downtown land: Riverside (CA) Press-Enterprise, 6/20/06

Riverside County wants to build a law library on land the owners don't want to sell

By Richard K DeAtley

Several prime pieces of property across Main Street from the Riverside County Historic Courthouse are the target of a county eminent-domain lawsuit seeking the land as a new location for the county law library.

The county had previously approached the owners — the son and two daughters who inherited the property their father bought about 40 years ago — to negotiate a sale. They have other ideas, their attorney said Tuesday.

"In a nutshell, they are not interested in selling," Glendale attorney Arnold K. Graham said by telephone. "The property has been offered as a long-term lease and the county has turned that down. One of the legal questions is, does the county have to condemn the property when it can get it through a lease?"

It isn't that simple, said County Counsel Joe S. Rank. The downtown Riverside property sought for condemnation is part of a larger plan that involves land swaps "to establish a more cohesive downtown legal arena," he said.

The county would put the law library across from the historic courthouse and the Hall of Justice criminal courts building.

It would be on the same side of the street as the Family Law Courthouse, the Riverside County Bar Association and a county building that includes the court administration offices and the district attorney's offices.

Neither the county nor the property owners would disclose Tuesday what they think the property is worth.

The property owners said the county made overtures in 2004, then made an offer in February 2005 that was withdrawn because the assessment it was based on was too old.

Another assessment was done this March, and the owners were waiting for a new offer, but instead found out Tuesday that the lawsuit had been filed June 8.

The property owners aren't the only ones facing uncertainty.

"We are the people who are stuck in the middle," said Michelle Vasquez, 38, of Riverside, a tenant in one of the buildings.

She had to close Michelle'z Restaurant & Bakery to customers in April because of the uncertain future. The business now does catering only.

"We had standing room only at lunchtime. We had a line out the door," she said.

Vasquez said the legal requirements that she disclose that the county was seeking to take over the property have prevented her and her partners, including her husband, from selling the business. She said they had invested more than $200,000 in the business.

Graham, the lawyer for the owners of the property, said siblings H. Grace Fershko, Ernest A. Zinke III and Frances Z. Randall, have both emotional and financial ties to the property, which their father, Ernest A. Zinke II, bought at least four decades ago.

"We have owned the property when times were not so good in Riverside," said Victor Fershko, 63, of Loma Linda, the husband of H. Grace Fershko.

Victor Fershko said the family hung on to the property anyway, sitting through the various downtown improvements including the restoration of the historic courthouse. "The idea is, we keep it for our children."

The across-the-courthouse location now makes it "a plum," Graham said.

Rank, the county counsel, said negotiations can continue despite the lawsuit.

"That's the way we want to resolve it," he said.

Riverside Press-Enterprise: http://www.pe.com

Panel backs eminent domain proposal: Stamford (CT) Advocate, 6/21/06

By John Nickerson

The [Norwalk CT] Common Council's Ordinance Committee will hold a public hearing next month to determine whether the full council should vote on each privately owned parcel to be seized for redevelopment.

The reform would place more of an onus on developers involved in urban renewal projects to explain to the council why they need the property, committee Chairman Michael Coffey said last night.

The Ordinance Committee unanimously voted for the proposal.

Redevelopment Agency Timothy Sheehan said that he had no objection to the individual review.

Concerns about the city's power to use eminent domain to seize private property and turn it over to a developer for large-scale urban redevelopment projects have been heightened in recent months in Norwalk as the city moves forward with its West Avenue plan.

Business and property owners in the area have appealed to city leaders to spare their sites, raising questions about what standards should be used to determine if a property is blighted.

The Common Council currently casts a single vote on a list of properties slated to be acquired for urban renewal plans, Sheehan said.

Last fall, Coffey was handed a defeat when his committee proposed another eminent domain control to the full Common Council.

At that time, the committee wanted to ban the use of eminent domain for economic development projects, while leaving the door open for such seizures if needed for construction of public facilities, preservation of open space and the protection of health and safety.

The council defeated that motion, 11-3.

This time, Coffey said he should get the support of the council for this newest reform.

Coffey suggested last night that each eminent domain vote should require a super majority of 10 of the 15 Common Council members to pass.

Committee member Kelly Straniti, however, questioned whether the 10 should be required or just a two-thirds majority of those members present at the time of the vote.

Coffey asked staff attorney Katherine Lasberg to look into whether there are any legal ramifications to a two-thirds vote.

After the meeting, Coffey said he wants the 10-vote requirement, but if he has to settle for a two-thirds vote he would support the proposal.

Stamford Advocate: http://www.stamfordadvocate.com

Eminent domain rally set for Westville: Courier Post (Cherry Hill NJ), 6/21/06

A rally protesting the government's right to seize property for public use is planned Friday afternoon in Westville [NJ].

The grass-roots group, We The People of Westville, is urging homeowners, tenants and business-people to take a stand against eminent domain. The one-hour rally starts at 4 p.m. in the parking lot of Grabbe's Seafood Restaurant at 19 Delsea Drive.

Fieldstone Associates of Doylestown, Pa., has proposed developing upscale condominiums and retail shops along Big Timber Creek. The area targeted for development includes Grabbe's, a family-run business for 75 years, and other waterfront homes.

The plan is still in the preliminary stages and must be approved by the borough council. No vote has yet been scheduled.

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

Media Fed Eminent Domain Uproar: Hartford (CT) Courant, 6/21/06


By Peter L. Costas

The media have the power to shape public opinion, but do they not also have an obligation to ensure that they present a true picture? Do they not have a responsibility to go beyond partisan press releases, particularly when the issue is of great interest?

The saga of the Fort Trumbull redevelopment in New London is an excellent example of how the media can generate a public outcry which might have been muted if the media had determined and presented the facts.

Having lost the legal battle in three courts which held that New London had properly used the power of eminent domain, the Institute for Justice put its formidable public relations department to work. It issued inflammatory press releases that focused on a statement of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor in her dissenting opinion and staged demonstrations and media events that attacked eminent domain as threatening the homes of citizens throughout the country.

As a result, legislators in Congress and in some states including Connecticut proposed severely restricting use of eminent domain. Fortunately for the nation's older cities that need redevelopment in order to survive, most legislative proposals have been placed on the back burner or dropped.

The result of the failure to inform is that the taxpayers will have to provide the additional funds required to "buy peace" from the plaintiffs. Unfortunately, as newsrooms shrink in size, it is unlikely that the media will recognize their role and change their practice of relying upon press releases without making any real effort to present the underlying fact.

A year later, all but two of the plaintiffs have agreed to accept large amounts of money to vacate the properties that had been taken by eminent domain. As a result, the project is finally beginning to move forward.

If the public had been well informed by the media, it is not likely that there would have been such an outcry and that the plaintiffs would have become folk heroes resisting eviction from their homes in which they had allegedly resided for many years.

The Derys were the only plaintiffs who had resided in their house for many years. Ms. Kelo had bought her property in 1997 after commencement of public discussions on possible redevelopment of the former Navy site and adjacent properties; she has occupied at least one home elsewhere and did not register to vote in New London until after the Supreme Court decision last year.

The remaining plaintiffs did not occupy the properties they owned. Pataya Construction housed equipment there and rented two properties; Mr. Von Winkle rented 12 units; the Derys rented three units; the Cristofaros rented two units and a grandson may occupy a third unit; and the Brelesky property is occupied by her son.

The image of a quaint Victorian neighborhood would not have been projected if the press had reported that the area had been zoned industrial/commercial since 1929, that the major portion of the area was used for industrial and commercial purposes and that most of the structures were blighted. Moreover, the area was bounded by a junkyard and a waste treatment facility that emitted noxious odors.

The Connecticut condemnation statute is thorough and does not permit a "private" taking; three courts determined that the takings were for the public benefit. There is a detailed community development plan that was the subject of hearings and that was approved by the state. The state has provided over $70 million to clear and remediate the property, pave new streets, provide new water and sewer lines, and compensate the owners of the property, most of whom found a generous buyer. New London does not have the funds to build the structures in the plan. As a result, it sought a developer that would use its funds to build on three of the seven parcels in accordance with the plan; however, the takings were not earmarked for this developer.

During the five years for the appeals, the "victims" enjoyed continued occupancy, collected substantial rents, paid no occupancy fees (in lieu of taxes), and basked in the publicity. The city calculated that it was owed nearly $1 million by the plaintiffs who had failed to comply with a court-entered stipulation requiring them to provide copies of leases and report rental income.

At long last, it appears that the project will move forward. The media caused the public outcry, which delayed the project for the past year. This would not have occurred had the media met their obligation to inform the public of the facts.

Hartford Courant: http://www.courant.com

Peter L. Costas is a resident of New London and an attorney in Hartford