Court limits Baltimore’s use of eminent domain: Delmarva Daily Times, Salisbury MD, 2/9/07

Associated Press

Baltimore had no reason to take a Charles North bar with a speeded-up form of eminent domain called “quick take,” Maryland’s highest court ruled Thursday.

Quick take, Maryland’s Court of Appeals said, requires an agency to prove that it needs property urgently and for the public good. In the case of the Magnet bar, wrote Judge Dale R. Cathell, the Baltimore Development Corp. did not demonstrate either.

“Agents of the City literally refused to answer any questions directed at the immediate need for this specific property, but appeared to have adopted the attitude that the City did not have to have a specific immediate need for the property, so long as sometime in the near or distant future they had such a need,” Cathell wrote. “This extraordinary power conferred upon the City ... was not for the purpose of allowing such entities to use it ’whenever they wanted to.”

John C. Murphy, the lawyer for Magnet owner George Valsamaki, said the high court sent a message to those who would push the limits of eminent domain and hurt property owners.

“The court is saying that what the city is doing now does not meet the standards,” Murphy said. “That’s a big change for a city which basically has used quick take for all of its acquisitions.”

By condemning the Magnet and some 20 other Charles North properties, Baltimore officials hoped to put together a sizable tract to attract developers. Revitalizing the depressed area between Mount Vernon and Charles Village along the Charles Street corridor was BDC’s intention.

The city filed a quick take petition on The Magnet in March, and gained immediate possession of the property without a hearing.

Valsamaki had 10 days to challenge the seizure, which he did, calling the city’s stated reason for taking his property “patently insufficient.”

BDC officials had argued that quick take was “critically important” to Baltimore’s neighborhood revitalization projects.

Baltimore City Solicitor George Nilson said that with this ruling, the city will have to change its ways.

“I think they’re saying you have to have more specific things in hand when you exercise quick take power and that the government bears the burden of proving that the taking is justified,” Nilson said. “And, because you bear that greater burden, you’re going to have to have fairly particular plans.”

Delmarva Daily Times, Salisbury MD: http://www.delmarvanow.com