Owner doesn't oppose Hollywood move to seize apartment buildings: South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 1/18/07

By Ihosvani Rodriguez

Hollywood [FL] City commissioners on Wednesday agreed to use eminent domain to buy private property in a neighborhood long plagued by crime.

But unlike the last time the city tried to use its authority to obtain private property, this move isn't drawing an angry reaction from the apparent owner.

The city plans to purchase two abandoned apartment buildings on the 5600 block of Wiley Street and then bring an affordable housing development to the blighted neighborhood.

Despite last year's legislative measures to toughen eminent domain rules, city officials said Wednesday they are confident they have a strong legal position because they are not forcing the sale. The owner has agreed to sell the buildings and land to the city for $1.2 million, according to officials.

"This is a voluntary sale," said Neal Herst, the city's housing director. "We are not forcing anyone to sell real estate to us."

Nicholas Camino, the apparent owner, assured commissioners on Wednesday he would not fight the eminent domain measure.

City Attorney Dan Abbott said the city needs eminent domain to clean up a title mess created by a mortgage fraud in the 1990s.

While Camino is the record owner of the property, Abbott said there might be other potential claims because the titles are clouded.

Nevertheless, Abbott assured commissioners the city will not be dragged into a legal dispute.

He said a lot of people may try to make claims to the money paid by the city, "but that is not our fight."

According to Abbott, the city's money will be put under the supervision of a Broward judge, who will then preside over any claims to the funds.

Since 2003, Hollywood has used eminent domain to purchase nearly every parcel surrounding the two buildings on Wiley Street, officials said.

The community was among several ensnared in a real estate fraud that left parcels and buildings vacant and boarded up.

Prosecutors said under a scheme devised by businessman James Christenson, rundown properties purchased with a trust set up in the name of property manager Howard Kratenstein were flipped to straw buyers at inflated prices supported by phony appraisals. The alleged conspirators pocketed the difference.

Many of the property owners, unable to make the mortgage payments, defaulted on the loans, leaving neighborhoods scarred with boarded-up buildings. Christenson, who was indicted in 1999, died in a car accident. Kratenstein pleaded guilty to participating in the fraud in 2001, served a prison sentence and was released in 2002.

On Wednesday, Commissioner Cathy Anderson said she feared the Wiley Street purchase would turn into another potentially costly legal tussle over eminent domain, "a PR and legal nightmare for this city."

"I can't vote for this," Anderson said. The measure passed 5-1.

Last year a Broward judge ruled against the city after it tried to obtain a family's downtown business through eminent domain. In that case, the city wanted the property to allow a developer to build a condo complex next to Young Circle.

But Commissioner Peter Bober, who represents the area, said the Wiley Street purchase is a perfect example of how eminent domain needs to be used.

"If we do nothing, we'll own all those other pieces of properties and right in the middle of this jewel, we'll have this vacant, disgusting, boarded-up building," Bober said.

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