Eminent domain proposal on ballot: St Louis MO Post-Dispatch, 1/9/07

The [Creve Coeur MO] City Council on Monday night put on the April 3 election ballot a city charter amendment that would require a supermajority of six of eight council members to authorize the city's use of eminent domain.

The council had received the supermajority proposal from an initiative petition that 1,424 registered voters signed.

Some council members have said the measure would help ensure that eminent domain issues would be carefully debated and scrutinized to protect area property owners.

Eminent domain has been an issue in Creve Coeur because the Olive Boulevard Transportation Development District could have used it to obtain service station property at Olive and CityPlace Drive; the station's operator objected to the use of eminent domain. Ultimately, Koman Group, organizer of the district, obtained the property for its CityPlace complex.

St Louis MO Post-Dispatch: http://www.stltoday.com

Property activists try to rein in eminent domain: Billings MT Gazette, 1/10/07

Bill seeks to level playing field between private landowners, industrial users

Associated Press

Property rights advocates from the Landowners Association of Wyoming and the Powder River Basin Resource Council called on legislators Tuesday afternoon to reform the state's eminent-domain laws this session.

"We're talking about a responsible use of the eminent-domain authority that treats landowners with some respect and restores some balance to the relationship between developers and property owners," said John Vanvig, with the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

A bill has been introduced in the House that would attempt to even the playing field between private landowners and those seeking to use land for pipelines, roads, railroads and other projects. Among other things, it seeks to provide better compensation to landowners, limit condemnation authority in urban renewal and eliminate the maximum amount on relocation expenses paid to displaced property owners.

Landowners argue they don't have enough protections and rights under the state's current eminent-domain statutes. Municipalities and energy industry representatives counter that the current law has worked well and changing it could hinder needed projects or make them more costly. Vanvig said he was disappointed with the bill because it doesn't go far enough in helping landowners.

"We need to have some kind of accountability in these laws," he said.

Jenifer Zeigler, a legislative affairs attorney for a Washington, D.C.-based property rights group [The Institute for Justice], joined Wyoming private property advocates in calling for change to Wyoming policy. Zeigler said 34 states last year passed legislation to try to limit eminent-domain abuses after the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Connecticut case, Kelo vs. City of New London, weakened property owner rights.

The court ruled 5-4 that a local redevelopment authority could seize private property for hotels, shopping centers and other private developments. It significantly expanded the traditional interpretation of eminent domain, which courts had previously limited for "public use" projects such as schools, roads, libraries and utility rights of way.

Zeigler urged Wyoming to follow the leads of other states in crafting amendments to protect private property.

"If our federal constitutional right to property is not going to be protected by the Supreme Court, then we need to ensure that every state has solid state constitutional rights that ensure people's right to property," Zeigler said.

Eric Barlow, vice president of the Landowners Association of Wyoming, agreed that something needs to be done in Wyoming: "There's no checks and balances in this system to ensure that private property gets its fair shake. ... We're the free state. Yeah, free for the taking. I mean, taking is pretty simple in Wyoming."

Rock Springs music and auto business owner Bill Valdez said he knew taking property was simple in Wyoming from his own personal experience. Valdez's companies were displaced in 2005 because of city plans to build an overpass through the area where his offices were located.

Valdez says after being forced out, the costs of reinstalling the carpet in his new offices alone consumed $7,000 of the maximum $10,000 in re-establishment costs the state currently provides for persons displaced by eminent domain.

"Try to put a business back together for $10,000, when you have to renovate everything from the ground up," Valdez said. "You can't do it. I'm back in debt and I'm 60 years old, and I have that to leave to my family. Is that fair?"

Billings MT Gazette: http://www.billingsgazette.net

Hollywood weighs eminent-domain gambit: Miami FL Herald, 1/10/07

Hollywood officials could use their power to take private property to fix up a struggling neighborhood, but some fear legal challenges

By Todd Wright

The 5600 block of Wiley Street, where some Hollywood [FL] officials hope to reclaim two properties through eminent domain, has been a blighted area for years. Hollywood officials are poised to test Florida law and once again try to use the city's power to force the sale of private property to clean up a blighted area.

On Jan. 17, commissioners are expected to vote to use eminent domain on two properties on Wiley Street to pave the way for an affordable housing development that could turn around the once drug-infested and crime-riddled block.

The move comes less than a year after state legislators and voters restricted government's ability to use eminent domain.

Commissioners ran afoul of the new law just six months ago, when a Broward judge ruled the city's downtown Community Redevelopment Agency illegally tried to take the property of a business owner for redevelopment.

In May, state legislators stripped CRAs of their eminent domain powers and essentially limited cities to only using condemnation powers on properties that stand in the way of public uses such as a new road, school or courthouse.

The state also prohibited taking property under the guise of economic development. Voters affirmed the new law in November.

Several commissioners said the city could be treading on thin ice by invoking its power to take private property.

''We've got in enough trouble in the city of Hollywood. I sure wouldn't vote for using eminent domain, and anyone who would at this point in time is crazy,'' Commissioner Cathy Anderson said.

The block between 56th and 57th avenues would be the site of about 40 town houses, said Neal Hearst, the city's housing coordinator. The city would not transfer the land to a developer, which is prohibited under state law, but instead would give ownership to homeowners, he said.

''This isn't economic development because we are not going to sell to a developer. We are not selling that land to anybody,'' Hearst said. ``The land goes to the family that buys the home. We have no restriction on what we do as long as we have the title.''

City attorneys called the legal move a ''friendly condemnation'' and said it would not be initiated until the property owners signed off on it. The eminent domain would clear the titles of the properties, which were muddled by a 1990s mortgage scam.

'The new eminent domain legislation allows `friendly' condemnation when the property owner concedes to the city taking the property and seeks to reinvest the money received through the taking in purchasing replacement,'' wrote Mitchell Burnstein, the who handles the city's eminent domain cases.

But those arguments may not fly, said Steven Anderson, director of Castle Coalition at the Institute For Justice, a Virginia-based nonprofit public interest law firm. The coalition works against the abuse of eminent domain.

Florida law prohibits transferring private land to any private party, including developers and individual homeowners, Anderson said. Despite never transfering the title, the city still could get in trouble because the developer would be controlling the use of the land.

Even a cause as noble as affordable housing is not enough justification to take property under the new law, Anderson said.

Steven Anderson represents some 5,100 Riviera Beach residents whose properties are in jeopardy of being taken for a new condominium and marina project. The case is in the pretrial stages in state court.

''Because of the abuses that were going on, particularly in coastal Florida, the legislators said that you can only use it for traditional reasons, not condos or box stores or whatever,'' he said. ``The moment you allow these other justifications like affordable housing, there is no natural end-point.''

The city's plans for Wiley have been slowed by efforts to sort out who the stakeholders are.

Under the scheme that was reputedly masterminded by the late James Christenson, properties bought under a trust bearing the name of Christenson's sidekick Howard Kratenstein were cut up and resold to straw buyers'' using phony appraisals and other fraudulent documents to obtain mortgages far above the property value.

Fort Lauderdale was also hit hard by the scam.

Many of the 14 properties on the Wiley Street block were cut up into smaller pieces and sold to individuals, leaving as many as a dozen people vying for control of some properties, Hearst said.

The city has spent the past four years tracking people down and making offers to buy their portion.

To date, the city has used eminent domain to take nine of the 12 properties it has acquired. It has spent about $2 million acquiring the properties, but used federal loans to pay out settlements.

The final two pieces of property would cost a combined $1.2 million, Hearst said.

''This has been a very complicated project. This was a horrendous task,'' he said. Since the 1970s, the 5600 block of Wiley has been synonymous with the drug trade, prostitution and crime.

The dreadful conditions spread to nearby blocks in the Washington Park neighborhood, causing many homeowners to petition the city to do something about it.

''It is an entire block that looks like a bomb fell on it,'' said Commissioner Peter Bober, the area's representative.

The city tore down most of the apartment complexes and houses that were notorious for illegal activities. The few remaining buildings are boarded up.

Only about four families live in a couple of duplexes on the block. The city is in the process of relocating them, Hearst said.

''It's not a very attractive block,'' said Nadine McCrea, president of the civic association. ``But I'd rather it look the way it does now than fall back to the way it as before.''

Miami FL Herald: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald

Eminent domain loopholes target of legislators: The Washington DC Times, 1/10/07

By Seth McLaughlin

Several Virginia lawmakers said yesterday the General Assembly must close loopholes in state law that leaves property owners vulnerable to governments taking their property under eminent-domain laws.

"Basically, we have no protection, and [property ownership] is one of the most foundational principles upon which the republic is built," said Sen. Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, Fairfax County Republican.

Under eminent-domain laws, governments have long had the power to seize property for such public uses as new highways or public schools, in return for what they determine to be a fair payment.

However, many states strengthened their laws after the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 brought eminent domain to national attention with its ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.

The high court ruled 5-4 that government - typically, cities and counties - can take property from its owner and give it to a private developer who promises to use it to generate more jobs and tax revenue.

Mr. Cuccinelli, Attorney General Bob McDonnell, and Delegate Johnny S. Joannou, Portsmouth Democrat, are among those pushing eminent-domain reform, an issue considered second only to transportation this session.

The lawmakers each have different proposals for constitutional amendments that include language to keep governments from taking private property from owners, then giving it to a private interest for economic development or to increase tax revenues.

"I just think property rights have to be protected in statute," Mr. McDonnell said. "It's imperative that we get it done.... There is a broad consensus that the Kelo-type taking should not be permitted in Virginia, and we should find the right words to do that."

Though most people agree that eminent domain should be used sparingly, not everybody agrees that state law should be amended.

"Virginia law does not require a wholesale change," said Delegate Brian J. Moran, Alexandria Democrat. "We have a long tradition of respecting property rights in Virginia."

Kevin Hall, spokesman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat, said the governor agrees.

Mr. Kaine "is of the camp that [eminent domain] isn't a big deal because we are so conservative in its use typically. Beyond that, we would want to look at the specifics of legislation that emerge from the legislature."

Craig Shirley, a Republican strategist, last month said Republicans have an "enormous opportunity" to remind people of true "populist conservatism" by amending the constitution in reaction to the Kelo ruling.

"In the minds of most populists, Kelo is nothing more than endorsement of greedy developers working with corrupt politicians to take property away from regular people," he said.

The renewed efforts of state lawmakers will mark the second time in as many years the General Assembly considers tightening the laws.

The lawmakers ended the 2006 legislative session without passing legislation, though many Democrats and Republicans agreed government's property-taking powers should be curbed.

The Virginia Institute for Public Policy, a nonprofit organization, released a report last month that criticized lawmakers for not doing something sooner, and highlighted how the abuses in Kelo are not new in Virginia.

In 2003, the Virginia Supreme Court allowed the city of Hampton to take Frank and Dora Ottofaro's property and give 82 percent of the Ottofaros' property to a private developer.

In 2005, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority attempted to take a small-business owner's property to build a parking lot for the Coca-Cola Co., which owned the adjacent property.

"As the General Assembly has expanded the power of eminent domain, it has failed to put protections in the plan to protect the people," said attorney Jeremy P. Hopkins, a consultant on the report.

Mr. Hopkins said state lawmakers have shielded themselves from criticism by doling out eminent-domain powers to cities and towns, which in turn have established unelected bodies such as housing authorities that take homes, farms and businesses under the name of "public use" or "blighted property."

"What's happened is if they can delegate the power to another body, then they don't have to approve the taking or accept responsibility for unpopular takings," Mr. Hopkins said. "It is a way to avoid accountability entirely for takings people's homes and properties."

John Taylor, president of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, said politics have made some lawmakers reluctant to act.

"I made the assumption that Virginia was a conservative state, but it is not," he said. "Virginia is the most stereotypical example of a good old boy system I have ever seen. Under the ... system, the state government is reduced to being a financial intermediary between people who produce wealth on one side and people who want access to wealth on the other side, who also happen to be large donors to political campaigns."

The Washington DC Times: http://www.washingtontimes.com

Reform or not? Casper WY Star-Tribune, 1/10/07

By Dustin Bleizeffer

A grassroots effort to reform Wyoming's eminent domain laws has gained momentum during the past year, and a major battle over the issue is expected to play out in the legislative session that began Tuesday.

Reform supporters made their presence known in Cheyenne Tuesday afternoon with a rally that included Jenifer Zeigler, the attorney who argued for Susette Kelo in the famous U.S. Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London.

"Wyoming allows private industry to use eminent domain. If Wyoming is a state that really values individual freedoms and private property rights, it seems to me it ought to have the toughest eminent domain laws," Zeigler told the Star-Tribune in a phone interview.

Zeigler is the legislative affairs attorney for the Institute for Justice's Castle Coalition, which advocates limited use of eminent domain. She was invited to speak in Cheyenne by the Landowners Association of Wyoming.

Zeigler said 34 states have reined in the use of eminent domain since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that economic development is reason enough for the government to take private property. Always eager to accommodate development, Wyoming has eminent domain laws go a step further: Even a private entity can take someone else's private property for its own economic gain.

Zeigler said the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution meant to prevent private property from being taken except for public use with just compensation.

"Public use means the government absolutely needs it to carry out one of its obligations," Zeigler said. "People know what that means. The problem is Wyoming goes so far as to allow private use in its constitution. So instead of eminent domain being used when the government absolutely needs (to take property) the government is using it as an economic development tool."

In a state that receives more than 60 percent of its revenue from mining and energy development, the industry employs a large lobbying presence in the State Capitol. And they're not giving up on the issue without a fight. Utilities and mineral developers say they can't afford to do business in Wyoming without the ability to take private property.

And perhaps one of the largest opponents of eminent domain reform is the Wyoming Department of Transportation, which has filed 25 condemnation proceedings in the past five years and settled each one out of court.

"Our numbers and experience with eminent domain don't show me that there's something broken in the law that needs fixing," said John Sherman, WYDOT's lands management administrator.

One change that reform supporters want is the right to a jury trial to determine if a "taking" is in the greatest public good for the least private damage. Sherman said that would be a nightmare for linear facilities that may cross properties of hundreds of private landowners.

"If one landowner goes to court (and stops a project), then you just bought 99 parcels that you don't need," Sherman said. "I think it would be difficult to plan a whole project and not know if you can prove before a jury that one acquisition out of 100 others is necessary."

Reform supporters insist they only want to limit the use of eminent domain as a last resort and provide assurances that just -- not exorbitant -- compensation be paid.

"These multimillion-dollar industries say they need eminent domain to survive, and I find it very hard to believe," Zeigler said. "They need to be forced to negotiate in the market just like everybody else, instead of using government coercion to get what they want."

Casper WY Star-Tribune: http://www.casperstartribune.net

1836 law unfairly imposes takings upon innocent party: Harrisburg PA Patriot-News, 1/9/07


Pennsylvania's 1836 Private Road Act remains on the books as a legal anachronism that may have been justified back when Penn's Woods was still mostly woods. Applied today, as is being done on Berry's Mountain in upper Dauphin County, it constitutes an injustice that needs to be taken off the books.

Glenn R. Noblit has owned a 17-acre landlocked parcel on the top of Berry's Mountain since 1972. He is suing Janet Greene and Randy Wolfe to build a 2,139-foot-long, 50-foot-wide right of way through their property to access his parcel.

Greene and Wolfe vigorously oppose the move through their 21 wooded acres in Halifax Twp. that they say could involve taking 300 to 400 trees.

Noblit says he wants the road to harvest oak trees. But Greene and Wolfe fear he may actually have in mind leasing the ground to wind-farm developers or selling it for homes, staff writer David DeKok reported in the Sunday Patriot-News.

In accordance with the 1836 law, a Board of View has been appointed by Dauphin County Court to consider Noblit's request and determine whether there is a legitimate need for a private road and, if so, where it will best be located and what damages are to be paid to the owners of the land.

The basic problem with the 1836 law in the modern era is that it unfairly imposes the consequences of one person's actions on others who had no role in them. Greene and Wolfe didn't cause Noblit's problem, and they should not have to pay for his decision back in 1972 to buy a landlocked parcel without first securing a right-of-way to the property.

And while he may be planning to take timber, the fact that he is seeking a right of way large enough for a two-lane road suggests he may be looking beyond that to putting something of greater and more enduring impact on the mountaintop.

It may or may not be a coincidence that a land developer purchased a nearby parcel of 23 acres from the Dauphin County Tax Claims Bureau in 2004 for $800. That transaction raises additional questions about the county's tracking of orphan properties (or lack of same) and the disposal of them in the best interests of the common good.

Noblit may - or may not - have the law on his side. But this situation resembles in some important ways the case of Kelo v. City of New London, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that eminent domain could be used to take private property to give to a private developer for economic development. That ruling prompted a national furor that in some states has led to revisions of eminent domain laws.

While the Berry's Mountain conflict does not involve eminent domain per se, by any measure it involves a "taking" from a private owner for the benefit of another private owner. That such actions remain potentially legal in 2007 should prompt the same outrage in Pennsylvania as the Kelo case did around the country.

And with wind and housing developers today aggressively eyeing the state's long-verdant ridge tops, this is likely not the last case of its kind. That is, unless the Legislature promptly and appropriately assigns this 1836 law to the dustbin of history.

Harrisburg PA Patriot-News: http://www.pennlive.com/editorials/patriotnews

Dougherty leaders may have to resort to Eminent Domain: WALB-TV10, Albany NY, 1/8/07

By Karen Kohilas

Eminent Domain has long been a way for Governments to acquire property they need for public use. But Dougherty County leaders say they may have to resort to taking property for a new EMS station because the property owner can't be found.

If you take one look at the current headquarters for Dougherty County Emergency Medical Services, one word that may come to mind, is outdated. EMS Director Bobby Tripp says, "Some of the problems we have with this building is the age of the building, it was built in '81, the main problem we're having, is we're just out of room."

Out of room for the 80 employees who work for Dougherty County EMS. Can you imagine trying to train them all in one tiny room? Tripp says, "They just don't have room to live and to work."

That's why the county wants to build a new headquarters. The voters have already approved the build using sales tax money. But there's just one problem: The "perfect property" for the building, at the corner of 8th Avenue and Palmyra Road is owned by a man county leaders have lost contact with.

County Attorney Spencer Lee says, "At one time we thought that they were willing to sell for the appraised value and apparently they are not because we can't establish any further contact with the owner."

So now a public hearing will be held to let the public speak in favor of or against the acquisition. Then the county can move forward with their plans. Lee says, "If they vote to acquire the property through the use of eminent domain, then I'll begin the proceeding to do that."

And Tripp hopes that means he'll begin making plans for a move. He says, "A bigger building will help us, it will give us more space, but also we have a problem here with traffic. It's real congested here. It's hard to get in and out, and this location will help that."

By helping EMS workers respond to calls faster.

County Attorney Spencer Lee says he was in contact with property owner, Dr. William J. Freeman, but can no longer reach him or his attorney. If the county decides to move forward with the process, they will have to go through the court system. A public hearing will be held January 17th at 6:15 PM in the Government Center.

WALB-TV10, Albany NY: http://www.walb.com

Parties unite on eminent domain: Seattle WA Post-Intelligencer, 1/9/07


By Bill Virgin

Who says bipartisanship is dead? Every now and then, an issue surfaces that manages to unite people across partisan and ideological lines.

In Washington state, that issue is eminent domain.

Or more specifically, eminent domain when the purpose is to transfer private property to another private owner for a private-sector use.

A controversial decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005 has spurred both Republican and Democratic politicians to push legislation to address at least one concern raised in connection with the issue.

But, as is typical in Washington, the big decisions on eminent domain have likely been postponed until after this session, and may be put in the hands of - what else - a task force.

What will be fascinating to watch is just how long the current prevailing, boundary-crossing spirit lasts.

If divisions occur and objections to doing something significant on the issue of eminent domain arise, look for them to come not from between political parties, but between city and state officials. For this mess we have to thank the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo decision that government can take private property through eminent domain, even if the intent is to use it not for a "public" purpose such as a school or highway but for private economic development.

The outcry was immediate and widespread. A number of states, including Oregon, put measures on the ballot to ban eminent domain when used for private economic development. Oregon's measure, to prohibit a public body from condemning private property with the intention of transferring it to another private party, passed with 67 percent of the vote.

In Washington, initial pronouncements that restrictions on eminent domain in this state would limit Kelo-like cases were met with considerable skepticism. Those skeptics were not reassured when the state Supreme Court last year issued a decision on a different part of the eminent-domain debate, having to do with notification. Sound Transit argued, and was upheld, that a posting on its Web site constituted sufficient notice that it was planning to condemn a piece of property.

The response to that is a bill backed by Gov. Chris Gregoire (Democrat), Attorney General Rob McKenna (Republican) and House Majority Leader Lynn Kessler (D-Hoquiam), which requires direct notification to a property owner as well as a newspaper legal notice of a meeting at which property condemnation is to be discussed.

"It's not asking too much to require that a $4.64 certified letter be sent to property owners who may have their property taken without their consent," McKenna said in a statement last month. "We shouldn't expect people to click through hundreds of Web pages every week to make sure their property isn't being considered for condemnation."

Last week McKenna announced plans for a task force to review the state's eminent-domain laws, with a report due in time for the 2008 legislative session. Who will serve on this task force hasn't been announced. According to a release from the Washington Policy Center, which sponsored the news conference at which McKenna made the announcement, the task force's goal is "to seek ways to reduce the threat of eminent-domain abuse without interfering with legitimate exercises of the government's ability to condemn property for legitimate public uses."

Contained in that quote is the very point that might cause the task force to grind to a halt or issue a non-committal report.

One of the prime issues involving eminent-domain laws in Washington is a provision in the state's Community Renewal Law that allows municipalities to designate large areas as "blighted." That permits the transfer of private property for economic development by others, critics contend; the definition of blighted is so broad and vague, they add, as to permit its application almost anywhere.

But that broadness and vagueness are attractive to cities contemplating sweeping economic redevelopment of multiple blocks of property or entire neighborhoods. The city of Renton proposed a redevelopment plan of the Highlands area until residents yelled loud enough to block it.

The city of Seattle, meanwhile, has been proposing a redevelopment plan for Rainier Valley. According to information from the city's Web site, "In the rare instances when eminent domain may be used, it would be used as a last resort, and would require approval from the community renewal board and Seattle City Council."

The cities may decide they'd just as soon not give up such powers that, they would argue, can be used to achieve some greater public good such as "community renewal." The property owners wary of their real estate going to someone else's profit-making venture likely won't see it the same way.

Watch who gets named to the task force, and who tries to lobby it, to get a sense of whether the Legislature gets anything definitive to work with next year - or whether it gets the sort of report that can be summed up as "on the one hand, on the other hand, further study is needed."

Seattle WA Post-Intelligencer: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com

High court considers challenge to eminent domain strategy: WMDT-TV47, Salisbury MD, 1/9/07

[Maryland's] highest court is weighing the arguments in a dispute over a property seizure technique being used for urban renewal efforts in Baltimore.

The Court of Appeals heard arguments yesterday about the city's so-called "quick take" strategy. Critics say it amounts to taking real estate before officials have determined how it will be used.

The case was first brought by the owner of a North Charles Street bar who claims the city didn't have sufficient grounds for the seizure of the bar and other properties under eminent domain.

Although a recent Supreme Court case has upheld the seizures of private property for economic development, a Circuit Court judge sided last year with the bar owner - saying that the city must show "a carefully considered development plan" before the seizure.

WMDT-TV47, Salisbury MD: http://www.wmdt.com

Costly eminent domain appraisals must be paid for by property owners: Fauquier VA Times-Democrat, 1/9/07


By Karla Eisen, Gainesville

Mark A. Smith's letter of Dec. 13, "Strengthen landowners rights," is correct. Virginia's eminent domain laws are not fair to property owners and should be changed.

It is my hope that Dominion's power line will be defeated and not cross any of our counties.

If we lose this battle, hard- working, tax-paying Virginians will find themselves not only losing their property, but having to pay anywhere from hundreds into the thousands of dollars for a private appraisal to determine if the offer for their property is fair.

This is essential as a basis for negotiations with experienced condemnors, and unfortunately under Virginia law, this appraisal is still a non-compensable expense. The property owner with no interest in selling, but now forced to lose his property, has the added expense of an appraisal.

In addition, if only part of the property is taken, the condemnor is NOT required to consider damages to the appearance of the remaining property - such as the view due to a power line - in determining "fair market value."

As a victim of two separate cases of eminent domain in my front yard, I know first hand that even armed with an appraisal that challenges a low offer, the unfair process continues for property owners. The current options available under the Virginia law are not favorable to property owners.

Option one is to accept the low offer, and option two is to challenge the condemnor's offer in court. While a court challenge seems a reasonable solution, property owners soon learn that even if they prove the condemnor wrong and are awarded "fair market value," they still lose.

They lose because attorney fees and other costs can be 30-40 percent of any benefit they may have gained by going to court. In my case, 50 percent of the settlement was spent on legal fees without even going to court, even though the fair market value settled on was three times the original offer from the government condemnor.

However, when most property owners become aware they can not win, most give up and accept low offers.

There are 18 states that either automatically require or allow the judge to award the property owner all court costs if the condemnor loses in court.

In 2005, the Virginia General Assembly passed legislation which allows the judge to award the property owner the cost of some expert testimony, if the condemnor's offer was 30 percent below the court's award. This falls far short of what experts in eminent domain recommended to the Eminent Domain Study Committee.

The recommendation was to level the playing field by automatically requiring the condemnor to reimburse all of the property owners' litigation expenses if the condemnor's offer was below the court's finding of "fair market value."

Lobbying by Dominion and other powerful condemnors has been responsible for the defeat and weakening of legislation aimed at strengthening property rights.

Once again in the 2007 legislative session, there are proposed bills addressing condemnors to fully compensate for property that an owner loses. Please act now by contacting your elected officials to strengthen property rights. More information can be found from the Virginia Property Rights Coalition: http://www.vapropertyrights.org.

Fauquier VA Times-Democrat: http://www.timescommunity.com

Former landowners challenge district: Janesville WI Gazette, 1/9/07

By Carla McCann

The former owners of land recently taken by the Milton [WI] School District through eminent domain have filed a court appeal, challenging the $620,000 price paid by the school district.

The value of the 24 acres west of the high school was set by Rock County condemnation commissioners.

"Our check was delivered to the clerk of courts, and at that time the district took ownership of the title to the land," said Dianne Meyer, the district's business manager.

But the former owners of the land - Rollin Natter of Milton, Charles Thompson of Wisconsin Dells and Bette J. Shadel of Janesville - filed appeal in Rock County court Jan. 3 seeking "a determination of just compensation by a 12-person jury."

Meyer said the lawsuit doesn't void the district's ownership of the land. If the former landowners win the suit, however, the district may end up paying more for the property.

The landowners wanted to sell to the district, Ekedahl said, but the problem was setting a price.

A district appraisal valued the land at $620,000, but an appraisal by the landowners values the land at $926,600.

Under the eminent domain law, the district can take property for just compensation even if a landowner is unwilling to negotiate a price for its sale.

Residents voted unanimously Dec. 11 in a special meeting to give the district authority to buy the land.

Although the district needed voter approval to buy the land, it didn't need such approval to borrow moey if the amount is less than $1 million, said Ekedahl during the Dec. 11th meeting.

The board approved borrowing money the same evening from The Bank of Milton at a 4.7 percent interest rate.

The board's decision June 5 to use eminent domain to take the property for fair compensation followed months of futile negotiations with landowners.

Growth within the district has spurred the need for a new middle or high school within three to five years.

Because the land is across from Schilberg Park's athletic fields and next to the high school, construction of another school at the site would save money by allowing grounds and facilities to be shared, Ekedahl said.

"It will allow us to move forward in planning for growth," she said.

Janesville WI Gazette: http://www.gazetteextra.com

Eminent domain struggle imminent: Lake Tahoe CA Daily Tribune, 1/9/07

By Susan Wood

Round two of eminent domain hearings aimed at building a $410 million convention center complex near the California-Nevada border is set in 10 days in El Dorado County Superior Court.

The South Tahoe Redevelopment Agency, working on behalf of a developer in a public-private partnership, has challenged Lakeside Landing again for access to the building. The agency's legal counsel filed a motion on Monday for the court to reconsider its earlier finding in favor of the retail shop.

The parties battled it out three weeks ago over who could take over the 1,600-square-foot building, with Landing owners John and Margaret Maxhimer winning the case that gave them until April to sell off the inventory bought for the winter ski season.

Lakeside Landing is among seven businesses in the 12-acre area between Highway 50, Cedar, Friday and Stateline avenues that has not settled on a buyout price with Lake Tahoe Development Co. The other businesses include Pub Tahoe, Taco Bell, Shirt Stop, Paradise Timeshare, Union 76 and Shoreline Ski and Snowboard.

But the agency, working as a legal conduit for developers Randy Lane of Falcon Capital in Stateline and John Serpa of DGD Development in Carson City, contends the "parties could agree upon a figure that would represent the potential sales from January to April 8," the latest motion reads.

The developer has met with the defendants "on several occasions" and believes it needs the building to "conduct necessary pre-sales of the hotel-condominium units from the defendants' building in order to obtain $340 million in construction financing," agency attorney Stacey Sheston wrote.

The city had worked out a contract with the developer with the understanding the developer would foot the construction bill on a 5,000-seat convention space, a retail center and two condominium hotels and receive property tax proceeds in exchange.

The developer had intended to break ground on the project next May and feels the pressure of meeting its deadline.

But Oakland attorney Claudia Gorham, who represents the retail establishments, said the latest motion is too late to meet the 10-day legal limit. She called the move "an interesting tactic" that may serve to "put pressure" on her clients.

"But if we could pay their costs, it could be a win-win for everybody," Redevelopment Manager Gene Palazzo said Monday afternoon.

The hearing is slated for Jan. 19 at 2 p.m. in Department 4.

Lake Tahoe CA Daily Tribune: http://www.tahoedailytribune.com


Not at home with limbo: York PA Daily Record, 1/7/07

Family seeks fair price; official, developer deny consideration of eminent domain

By Angie Mason

For more than two years, they've clashed with a developer who needs their property, trading letters through lawyers and testifying at Penn Township commissioner meetings in what the couple feels is a fight for their home.

They'll go, they said. But they want a fair price for the two-story, century-old home where they live with their six children. "We just want to be paid to move," Bill Heston said. "We're not going to give them our house."

The Hestons said they were initially approached about their home at York and Center streets by local developer Paul Burkentine in 2004. Burkentine & Sons Contracting is building a housing development behind the Hestons' home. Related traffic improvements,namely a traffic light at the intersection, would require widening Center Street and removing the Hestons' home.

"At the very first meeting we had with him, the builder told us that if we didn't take his offer ... he would get the township to intervene," Bill Heston said.

But Burkentine said he never mentioned eminent domain. The traffic light is something the township needs, not the development, he said.

"We're kind of there to work with the township. (But) we only go so far. Then it goes in the township's hands," he said.

The Hestons also claim they were told by the township manager that eminent domain was being considered, but Penn Township Commissioner Joe Klunk said township officials have never considered eminent domain. He said the manager considered it, but the commissioners would have to take that action.

In the past two years, the developers have floated a few numbers as offers for the home - $132,000 and $160,000, according to the Hestons. Bill Heston said those offers were based on fair-market value, but the family wants more since they're being asked to uproot.

Burkentine said the family wants more than twice what the home is worth. He recently sent another letter to the family, reaffirming the offer of $160,000, he said. The ball is in their court now, he said.

Worried about the possibility of eminent domain, the couple garnered community support and showed up at a recent Penn Township commissioners meeting with a crowd, including York County Commissioner Steve Chronister. He said last week he told the commissioners the process would only cost taxpayers.

Chronister said that he just wanted to emphasize to the parties that "things really can be worked out without using the iron hand of eminent domain."

But Klunk said the township doesn't want to intervene.

"We'd like to see this resolved between the parties," he said. "I think there's been some miscommunications. I think it can be resolved."

The Hestons are still uneasy. A recent meeting with Burkentine left them without any new offers or answers, Bill Heston said.

The family's tired of being in limbo. "It's been really tough. We haven't been able to make a move or make a decision with that kind of lurking in the background," he said. "It's been really stressful. It's like people are sitting around with bated breath waiting to take your place."

Dana Heston said she's open to moving, provided she can get a home as good as the one they have, where they lived when five of their six children were born. They made improvements, adding central air conditioning and building a detached garage with a finished second floor her husband uses as a music studio.

"I'm tired of it," she said of the struggle. "We never wanted this."

Her husband said he doesn't feel welcome in the township anymore. Everywhere they go, they're recognized. A few people have called them greedy. They were heckled at a York mall once because Dana wore a shirt with a slogan against eminent domain abuse.

"This is not the way you want to become famous," Bill Heston said. "We are actually pretty private people. You feel like everybody's looking at you."

What's the issue?
Burkentine & Sons Contracting is building a residential development on land to the rear of Bill and Dana Heston's home at the corner of York and Center streets in Penn Township.

Plans call for a traffic light at the intersection, which would require widening the intersection and removing the Hestons' home.

The Hestons said they've been threatened with eminent domain, though the developer and township officials deny it. The family said they are willing to move if they get a fair price for their home.

York PA Daily Record: http://www.ydr.com


Eminent domain kills off funeral home: Pleasanton CA Tri-Valley Herald, 1/5/07

High school science classrooms to replace 40-year-old mortuary

By Brian Foley

The use of eminent domain has closed the casket on the Wilson Family Funeral Chapel [in Livermore CA], which will conduct its last funeral today.

The 1-acre lot on East Avenue has been handed over to neighboring Livermore High School to build new science classrooms. However, the transfer of land means the closure of a funeral home that has served locals for 40 years.

"We really thought we could petition the court for more time," said owner Judy Wilson. "It's really hard to close a business of 40 years in 90 days."

Wilson, 47, has run the home for 13 years. In 2002 it was honored as Small Business of the Year by the Livermore Chamber of Commerce.

"It's one of two (mortuaries); there are only two in town," Wilson said. "It's a large community, and now there will only be one. As much that it's a business, it's also a community service."

The battle between the school district and the Wilsons spans a few years when the Wilsons first offered the lot for sale in 2004. The school district showed interest, but the plot was soon taken off the market.

Attorneys for the Wilsons and the school district then went back and forth in negotiating a deal until May, when the Wilsons fired their attorney and retained an eminent domain specialist. That's when Wilson believed the school district was shortchanging them.

In October a court sided with the school district's appraisal of $2 million. The property legally changed hands Jan. 1, and the school district is waiting for the Wilsons to vacate.

The school district's attorney, Bob Thurbon, said the Wilsons can contest the appraisal in a hearing, which could be held later this year. But he said the property now belongs to the school district.

"They got $2 million, and now we got legal possession of the property," he said.

He said the Wilsons can counter with their own appraiser if they believe the process was unfair. The school district also is negotiating with adjacent resident Russell Greenlaw for his property.

"They should be able to challenge appraisals because that's their right," Thurbon said. "(Greenlaw) can get his own appraiser. Is it possible a different appraiser will make a different appraisal? Yes. But you can't get to that point unless you talk to us."

Meanwhile, Wilson feels she was victimized by eminent domain because the compensation isn't enough to buy another lot and start a new business.

"Most people like me have never heard of it," she said. "We all thought it was something they use to put roads through. Although this is a loss of a business for this community and my livelihood, this is an eminent domain issue, and the eminent domain laws are out of control. They decide they want property, and they just take it."

Wilson said she will miss the people she served.

"You get to know so many families in this town," she said. "You help them when they need it the most, when they're sad and upset. It's hard to think about not being here.

Werner Stone, a 16-year Livermore resident, called the closing of the funeral home "embarrassing." The home helped bury his father last year.

"These people are wonderful people," he said. "For what it's worth, hopefully the community will find out about this and come together to help them out. It's a shame."

With limited time to pack up, Wilson is focusing on the home's final three funerals.

"We have to contact families who have prepaid for their funeral here, return their money, their paperwork and help them find another place to have a funeral," she said.

She estimated she will have to track down hundreds of families.

"We have to reach each of them in every manner and tell them that we aren't here anymore," she said.

Pleasanton CA Tri-Valley Herald: http://www.insidebayarea.com/trivalleyherald

The Eminent-Domain Origin of Shenandoah National Park: Lew Rockwell, 1/4/07

By Bart Frazier

The establishment of Shenandoah National Park in 1926 is one of the greatest abuses of eminent domain in our country’s history. With the Commonwealth of Virginia condemning the entire area and removing more than 450 families, many by force, the park would eventually encompass 196,000 acres. After people were evicted, Virginia transferred the property to the federal government and Shenandoah National Park was born. The history books have forgotten the episode, but it is one that needs to be remembered.

Just as with politics today, the main force behind the establishment of Shenandoah National Park (SNP) was a special-interest group, for it was not a federal bureaucracy that pined for the park but local Virginians themselves.

In 1924, the secretary of the Interior had established a committee to investigate a potential site for a national park in the southern Appalachians. Knowing that it would be a boon to tourism, many residents in the Shenandoah Valley of central Virginia began lobbying for the park to be located there. That same year, nearly 1,000 local residents gathered in Harrisonburg and established Shenandoah Valley, Inc., whose slogan was “A National Park Near the Nation’s Capital.”

The tactics used to influence the decision on the park’s location would do any K Street veteran proud. Shenandoah Valley, Inc., inaugurated the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester to showcase the area’s beauty. It is still held annually to this day. Harry Byrd, one of the most influential members of Shenandoah Valley, Inc., hosted members of the search committee at his Skyland resort high up in the Blue Ridge. At Skyland, the committee reveled in the resort’s beautiful wilderness and sweeping vistas of the Shenandoah Valley. Skyland can still be visited within SNP today as a campground and picnic area.

After the committee’s visit, more than 500 valley residents traveled to Washington, D.C., and held a meeting to show how much local support there was for the park. They were not disappointed. In May of 1926, President Calvin Coolidge signed a bill authorizing the establishment of Shenandoah National Park.

Now that Virginians had succeeded in getting the park established within their state, the job of actually obtaining the land was the biggest obstacle to getting tourist dollars flowing. An arduous task lay ahead of them.

Collective condemnation
The bill that Coolidge signed stipulated that no federal funds could be used to acquire the land the park would comprise. The job of obtaining the land therefore fell to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The idea of buying the land from the owners was immediately ruled out, as it was thought too difficult an undertaking. William E. Carson, director of the state commission responsible for managing the land acquisition, stated,
It was manifestly hopeless to undertake to acquire the necessary area by direct purchase [because] any of the thousands of owners or claimants could hold up the entire project unless paid exorbitant and unfair prices, with jury trials, appeals, and all the endless delays which can be injected into ordinary condemnation proceedings by selfish, stubborn, and avaricious litigants.

It is clear that government officials at the time considered these property owners as nothing more than obstacles. Their concern was not for their rights, but simply for the difficulty that they would present in bringing the national-park project to fruition. Indeed, many people, including the press, thought they were doing the property owners a favor by running them off their land. The general consensus was that the people who inhabited these mountains were living as animals and needed to be civilized. National Park Service official Arno Cammerer stated, “There is no person so canny as certain types of mountaineers, and none so disreputable.” SNP official James R. Lassiter stated in 1935 that residents suffered from a lack of “independence and resourcefulness” and from their “dependence on outside help.”

So in order to avoid the slow and painful process of negotiating prices with each landowner, Virginia passed the Public Park Condemnation Act. The act simply confiscated all the lands that would make up the park. Officials then formed a three-man committee to assess the value of each property that the owner would be paid. Once the condemnation had been signed into law, the next task was to remove the inhabitants.

With the passage of the Public Park Condemnation Act, some landowners decided to leave of their own accord. They took the money the state gave them and reestablished their lives elsewhere. But many landowners refused to budge, either because they thought they were not getting fair-market value for their property or simply out of principle.

The park proponents soon found out that these “mountaineers” were a little more sophisticated than they had thought. Robert H. Via challenged the takings on Fourteenth Amendment grounds, claiming that his due-process rights under the Constitution had been violated. The district court ruled against him, but Via appealed all the way to the Supreme Court, which declined to hear the case. H.M. Cliser wrote to Gov. John Garland Pollard of Virginia, “I am relying wholly on the Constitution in this matter; therefore I have nothing to arbitrate.” And Lewis Willis wrote directly to President Hoover, “We are unwilling to part with our homes to help a small part of our population to get their hands into tourists’ pockets.”

Overcoming resistance
Of course, all of their efforts were of no avail. By 1935 most of the inhabitants had left voluntarily. But the ones who chose to remain had to be removed by force. And the tactics used on those most adamant about staying were forceful indeed.

H.M. Cliser owned a filling station on one of the main roads that would lead into the park. He had lived with his wife for 35 years in the house that his father had built, and he steadfastly refused to leave. When the police finally came to press the issue, they cuffed him as he started singing “The Star-Spangled Banner.” He informed the police that he was a free man and that he was simply defending his constitutional rights. It took four officers to stuff him in the back of a police car. Afterwards, his wife and children refused to leave the porch of their house, even after the police had boarded it up. They all eventually moved in with family outside the park boundaries where Cliser appealed his eviction until he died at age 75.

John Mace had sold water that he bottled from a spring on his property within park boundaries. When he refused to leave his property, the police piled all of his furniture and his belongings in his yard and then burned his house down in front of him to let him know there was no chance of return.

Lizzie Jenkins was five months pregnant when the police dragged her from her home, piled her belongings in horse-drawn wagons, and pulled her chimney down so that she would have no source of heat for the upcoming winter.

All in all, about 2,800 people were forced from their homes. A small group of men decided that a large park in the mountains would be a wonderful idea and they uprooted an entire community and destroyed their culture in order to accomplish it. The tyranny of the majority that Alexis de Tocqueville warned against in the 1840s reared its head in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the 1920s. As Madison wrote in Federalist No. 51,
It is of great importance in a republic, not only to guard the society against the oppression of its rulers; but to guard one part of the society against the injustice of the other part.

Indeed, the Constitution was adopted to defend the likes of those poor mountain farmers from the injustice that they eventually suffered at the hands of their own government.

Any time the government takes property under the power of eminent domain, it is forcibly evicting someone from his property in the process. We have seen it in Shenandoah National Park. We have seen it in Poletown, when an entire Detroit suburb was razed and given to General Motors for a new factory, and we have seen it in the recent case of Kelo v. New London, where a township took people’s homes in order to transfer the land to a developer.

The descendants of those who were evicted from the Blue Ridge of Virginia are still bitter. They still see the establishment of the park as sheer theft – their families’ heritage stripped away in an immoral and violent fashion. It is cases such as this that display the vile nature of government takings, and it would be a proud day for our country should men one day become wise enough to decide that the use of eminent domain should be discarded completely.

Lew Rockwell: http://www.lewrockwell.com

Bart Frazier is program director at The Future of Freedom Foundation: bfrazier@fff.org

Decades-long effort ends: LaPorte IN Herald-Argus, 1/4/07

City finally acquires through eminent domain land critical to development of NewPorte Landing

By Daniel Przybyla

The city of LaPorte has finally obtained nearly 30 acres of land critical to the development of NewPorte Landing.

On Wednesday, Mayor Leigh Morris called the city’s acquisition of the land through eminent domain “the single most important development” in the creation of NewPorte Landing because of its location in the center of the 150-acre redevelopment area north of downtown. It’s the largest piece of land within NewPorte Landing designated for retail development.

“This a very significant step toward the implementation of NewPorte Landing. It’s key to putting the overall retail development together,” he said.

It’s still unclear what retail stores might locate on the acreage that includes the 28-acre former Erincraft Manufacturing facility and the 1.4-acre former Allis-Chalmers powerhouse. Demolition ordered by the Verma family, former owner of both properties, continues on the Erincraft building, but has yet to begin on the powerhouse, where asbestos still has to be removed.

The city has received $400,000 in grant money for additional testing and cleanup of the properties. Additional cleanup, which could cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, would then begin in late spring and finish by fall.

Former LaPorte Circuit Judge Robert Gilmore gave the OK for the city of LaPorte to take ownership of the land in a court order issued Dec. 20. The court’s action marked the end of years of legal battles between the city and the Verma family.

“It’s been a major problem to deal with,” City Attorney Art Roule said.

Roule has been involved in the city’s efforts to acquire the powerhouse and Erincraft facility since the late 1990s, when he represented the city under the Carl Krentz administration. Although those efforts, as well as continuing efforts during the subsequent administration of Kathy Chroback, bore no fruit, Roule got his chance again to go after the land under Morris’ administration.

The Verma family has been consistently difficult to contact, both by the city and The LaPorte County Herald-Argus, because many of its members live in India.

Three court-appointed appraisals of the two properties challenged by the Verma family concluded that the land has no market value. But two city-appointed appraisals found the Erincraft property had an average market value of $75,000, and the powerhouse an average market value of $2,500.

How much the city will have to pay to acquire the land remains to be seen. A jury trial in LaPorte Circuit Court will decide that at some point.

In the meantime, Morris is gearing up for the buildings to come down and retail development to move forward.

“If we want residential development north of Truesdell Avenue, we don’t want them to be looking at (the remains of) Erincraft,” he said.

LaPorte IN Herald-Argus: http://heraldargus.com

Belmar councilman seeks eminent domain ban: Asbury Park NJ Press, 1/4/07

Mayor: Mailers sparked fears

By Erik Larsen

An ordinance prohibiting the mayor and Borough Council [of Belmar NJ] from using eminent domain to acquire any owner-occupied home for redevelopment purposes is being proposed by the town's newest councilman.

Matthew J. Doherty, who took office Monday, said he wants to calm fears in town that the governing body has a redevelopment agenda broader than current plans to rebuild much of the commercial downtown from Main Street to 10th Avenue.

Although the borough's redevelopment plans never included homes, Doherty said residents remain fearful that the present or a future administration could expand redevelopment into Belmar's neighborhoods.

While campaigning this past fall, Mayor Kenneth E. Pringle said he and Doherty, his running mate, were surprised at the anxieties expressed over fears that the Borough Council would use eminent domain to take private homes.

"I want people in Belmar to know that no one's house is under threat," Doherty said. "They brought it up to me because it was a concern. We have a decent-sized senior population in town, and many of them own nice, little houses. With all this big redevelopment coming through, the question they had was: "Are you going to take my home?' "

The fears stemmed — apparently in part — from mail 80 to 90 Belmar residents outside the redevelopment zone accidentally received from an area lawyer offering to represent them should they find themselves subject to eminent domain proceedings, Pringle said. The letters should only have been sent to business owners within the redevelopment zone, he said.

No businesses in the redevelopment zone, which extends from the Shark River to 10th Avenue along Main Street, have been targeted by eminent domain, although Pringle has not ruled out using it.

"We have no interest in condemning homes, and although we said it, the residents were nervous about it," Pringle said. "Matt has an idea of doing an ordinance to put it out of bounds. He's already circulating language for it."

Pringle and Doherty said the ordinance would not be extended to commercial properties, because it would eliminate certain tax credits due commercial property owners who sell their lands or businesses in areas legally declared blighted, as in the case of Belmar's redevelopment zone.

Doherty, who was an assistant vice president at a Bank of New York branch in Manasquan, resigned Oct. 31 from his position to start a new brokerage in town called Doherty Mortgage. The firm is located on Main Street in the same building as InfoLoop LLC, a Pringle-owned business, which produces database software for municipalities and political campaigns. The building is not owned by Pringle.

Doherty said he is aware there is a risk of the appearance of a conflict of interest in selling mortgages to future home buyers within the redevelopment zone while he will be empowered as an elected official to vote on residential matters in the zone. He said he will seek a legal opinion from the borough on what he should do.

"I don't want there to be the slightest perception of any conflict," Doherty said.

Doherty said if it were up to him, he would prohibit himself from selling mortgages to anyone who wanted to buy a home in the redevelopment zone. However, state and federal anti-discrimination laws would probably prevent him from doing so, he said.

Doherty also announced Wednesday that he would not draw a salary from his councilman position.

Borough Clerk Margaret D. Plummer said Wednesday that council members are paid $3,500 per year paid out in $134.62 installments every two weeks. As mayor, Pringle is paid $4,800 per year.

Plummer said Doherty has conveyed his intention to the borough not to draw the stipend. However, he must declare his intentions in writing in order for the borough to terminate benefits, she said.

Asbury Park NJ Press: http://www.app.com

Stadium 'squeeze'? Not by us: Minneapolis MN Star-Tribune, 1/6/07

Representatives of a parcel sought for the new Twins stadium object to comments in a recent column, and ask why no one called

By Bruce A. Lambrecht and Richard K. Pogin

We are the fiduciaries who represent the 100-plus small investors who own the site that has been designated for the new Twins ballpark. Sid Hartman's sources for his Dec. 31 column about the site purchase are mistaken.

The column headline, "Stadium site owners put squeeze on Twins," is flatly untrue. We were never contacted by Hartman for our comments. In fact, the Twins have never even picked up the phone to call us about buying our property. Before, and even after, Twins stadium point man Jerry Bell's smear of us in Hartman's column, the Twins had not shown any interest in speaking to us.

As for Hartman's Hennepin County source who says that the county "is trying to negotiate with the owners and not have to condemn it," that source, who speaks of eminent domain as if it were a future possibility the county wants to avoid, is misinformed. In fact, two months ago, on Nov. 3, the county started eminent domain litigation in court.

While we did not choose to be in eminent domain litigation, we accept the county's choice. In such litigation, a court of law will determine what the fair market value of the property is, and we are willing to accept the court's determination.

Is that "greedy" or "stubborn"? This raises a critical question. Are those who smeared us unwilling to pay fair market value for our property?

Unfortunately, in our opinion, the county's eminent domain case has started off badly: The county has hired the same appraisal firm that was used by the city of Minneapolis during the downtown redevelopment-condemnation phase of the 1990s.

We have researched that firm's appraisals in those cases and compared them with the judgments of the court in each of those cases. We learned that in virtually every case, that firm's appraisal was determined by the court to be approximately one-third of the true value of the property taken by condemnation. (Look at its appraisals in the condemnations for the downtown Target store, the 50 S. 6th office building, and the theater at 7th and Hennepin.)

Another flaw in these proceedings is that although the eminent domain law and the Constitution require the payment of fair market value, the county budget for infrastructure and land was fixed by the Legislature in its budget. This budget was based on estimates done at some point in the past by someone who presented them to the Legislature (likely without appraisals and certainly without consultation with the landowners). In short, the county land budget makes no provisions for the fair market value being greater than the estimates. This oversight is regrettable and unfortunate. We hope there is a resolution to the problem, other than casting aspersions on the more than 100 small investors who own the property.

Minneapolis MN Star-Tribune: http://www.startribune.com

Bruce A. Lambrecht and Richard K. Pogin are president and CFO, respectively, of Investment Management Inc.

Pyramid drops eminent domain plans for R&D Park: News 10 Now, Syracuse NY, 1/6/07

By Cait McVey

When business owner Phil Jakes-Johnson first heard plans for a Research and Development Park, he said he was thrilled. After all, who wouldn't want the economic growth that would come along with it?

"I was encouraged when I read about that we were going to have a research park and it was going to be on the land potentially where we had a business. So I thought we might be incorporated in," said Jakes-Johnson.

But the Pyramid Corporation wasn't going to include his business or the 28 others located on the land they wanted to develop. In fact, the Corporation asked OCIDA to use eminent domain to condemn all of them. But Jakes-Johnson said the business owners weren't going to just stand by and watch. They formed the Salina 29.

"We were against eminent domain abuse. And I'll define abuse as taking land or money away from one private citizen and giving it to another by use of the Government's power of eminent domain," said Jakes-Johnson.

The Salina 29 finally got their way. County Executive Nick Pirro announced Pyramid requested its application for the research park be modified to include only publicly-owned lands north of 7th North Street.

"I think that's good news for the future of this project and good news for the Salina 29 businesses and certainly it's time to move ahead," said Pirro.

Business owners like Jakes-Johnson said the fight was never personal. It was just property owners protecting their rights. He said now that eminent domain is out of the picture, he fully supports the Destiny project.

"I will celebrate this decision by the Pyramid Corporation by having dinner tonight at the carousel mall," Jakes-Johnson.

The vote on Pyramid's request is set for next Thursday.

News 10 Now: http://news10now.com