Property rights back on radar: Marysville CA Appeal-Democrat, 3/24/07


The League of California Cities has opposed all meaningful reform in the Capitol to rein in the rampant abuse of eminent domain by its member cities, so mark us down as skeptical that a draft June 2008 statewide initiative that the taxpayer-funded group is pushing will do anything to seriously reform the way cities operate.

The U.S. Supreme Court's June 2005 Kelo decision, upholding the “right” of New London, Conn., to transfer historic homes to a private developer of condos and offices, reminded Americans of the sorry state of property rights. We have long reported on the fact that cities routinely drive small businesses and homeowners off of their property so that the land can be transferred to big developers who promise tax windfalls to government.

While Kelo upheld a sorry state of affairs, it also awakened a nationwide movement to stop the use of eminent domain for private uses. The justices said, forthrightly, that nothing in its decision could stop states and localities from dealing with the problem on their own. Groups such as the league and the California Redevelopment Association have been terrified of the backlash, despite the failure in California of Proposition 90 on last November's ballot. These groups heavily funded the effort to stop the proposed statewide ban on eminent domain for private use and the requirement that government compensate owners when regulations effectively deprive them of their property.

So now the league has submitted to the state Attorney General's Office something of a pre-emptive strike in the ongoing battle, called the Homeowners and Private Property Protection Act. It purports to limit eminent domain, but does so only for owner-occupied homes. Most cities rarely target single-family properties. They focus more on businesses, farmland and rental housing.

The league's proposed initiative is laden with loopholes. According to the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which has proposed a competing measure for the same election, the league's draft initiative doesn't even offer serious restrictions on taking owner-occupied homes because it allows a blanket exception for “zoning” changes, which means that cities would simply rezone properties they covet.

Likely, the league wants to create the impression that reform has taken place without backing substantial reform.

The Jarvis group is pushing what it calls the California Property Owners Protection Act. Unlike Prop 90, it does not offer protections against property value lost to rezoning or other regulations. But the initiative does protect businesses and rental housing, along with owner-occupied properties, from eminent domain for private uses.

The initiative also has a useful abandonment clause. Our sister paper, The Orange County Register, reported on the way Caltrans often has failed to use property it has taken through eminent domain. Although Caltrans uses eminent domain for public uses (i.e., roads and highways), it (and other agencies) would still be required to return the property to the original owner at the price at which it was taken if the property is ever abandoned. The initiative also restricts the ability of government to take property from a private owner and use it for the same use as the owner - i.e., taking an apartment building to use as low-income housing. The Jarvis initiative boosts the number of reasonable costs to which an owner is entitled. These are all good provisions.

The most controversial provision would restrict future rent-control laws.

We would have preferred a straight Kelo-only initiative, although we certainly support any restriction on the ability of government to limit the rents that private owners can charge. This feature could make it more difficult to pass, however. If both initiatives are on the ballot, the one with the highest vote totals would become law. It's still early in the process, but we're pleased that the eminent domain issue will again be addressed despite Prop 90's narrow defeat. Still, voters need to be savvy and distinguish between true reform and phony reform pushed by a group that benefits the most from current abuses.

Marysville CA Appeal-Democrat: http://www.appeal-democrat.com

West vows to fight proposed expansion of eminent domain: Dallas TX Morning News, 3/24/07

S. Dallas residents blast effort to give cities more power to seize property

By Paul Meyer

[Texas] State Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, pledged Friday evening to fight possible legislation expanding government power to take private property after impassioned criticism from hundreds of South Dallas residents who stand to be affected.

A town hall meeting with state Sen. Royce West (right) drew hundreds of South Dallas residents Friday to the Juanita Craft Recreation Center. Residents were largely critical of a plan to give the city more authority to seize property in blighted areas. Officials with the Dallas-based Foundation for Community Empowerment have been lobbying Texas lawmakers to broaden the government's ability to acquire private land through eminent domain. They want to give cities the authority to take over property in large areas deemed blighted and pass it to private developers for commercial and residential projects.

The foundation's proposal was specifically prompted by redevelopment plans for the Frazier Courts neighborhood of South Dallas, a 1,100-acre area plagued by poverty and unemployment.

But on Friday, about 300 community members appeared largely critical of the project and an accompanying legislative proposal, speaking out during a community meeting at a local recreation center gymnasium. The criticism, tinged with memories of historical neglect and families displaced by previous government property seizures, climaxed when state Rep. Terri Hodge, D-Dallas, spoke out.

"Which one of you has the nerve to be sponsoring an eminent domain bill in my district," Ms. Hodge said, addressing Mr. West and others. "Every one of my colleagues in the House has told me they're not sponsoring this legislation."

Prospects in Austin remain uncertain. Numerous bills addressing eminent domain were filed this session, but many would further restrict the practice.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that cities can use eminent domain for private development to generate tax revenue. The ruling prompted a national backlash, as state legislatures moved to guard against land grabs. Texas legislators approved a law restricting the use of eminent domain for private economic development.

Though that law says eminent domain can be used in blighted areas, it is unclear when that would apply, said Larry Casto, the chief lobbyist for the city of Dallas.

After Friday's debate, Mr. West said it's clear the vast majority of Frazier Courts residents are against the proposal as it stands now.

"It's real clear to me there's more education that needs to be done," he said.

The issue, however, is likely far from dead, said Antong Lucky, a board member of Frazier Revitalization Inc. The group is an arm of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, which is spearheading the plans for Frazier Courts.

"I think it goes back to having discussions with the community," Mr. Lucky said of the next step. "I doubt that it kills the legislation."

Mr. Lucky said that without the new redevelopment tools, the big winners are the slumlords and drug dealers.

And some at Friday's meeting said they can still be persuaded.

Larry Jefferson, pastor of Faith Memorial church, said he was leaning toward supporting the plans if there was a mandatory investment back into the community and other assurances for affordable housing and minority-owned businesses. Without those guarantees, he said, dangers loom.

"You start separate and unequal all over again," he said. "The people who are across the street in the housing projects can't afford a cup of the Starbucks coffee."

Dallas TX Morning News: http://www.dallasnews.com

Eminent domain bill clears hurdle: Stamford CT Advocate, 3/24/07

By Brian Lockhart

Local legislative bodies would be assigned more responsibility in seizing private property and providing additional compensation to owners under a bill passed unanimously yesterday by the [Connecticut] legislature's Planning and Development Committee.

"This bill does include a lot," state Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford, a committee member, said afterward.

But the Democrat majority voted down a Republican amendment that would have prohibited the taking of nonblighted owner-occupied homes of four or fewer units for private economic development.

The bill would require municipal redevelopment agencies to prove owner-occupied properties, including businesses, within a redevelopment plan were "deteriorating" and could not be "feasibility integrated" into a project before acquiring them.

"I think the closing of the door 100 percent is something people get concerned about," Fox said.

He added that Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell did not call for restrictions on residential seizures in the eminent domain reforms she proposed earlier this year.

But Fox said a separate bill that establishes further limits on using eminent domain to seize housing could still have some life. The measure was being reviewed yesterday by the Judiciary Committee.

Fox also is a member of the Judiciary Committee. The legislation approved yesterday by the Planning and Development Committee will be forwarded to the Judiciary Committee, then to the full Senate and House.

Despite rejection of their amendment, the planning committee's Republican members embraced the main eminent domain bill.

"It's a vast improvement over what we currently have," said state Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Somers.

State Rep. John Ryan, R-Darien, also voted for the bill.

The proposal would require public benefits of a redevelopment project that do not include increases in local tax revenues and that outweigh private benefits.

The bill specifies that municipalities could not seize property without a two-thirds vote of a municipal legislative body. Residential owners and owner-occupied businesses would be paid 125 percent of fair market value.

Businesses also would have an opportunity to receive additional money for "lost good will," defined as "the benefits that accrue to a business unique to its location."

Any properties seized through eminent domain would have to be acquired within five years of a redevelopment plan's approval. The bill permits the redevelopment agency to approve a single five-year extension.

Eminent domain reform became a priority nationwide after controversial court rulings in 2004 and 2005 by the Connecticut Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court, respectively, supporting New London's right to seize private homes for economic development.

"It's clear the courts were saying to us, 'Legislators, please do something here,' " Ryan told planning committee colleagues yesterday. "I think this is a long step in that direction."

Much of the Planning and Development Committee's bill is based on legislation its co-chairmen worked out in the 2006 session with their counterparts on the Judiciary Committee, including state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford.

The proposal Rell submitted earlier this year also mirrored last year's proposals.

While the Planning Committee was voting yesterday, the Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a pair of limited eminent domain reforms.

One proposal dealt solely with restricting the use of eminent domain to acquire nonblighted residential properties of four or fewer units for economic development - the same goal of the GOP amendment that failed before the Planning Committee.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, testified that the legislature should specify that homes cannot be taken, even if the planned redevelopment also has public benefits.

"We have to draw the line somewhere," Cafero told the committee. He added the legislation would force cities and developers to work harder in planning redevelopment projects and not count on using eminent domain to get private residences out of the way.

McDonald asked Cafero whether he would include buildings with commercial space on the first floor and apartments on the second in the prohibition.

Cafero said his interest is in protecting "exclusively residential" property.

The second bill reviewed yesterday by the Judiciary Committee would allow property owners or their heirs who lost buildings and land to eminent domain the first option of repurchasing it if the properties had been dormant for 15 years. They would be charged no more than the amount their family was paid when the property was seized.

The bill received bipartisan support from Cafero and state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia. Both legislators have incomplete Department of Transportation projects in their districts that involved property seizures.

For Cafero it is the Super 7 highway to Danbury; and for Prague the abandoned project is a Route 6 expressway.

But Prague said one concern about the legislation is how to choose "should five, six, seven or eight people who say they are heirs come forward."

State Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold, testified that 15 years is too long for some property owners to wait to buy back their land.

"Allowing 15 years to elapse is an unreasonable amount of time," he told the Judiciary Committee. "Fifteen years rewards incompetent bureaucrats."

Committee member William Tong, D-Stamford, questioned the fairness of allowing the original property owners to repurchase their land for the original price.

"Over time, property can appreciate in value," Tong said. "Is there a possibility for an unreasonable windfall for a homeowner reclaiming their property?"

But Cafero said that someone whose land was seized several years earlier had been denied the ability to benefit from that appreciation.

He said it is only fair they are not charged more for any appreciation in value.

He said people who lost land to Route 7 "drive by and look at what was and still could have been their house. They've seen the appreciation, especially in the Fairfield County area, that would have been theirs but was not."

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

Eminent complain: Concerns raised over possible conflicts for Sen. McDonald: Stamford CT Advocate, 3/23/07

By Brian Lockhart

Nancy Esposito's sheet metal business is located in a Norwalk neighborhood targeted for redevelopment. She had hoped the General Assembly would reform the state's eminent domain laws last year.

Then she learned state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, is an attorney for Pullman & Comley LLC.

Not only does the law firm handle development work and eminent domain cases, but McDonald is defending Stamford from property owners seeking more compensation for the land they lost in 2005 to the Urban Transitway road project.

More recently, Pullman & Comley was hired as the financing counsel to developer Stanley Seligson. Seligson is the city of Norwalk's partner in revitalizing the West Avenue neighborhood - where Esposito's business is located.

With the Judiciary Committee revisiting eminent domain reform in hearings scheduled for today, Esposito does not believe McDonald will pursue significant changes because it could affect his employer and job.

"We can't look to him for any support on this issue," she said.

But McDonald said the criticism is off-base, arguing that he has no conflict of interest.

State law prohibits public officials from taking action on matters that have a direct monetary impact on themselves or their employers.

Although McDonald has sought opinions from state ethics staff before, he said he has not obtained an opinion about his work on eminent domain legislation and on eminent domain cases for Pullman & Comley.

"We represent citizens on all sides of the (eminent domain) issue, so it wouldn't have any bearing on our firm's practice in any material way," he said.

He notes that although Stamford is one client, a colleague recently defended Our Lady of Fatima Roman Catholic Church in Wilton against the state, which seized some of the church's land to widen Route 7.

"The work I do on eminent domain is 3 (percent) to 5 percent of what I do. The rest of it is complex commercial litigation," McDonald said. "And I don't do any litigation relating to economic development eminent domain. The only work I have done in the last five years is . . . dealing with public use" such as the Urban Transitway.

Rather than being a conflict of interest, McDonald said his legal background benefits the Judiciary Committee's work.

"I have an understanding of the process. This is a complicated area of the law," he said. "(Is it) better to have somebody with no understanding of the process weigh in on the solutions?"

Many legislators are grappling with concerns about conflicts between their political and professional lives.

In the face of criticism, House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, announced last week he would no longer seek contributions from lobbyists for his private employer, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.

House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, in recent years has come under fire for obtaining state dollars for his hometown aquarium. The aquarium's lobbyists are a subsidiary of Brown Rudnick, a law firm in which Cafero is a partner.

In coming weeks, the Government Administration and Elections Committee will conduct hearings on a constitutional amendment to make the legislature a full-time body so members do not have to hold a regular job.

That committee's chairman, state Rep. Christopher Caruso, D-Bridgeport, said he does not know enough about McDonald's work for Pullman & Comley to comment on whether it poses an ethical issue.

But Caruso believes McDonald approaches eminent domain reform from the perspective of a legislator elected to represent a big city.

"You clamp down too hard on eminent domain, it deprives cities of their ability to have development, which in turn affects the tax revenue for the town," Caruso said.

McDonald has said he believes there is a place for eminent domain in the revitalization of cities such as Stamford. Before running for state office in 2002, McDonald ran Stamford's municipal law department and was part of the unsuccessful effort to condemn Curley's Diner for a redevelopment project.

But state Rep. Richard Ferrari, R-East Granby, who has co-sponsored his own eminent domain bills, said McDonald should consider recusing himself from the debate.

"You know how sensitive we are to ethics. Everybody should be walking on eggs," Ferrari said. "I would think it would make a lot of sense for him to stand aside, simply to avoid the criticism."

McDonald said the eminent domain legislation he helped craft last year with members of the Planning and Development Committee made significant changes to the state laws, including: prohibiting redevelopment plans and property seizures solely to increase local tax revenues; requiring the municipal legislative body to approve individual property seizures by a two-thirds vote; setting a five-year expiration date for that approval; and boosting benefits paid to property owners and tenants forced to relocate.

The bill, seen by McDonald as a compromise between the extremes of outlawing eminent domain and doing nothing, never made it to a vote in the final days of the 2006 session. But many of the proposals are featured in legislation proposed this session by Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

"I couldn't have done more," he said.

But some remain skeptical of McDonald's ability to be objective.

"The bottom line, I think, boils down to 'Is there an appearance of impropriety?' " said attorney Scott Sawyer.

Sawyer represented New London homeowners who sought to prevent that city from taking their properties for a waterfront project that included condominiums, a hotel and office space. The so-called Kelo case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, whose 2005 ruling in favor of New London caused the furor over eminent domain that led legislative leaders in Connecticut and states throughout the country to re-examining how governments can take private property.

Sawyer said he was unaware of McDonald's background and work for Pullman & Comley when he testified in favor of eminent domain reform before the Judiciary Committee last session. But he recalled being frustrated with what he viewed were McDonald's arguments favoring eminent domain for economic development purposes.

"He may or may not be helping a client. I don't know. I truly don't," Sawyer said. "But it's the type of thing you'd hope . . . a senator . . . would step away from that."

Charles Willinger, a Bridgeport attorney who defended Chevrolet dealer Maritime Motors against Norwalk's effort to seize its property for redevelopment, argued that McDonald's work for Stamford could predispose him to favor cities in the eminent domain argument.

"The last thing Norwalk or Stamford wants is to do away with is eminent domain," Willinger said.

State Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, said he would prefer that McDonald take a stronger stand against seizing private residences for economic development. But he does not believe McDonald has a conflict of interest.

"It may be what he does professionally informs his position on issues," McKinney said. "That's the whole essence of a citizen legislature. We wouldn't want a farmer to be prohibited from voting on farming or agricultural issues."

Former state Rep. John Wayne Fox who defended Curley's Diner in its fight against Stamford, agreed. The Stamford Democrat said McDonald can address the topic of eminent domain as a legislator as long it does not benefit a specific Pullman & Comley case.

But he suggested McDonald consider seeking an opinion from the Office of State Ethics.

"It provides you with a safety net in the event anyone comes looking to criticize you," Fox said.

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

Rep. Giles introduces eminent domain bill: Belfast ME Village Soup, 3/23/07

By Beth Staples

[Maine state] Rep. Jayne Crosby Giles presented a bill Wednesday, March 21, to assure that businesses taken under eminent domain procedures will be paid based on their value as a “going concern.”

She gave a formal presentation of her bill, LD 960, to the Legislature’s Judiciary Committee, which is scheduled to conduct a work session March 27 on the bill.

“Eminent domain is not taken lightly by the governing body and is done only when essential for public infrastructure needs,” said Rep. Giles, a first-term Republican legislator from Belfast, where she has been a community banker for nearly 30 years. “However, current law compensates the business owner only for the loss of the real estate and some relocation expenses.”

Rep. Giles said the inspiration for her bill came from the case of the Sail Inn restaurant, a family-owned, 55-year-old landmark in Prospect that was taken under eminent domain in 2003 due to construction of the new Penobscot Narrows Bridge. The state offered $225,000 for the restaurant and five acres of land that included deep-water frontage. The owner’s appraiser valued the property at $1.6 million to $1.8 million.

“Through the eminent domain process, the business owner has lost more than just the real estate,” Rep. Giles said. “They may have lost the one thing most important to their business success. This critical ingredient may be described in three words: location, location, location.

“LD 960 will not correct the loss of the business location,” she said. “However, the bill will provide a fairer compensation to the business owner by giving full value to the business, not just the real estate. A Going Concern Value will be used to determine this value by using state-approved commercial appraisers qualified to make such an assessment.”

The legislation has thus far attracted five cosponsors, including Rep. Mike Thibodeau, another Waldo County first-year Republican legislator whose district includes Brooks, Jackson, Monroe, Swanville, Waldo and Winterport, where he resides.

LD 960 goes by the full name “An Act to Base Value in Eminent Domain Taking of Businesses on Going Concern Value.” It would establish an independent, impartial board of experts skilled at determining the fair market value of business property. The board would be empowered to make awards of just compensation in highway condemnations. It further would assure that business owners would be guaranteed “a prompt, efficient and inexpensive method of determination of just value and prompt payment.”

The bill pertains to eminent domain takings by the Maine Department of Transportation or a municipality. The value of the business would be determined by a process requiring both the owner and the governmental authority to each select a licensed appraiser. If they agree, the additional compensation must be added to the compensation offer. If they disagree but are within 10 percent of each other, the average appraisal would be used. If the disagreement exceeds 10 percent, the owner may ask the State Claims Commission to apply the same analysis when the owner appeals the offer.

Rep. Giles said a successful business possesses an intangible value known as “goodwill,” which should be factored into an appraisal. “The business owner is being forced to give up both a location and a livelihood,” she told the Judiciary Committee. “The business provides a source of income. Through the loss of the business location, the business owner has lost the income-producing potential from that location for 10, 20, 30 years or more. The governing body in an eminent domain proceeding has literally taken a lifetime of earnings from a business owner.”

Belfast ME Village Soup: http://waldo.villagesoup.com

Ariz. seeks new check on eminent domain: Business Week, 3/22/07

By Paul Davenport

Union Pacific Railroad's expansion projects across southern Arizona are drawing complaints, prompting a state Senate panel to call for new state regulatory oversight of use of eminent domain by railroads.

The Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee voted 6-0 Wednesday for a previously unrelated bill that the panel rewrote to require that railroads obtain approval from the state Corporation Commission to use existing eminent-domain authority to compel sales of land.

Under the bill, the commission would consider whether a railroad has chosen alternative routes and considered economic and environmental factors.

The committee acted after hearing testimony from a Union Pacific representative defending the railroad and critics who said some of its plans posed threats to farmers and other interests.

Union Pacific "has been an extremely bad actor in this," said Sen. Chuck Gray, R-Mesa. "They have basically used their own force and might ... and picked on the little guy."

Omaha, Neb.-based Union Pacific has several projects either under way or in planning stages in Arizona. Along with double-tracking the Sunset Route main line from El Paso, Texas, to Los Angeles, the railroad plans to build a new switching yard near Picacho.

Both would increase capacity to allow the railroad to run more trains and haul additional cargo, said Chris Peterson, Union Pacific director of government relations. "We have to build the railroad," he said.

Union Pacific also is exploring a possible project to build a new rail line to serve a proposed new Pacific Ocean port in Baja California. As contemplated by Union Pacific, the new line would connect with the Sunset Route near Yuma.

A cotton farmer now leasing state land at the Picacho site and property owners in that area object to the proposed location of the rail yard, including that it'd be on top of Central Arizona Project groundwater recharge site, while Yuma-area farmers say their operations and their crops could be damaged economically and environmentally by the line to Mexico and exhaust from trains running on it.

While critics said UP was secretive in its dealings in the Yuma area, Peterson said key aspects of the Mexican port project had yet to be decided, including UP's involvement.

"We haven't selected a route, and because a single route hasn't been selected," Peterson said. "It's been difficult to know exactly which property owners may be impacted."

The new state regulatory oversight process required under the bill could conflict with federal law and would create "a very subjective process that will serve as an impediment to the railroad being able to add to its capacity," Peterson said.

Paul Muthart, general manager of a Yuma-area produce company, said property owners need some form of protection from railroads' ability to use eminent domain.

"All we're seeking in this amendment is to get an equal-sized gorilla," he said.

Members of the Senate committee said they consider the railroad is an important cog in Arizona's economy but that they couldn't ignore the complaints and concerns.

"They're not going to go away," said Sen. Robert Blendu, R-Litchfield Park.

A separate bill (HB2713) to require public hearings on railroad right-of-way acquisitions was endorsed by a House committee in February but has stalled since.

Business Week: http://www.businessweek.com

Allendale town house foes want town to weigh eminent domain: NorthJersey.com, Hackensack NJ, 3/22/07

By Allison Pries

Residents are hoping to enlist the help of the mayor and council to preserve farmland that is slated for town houses.

They are circulating a petition that asks the governing body to negotiate with the owners of the 3-acre property at West Orchard Street and Franklin Turnpike.

If a compromise cannot be reached with owners Ramon and Patricia Alvarez, Councilman Jim Strauch said eminent domain should be pursued to preserve the land. Calls to Mayor Vince Barra and Borough Administrator Les Shenkler were not returned Wednesday.

Last month the Planning Board approved a 24-unit town house complex for the site after the Federal Emergency Management Agency agreed to move a flood line several feet.

The property was once part of a 5½-acre estate that was divided among three siblings 32 years ago. The land in question was used to grow wheat, hay and corn for horses the family kept.

Residents have been fighting the proposed development, dubbed Orchard Commons, for four years, saying it's too dense and would be an eyesore because the back yards of some units would face Franklin Turnpike.

The land has been appraised at $3.5 million.

"That number wouldn't fly," said Joseph Perconti, a lawyer who represents the Alvarezes. He said the couple would want "closer to $6 million."

Depending on price and the closing time, "we would certainly entertain reasonable offers," Perconti said.

Strauch, a member of the open space committee who is leading the charge to preserve the land, said paying $4 million would be reasonable.

"I think we'd lose a lot of supporters at $5 million," he said, adding that the property is already appraised higher than most in town because it is zoned for affordable housing.

The condemnation threat is because there is concern the owner will reject every offer, Strauch said.

"I don't think anybody wants to go that route," he said. "In this case it's the lesser of two evils - 24 units on 3 acres or eminent domain."

NorthJersey.com, Hackensack NJ: http://www.northjersey.com

Eminent-domain bill waits: Richmond VA Times Dispatch, 3/22/07

Kaine still pondering proposal to limit property condemnation for use in economic development

By Greg Edwards

Virginia property-rights advocates hope Gov. Timothy M. Kaine doesn't undo in the next few days what they have spent years trying to accomplish.

Kaine must act by midnight Monday on legislation ground out in this year's General Assembly session that restricts government use of condemnation power.

Kevin Hall, Kaine's press secretary, said the governor probably will be pressing against Monday's deadline before he moves.

"That's one of the more complicated [bills] that we're sorting through the policy implications," Hall said. "The governor is still pondering it."

Kaine can sign, veto or offer amendments to the legislation. The General Assembly would then get a chance to override a veto or approve or vote down any amendments. If he takes no action, the bill will become law.

A key part of the legislation that is particularly offensive to local governments and housing authorities concerns blighted properties.

It is much tougher to prove property is blighted under the legislation, said Mark Flynn of the Virginia Municipal League. "We are very much hoping that some changes will be made to make the blight definition more workable."

As passed, however, the legislation fulfills a goal that property-rights boosters have long sought, particularly since the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London. In that Connecticut case, the high court ruled the U.S. Constitution allows the taking of private property for economic development, but the justices said states could restrict condemnation powers.

The Virginia legislation makes it clear that private property should not be taken by government and given to another private owner primarily for economic development. Economic development often becomes a goal in cases of blight removal.

The legislation would prevent property from being taken to deal with blight unless the property, itself, is blighted. It defines blighted property as that which endangers the public health and safety and is vacant and a public nuisance or is beyond repair or unfit for human use.

Vacant property such as the building that burned recently on Richmond's Broad Street could not be condemned, Flynn said, because it doesn't meet all elements of the blight definition.

Property that is well-kept but in a blighted area could not be condemned for redevelopment under the legislation.

"The blight language in the bill that went to the governor was overly restrictive," said Phyllis Errico, general counsel of the Virginia Association of Counties. Localities tried to work with lawmakers to balance property rights with localities' powers, but found no compromise on blight, she said.

Kaine's affinity with local government because of his former role as Richmond's mayor worries property-rights supporters.

If Kaine amends the bill to weaken the blight provision, he will "set the bill way, way back," said Chesterfield County property-rights booster Brenda Stewart.

Nancy McCord, a Montgomery County resident and president of the Virginia Property Rights Coalition, said localities can redevelop areas without using condemnation, as has been proved in Anaheim, Calif., and Seattle.

State Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, the bill's Senate sponsor, said the governor is unlikely to veto the legislation, which is important to the areas of the state that supported him.

Significant Kaine amendments would be hard to get through the assembly, particularly in the House of Delegates, where support for the measure was greater, Cuccinelli said.

Richmond VA Times Dispatch: http://www.timesdispatch.com

Library land bid is rebuffed - Eminent domain fears prompt committee to reject Ulmer plan: Park Slope NY Courier, 3/22/07

By Michèle De Meglio

It’s round two in the battle for the Ulmer Park Branch Library.

After holding a public hearing last month about the Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) desire to purchase the land occupied by the local library, Community Board 13’s Housing, Zoning and Land Use Committee weighed in on the matter.

The committee voted to reject BPL’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application, which, if approved, would give the city the green light to negotiate with the owner of the 2602 Bath Avenue lot, the Parisi family.

The committee rejected the application because members worried that the city would use eminent domain laws to acquire the property and not give the Parisi family a fair deal.

Joanne Parisi-Colacino was glad the committee ruled in her family’s favor.

“I’m hoping they continue to listen,” she said, “because it’s just not fair. It’s going over the line of what eminent domain is supposed to be for.”

Steven Schechter, director of government and community affairs for BPL, has acknowledged that eminent domain could be used – but only if negotiations with the Parisi family fail.

He’s explained that the shaky relationship between BPL and the Parisi family has led library officials to take steps to purchase the property.

Although the two parties have coexisted peacefully since 1963, when the library opened on the Bath Avenue property, trouble began last year when the Parisi family wanted to increase BPL’s rent.

The family asked for $19 per square foot, up from the $15 per square foot price BPL is currently paying.

After BPL officials balked at the figure, the Parisi family served the library with eviction papers.

That led BPL to file the ULURP application.

Library officials say it’s more cost-effective for the city to own the lot where the library sits rather than pay rent.

Schechter said, “City purchase of this leased facility will allow BPL to expand services not only at Ulmer Park Library but also throughout our system by spending what we would pay in rent instead on much-needed library resources. As an example, one year’s rent would buy 10,000 more books, 225 new PCs, and allow us to make needed improvements to our buildings.”

The Housing, Zoning and Land Use Committee rejected the ULURP application by a vote of 8-1.

The only dissenting member was Brian Gotlieb, Community Board 13’s former chairman.

He said he supported the application because “the ULURP simply allows the city, on behalf of the library, to go forward in negotiations with the family to arrive on a price. If they’re unable to arrive on a price, then they’re able to go through the judicial process.”

The full community board will vote on the ULURP application at the board’s March 28 meeting.

Even if the board rejects BPL’s request, the ULURP application still has legs.

It will proceed to the city Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) for consideration.

Park Slope NY Courier: http://www.courierlife.net

Bill targets military’s use of eminent domain: Trinidad CO Times Independent, 3/20/07

By Paula Murphy

[Colorado] State lawmakers are scheduled to hear about a bill March 23 that would bar the use of eminent domain for military purposes such as the expansion of the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.

House Bill 1069 was approved in committee and will be heard in front of the full House at 10 a.m. at the State Capitol.

State Rep. Wes McKinley introduced the bill that would bar the use of eminent domain in the Army’s proposal to expand the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site (PCMS) northeast of Trinidad.

The Army wants to expand the PCMS on Fort Carson from its current 235,368 acres, potentially adding 418,577 acres. The expansion would require the acquisition of many private ranches and other properties.

McKinley’s bill would revise a piece of legislation dating back to 1910. The bill would withdraw permission given by the State of Colorado to the federal government to use eminent domain for military purposes.

Governments most commonly use the power of eminent domain when the acquisition of real property is necessary for the completion of public projects such as roads, military installations or public buildings. Some states require that before resorting to the use of eminent domain, the condemning body must make an offer of purchase to the owner.

More than 30 people testified March 6 before the House Committee on State Veterans and Military Affairs. Among those testifying were Las Animas County Commissioner Jim Montoya, who told the committee members of the Army’s past broken promises on economic benefits during the first Piñon Canyon acquisition and of the failure of the federal government to fully fund Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILT), which were supposed to offset lost tax revenue to the county as a result of federal government land, which is exempt from property tax, existing within the county.

Lon Robertson, spokesman for the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition (PCEOC) said, “The bill is constitutionally sound. Some have raised questions as to whether it will in fact stop the Pentagon from taking up to one quarter of the state if they deem it ‘in the interest of national security.’ It probably won’t stop that kind of assault on Colorado in and of itself, but it will make a huge statement when our Colorado lawmakers demand to know more and require the Pentagon to secure their approvals first.

“Last week’s approval of the bill by the Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, we believe shows how strong our legislators feel about their desire and responsibility to protect the citizens in Colorado and that they include southeastern Colorado in that effort.”

Fort Carson’s Lt. Colonel David Johnson said he believes “Rep. McKinley wants what we want, willing sellers.”

He said Fort Carson wants to make every attempt to get public comment before any decision is made. Johnson said he is “confident that the state’s leadership will render a decision that is best for Coloradoans.”

U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar sent a letter to Assistant Secretary of the Army Keith Eastin that contained a list of criteria that Salazar said would be a win-win situation for both the Army and the landowners in southeast Colorado.

The concepts Salazar included in his letter to Eastin:
  • Create an economic development fund that will sustain growth and new investments in southeastern Colorado.
  • Allow grazing to continue on the PCMS.
  • Lease land from private landowners so that ranchers can continue to own and graze their lands.
  • Use goods and services from the communities of southeast Colorado.
  • Minimize any tax impacts on citizens who choose to sell their land to the Army.
  • Allow public access to cultural and historic sites at the PCMS.

Salazar’s letter also asks that the Army not use eminent domain, and protect the cultural, agricultural, natural and environmental heritage of the region. He also suggested the Army “thoroughly consider alternate acquisition sites and smaller acreage levels for expansion” and to make available the plan for public scrutiny, discussion and comment.

Trinidad CO Times Independent: http://www.stpns.net

Gov. Huntsman Signs New Eminent Domain Law: KUTV-2, Salt Lake City UT, 3/20/07

[Utah] Gov. Jon Huntsman signed a law Tuesday that eases restrictions on communities that want to acquire land for private development.

House Bill 365 allows a public body, a redevelopment authority, to condemn blighted land if 80 percent of owners in the targeted area agree.

The bill also requires a two-thirds vote of a community’s redevelopment board to approve the condemnation.

It is a significant change in a state that had a moratorium on the use of eminent domain for private development.

“I still believe the power of eminent domain should not be used for private development. There are some circumstances, however, where there may be a justification,” Sen. Curt Bramble, R-Provo, said last week.

Huntsman’s deputy chief of staff, Mike Mower, did not return a call seeking comment on why the governor decided to sign the law.

The law could allow Ogden to push ahead with plans to condemn land for a Wal-Mart.

It was Ogden’s efforts to attract Wal-Mart by using eminent domain that drew the wrath of lawmakers in 2005, when a moratorium was put in place.

Bramble has said lawmakers could revisit the new law if Utah cities “abuse” it.

KUTV-2, Salt Lake City UT: http://kutv.com

Acrimonious debate erupts over eminent domain idea: El Paso TX Times, 3/21/07

By Tammy Fonce-Olivas

An attempt by Mayor John Cook to bridge the rift between the city and some local business owners over the use of eminent domain to revitalize Downtown failed at Tuesday's City Council meeting after his proposal sparked a heated debate.

Cook proposed an ordinance that would have defined the city's use of eminent domain as it relates to the Downtown redevelopment plan.

The mayor said he used a similar Austin ordinance as a model because Stuart Blaugrund, the lawyer for Land Grab Opponents of El Paso, recently recommended to the council that El Paso be as progressive as Austin.

But the proposed ordinance did not include Austin's definition of the word "blighted," nor did it include another definition for "blighted" as it pertains to dealing with run-down property in Downtown. The omission led to a passionate debate among council members and the public.

Jerry Rosenbaum, who heads the Land Grab Opponents of El Paso, one of several groups opposing the city's Downtown redevelopment plan, referred to the proposed ordinance as a "smoke screen." He said it would not have protected the interests of Downtown property owners because it failed to define "blighted."

"They seem willing to take non-blighted properties," Rosenbaum said.

Assistant City Attorney Sylvia Firth told the council that Austin's definition of "blighted" was not included in the mayor's proposed ordinance because state legislators are revising the definition and Austin's definition is "troubling to us."

The council ended up voting 7-0 to delete the proposed ordinance from the agenda and to revisit the issue this summer after the Texas Legislature defines "blighted." Southwest city Rep. Beto O'Rourke abstained from the vote and the discussion.

Though Cook proposed the ordinance, he wasn't the council member at the center of the heated debate.

Eastridge/Mid-Valley city Rep. Steve Ortega was accused by Northeast city Rep. Melina Castro, East-Valley city Rep. Eddie Holguin and three citizens who regularly attend the council meetings of acting unprofessionally because during the discussion of the proposed ordinance he asked Rosenbaum several questions - including whether any illegal activity, such as the selling of stolen items, occurs at a Downtown swap meet Rosenbaum owns.

Before Rosenbaum could answer, Castro told Ortega that if he wanted to talk about illegal activity, he should focus on the "illegal activity" occurring on the 10th floor of City Hall, which contains the offices of the mayor and council members. Castro did not elaborate on the alleged illegal activity, but she said it was linked to "special-interest" groups. Responding to Castro, Ortega told her to call the FBI to report the alleged illegal activity.

After the meeting, Ortega said he wasn't out of line during the discussion. He said he was "passionate" because he wanted to see the community move forward.

Before the vote was taken, Cook told the council that though he proposed the ordinance in good faith, he was OK with deleting it from the agenda if the council also deleted Castro's proposed ordinance on the same issue. Her ordinance is expected to be discussed at next week's council meeting.

Castro's proposed ordinance would include a definition for "blighted" that was recommended by the Land Grab Opponents of El Paso.

Rosenbaum said the definition is based on one taken from the Institute for Justice, a national nonprofit libertarian public-interest law firm.

West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd said she would not consider Castro's proposed ordinance because she didn't want the opponents of the Downtown redevelopment plan to define "blighted."

"They shouldn't be defining blight, because they caused blight," Byrd said.

Rosenbaum said Byrd shouldn't accuse opponents of the Downtown plan of causing blight when the council can't even decide what blight is without help from state legislators.

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

Eminent domain plaintiff in Port Chester case detained by relative's illness: White Plains NY Journal News, 3/21/07

By Timothy O'Connor

William Brody has waited seven years for his day in court against the Village of Port Chester.

His case challenging the village's seizure of his land as part of a redevelopment plan started Monday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, but it remains unclear when Brody will actually be in court to testify.

Brody was unable to attend court for a second day as he attended to a gravely ill relative, his lawyers said. Brody's lawyers from the American Institute of Justice had to wrap up yesterday's testimony without being able to put on two of its witnesses - Brody and his former lawyer, Charles McGroddy. Glitches prevented McGroddy from being patched in to testify by video-conference from Washington.

So in an unusual development, the defendant in the nonjury trial, the village, has finished its case before the plaintiff, Brody.

Judge Harold Baer yesterday said he wanted Brody on the stand by March 30 because his calendar is crowded next month.

"I'm sympathetic to his plight, but I'm not going to let this stay open," he said.

Brody's lawyer, Dana Berliner, said she would talk to Brody and the doctor treating his relative to see when Brody could testify.

Brody has already won a judgment against the village in state court, where a Supreme Court justice recently awarded him $1 million plus interest as well as $200,000 in attorney fees.

"This is virtually unprecedented because in New York each side pays their own attorney fees," said Joshua Grauer, Brody's lawyer in the state case. "Port Chester now owes Mr. Brody $1.2 million with interest accruing daily."

Brody's federal case hinges on whether the village gave him actual notice in 1999 of its intent to seize his property. Brody said he was blindsided when he found out about it in 2000 and had run out of time to challenge the decision. The village says Brody was aware about the process and even had a conversation with one of the project developers about the village's decision soon after the village placed a legal ad in The Journal News in July 1999.

Because of Brody's case, the state changed the eminent domain law in 2004 to require municipalities to notify landowners by certified mail or personal delivery if they decide to seize land.

Michael Zarin, the attorney hired by Port Chester in 1997 to work on the project, testified yesterday about a public hearing a month before the village announced its decision. He said he never broached the topic of how property owners could challenge the village's determination to seize land. He said he thought landowners knew about the process, that the village had 90 days from that hearing to reach a determination and then property owners had 30 days to challenge it.

White Plains NY Journal News: http://www.thejournalnews.com

Spring Valley estimates it will pay about $450,000 to settle eminent domain suits: White Plains NY Journal News, 3/21/07

By Christina Jeng

The village [of Spring Valley NY] estimates it will spend $450,000 to settle lawsuits on property it acquired through eminent domain.

Seven property owners are claiming the village did not pay fair-market value for the properties, all on Main Street. In most cases, they are asking for a little less than double what the village paid, Village Attorney Bruce Levine said.

"They have every right to challenge it," he said of the owners. "The issue is, of course, what the right value is.

"Some of the owners believe the value should be very considerably higher," he said.

In all, Spring Valley has spent $2.9 million to acquire property. The parcels being litigated are between Grove Street and Lawler Boulevard on Main Street.

Levine said the parcels were purchased as part of Spring Valley's urban renewal plans. The village wants affordable family and senior housing built there. The goal is to bring people into the downtown area, which would spur economic development and, ultimately, urban renewal.

The lawsuits will be litigated in the next six to 12 months, Levine said.

Spring Valley Mayor George Darden said the lawsuits did not come as a surprise.

"When you do eminent domain, people are always going to say it's worth more," he said. "Now that we're taking it, it's the most expensive property as if it were in Hollywood."

In 2005, the village paid a range of $110,000 to $460,000 to acquire the properties. Former owners now say they want about $230,000 to $900,000.

In some cases, Levine said, the owners claimed the properties were comparable to Suffern places and prices.

"That's not a good comparison," Levine said. "Spring Valley certainly is and was a blighted community. That's why we're doing urban renewal."

Ronel LeCorps was the owner of 78 N. Main St., a two-story building in which he operated his accounting firm. He also rented space to a computer school, he said.

LeCorps said in 2005 that he was not willing to sell the property for what the village had paid. Still, Spring Valley acquired the property through eminent domain for $110,000. LeCorps is asking for $230,000.

"My lawyer is still fighting for me to get a reasonable price," he said. "They took it. I wasn't willing to sell."

White Plains NY Journal News: http://www.thejournalnews.com

Poll - Limit Ability To Seize Property Using Eminent Domain: WXIX FOX-TV19, Cincinnati OH, 3/21/07

A poll released today says Ohio voters overwhelmingly favor making it tougher for the government to force the sale of private property under eminent domain laws.

The poll conducted by Quinnipiac University found that 78 percent of those surveyed wanted limits on the government's ability to seize private property for development.

The poll also found that Ohio voters opposed forcing the sale of land for economic development 82 percent to 14 percent.

The survey of 1,122 Ohio voters had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The poll was conducted as the Legislature considers a ballot issue that would prohibit governments from claiming land solely to increase revenues.

WXIX FOX-TV19, Cincinnati OH: http://www.fox19.com

A Roundabout Way to Eminent Domain? Ft Collins CO Weekly, 3/20/07

Libertarian Mark Brophy says traffic signals at Harmony and Shields would amount to “theft” of his property

By Greg Campbell

It’s a Libertarian’s worst nightmare—government drawing up plans that require taking some of your property.

That’s what outspoken Fort Collins Libertarian Mark Brophy faces in the current debate over whether a traffic roundabout or a more traditional—but more robust—use of traffic lights is most appropriate for the intersection of Harmony Road and Shields Street. Brophy owns the property at the southwest corner of that intersection and he faces losing property to the city in either case, either through a voluntary sale or the use of eminent domain.

But — like the city staff, which analyzed a number of pros and cons for both options to present to City Council — Brophy prefers the roundabout. Although it will be the largest traffic roundabout in Northern Colorado, it will require less space to build than additional lanes for traffic lights, meaning less of his property will go to the government. Perhaps more importantly for him, it will preserve the existing access to his property; it’s likely that a signalized intersection will require his driveway be relocated farther west along Harmony Road, making left turns coming and going considerably more difficult.

The problem is that even though the roundabout looks better on paper, public sentiment is quite vocally against it … and City Council seems to be listening to those who would prefer a typical signaled intersection.

“‘On paper’ is the key phrase there,” says Dean Klingner, the engineering department’s project manager. “At the end, what we’re talking about is what is the right way to introduce bigger roundabouts into the city. There’s a learning curve and they’re going to take some getting used to. The advantages on paper are weighted against a smart way to introduce roundabouts to Fort Collins over time.”

But for a devoted Libertarian like Brophy — who’s made a name for himself locally by championing private rights — choosing traffic signals over the roundabout would be ignoring matters like increased safety and efficiency in favor of pleasing a vocal mob; to him, this is tyranny of the masses in action.

“What upsets me is that the City Council is bowing to the demands of the mob,” he says from Mexico, where he is on vacation. “Basically, I think that you don’t have rights if they can be taken away by a mob. All seven of the City Council members know that a roundabout is better than a signalized intersection for this intersection … but they’re going to vote for a signal.”

And if they do, he says he’s going to try to make them pay, not only for the value of the property that they would require from him, but also for the inconvenience a widened and improved signaled intersection would cause him. Brophy says he would like the city to pay him $300,000 in addition to the property settlement, mainly because he would have to relocate access on his property from Harmony Road.

“The $300,000 does not include any land,” he says. “That’s merely for the loss of access.”

From a purely objective point of view, a roundabout seems the logical answer to dealing with traffic at one of the city’s busiest intersections. A presentation to City Council in February shows that the only advantage traffic signals have over the roundabout is that the intersection would be easier to navigate for bicycles and motorcycles. The roundabout is expected to reduce congestion and wait times at the intersection — which currently sees about 38,000 cars pass through it each day — and cause fewer accidents because it will reduce the speeds. Because cars won’t be idling at red lights, it will also reduce emissions. Better yet, it will cost nearly a million dollars less than traffic lights because it will have a smaller footprint.

And for Brophy, that’s no small point.

“It’s likely that if the roundabout gets built I lose some of my property,” he says. “But most of it could be put on Front Range Community College land (on the southeast corner) and it wouldn’t need to take very much land from any private person.”

A signaled intersection, on the other hand, will result in more delays, more accidents and more emissions from idling cars than a roundabout, according to the pros and cons presented to City Council. It will also take up more space as engineers have designed double turn lanes and bike lanes to handle what is estimated to be a daily traffic volume of 50,000 cars by 2026.

Despite its higher price tag and larger footprint, most citizens who’ve weighed in on the plan prefer signals.

For them, a large roundabout poses a number of problems. One is fear that drivers won’t know how to use them, and another is that it would be far more difficult and dangerous for pedestrians to cross the street even though staff’s assessment is that safety for pedestrians would improve as a result of slower vehicle speeds through the roundabout. As noted in a recent letter to the editor of the Coloradoan, the intersection is within walking distance of a number of schools, a college and a public library. The northwest corner of the intersection will likely be home to a grocery store and other businesses in the future that will attract foot and bike traffic from the surrounding neighborhoods. In its work session presentation to City Council, staff acknowledged that the roundabout’s practical benefits might not be enough to overcome the public outcry.

“Based on comments that we’ve received to date, the public generally opposes a roundabout at this location,” according to the analysis given to City Council to consider. “Although staff believes that a roundabout will work well in this location, staff also perceives that this may be ‘too much too soon’ and the traveling public many not be ready for a roundabout at this time.”

Brophy’s fear is that council will agree with the “traveling public” and vote in favor of stoplights, costing him more of his precious property and the possibility that his property values will decline due to the impaired access. For him, public sentiment shouldn’t be a factor when someone’s private property is in jeopardy and there is a less impactful alternative.

According to the law, the city will be required to compensate Brophy and other landowners for the property they take for the project.

“Eminent domain is the very last resort for us,” Klingner says. “We’ll go through great lengths to negotiate an agreement. There’s a lot of protections built in … but the most basic of that is the concept that we would pay fair market value.”

Fair market value is determined by before-and-after appraisals of the property to figure out how the project affected the value. If the signaled intersection decreases Brophy’s property value, the city will pay appropriately, Klingner says, adding that the city wouldn’t be likely to entertain an “arbitrary” fee like $300,000 in addition to the assessed value.

“We would try to stay away from anything but a professional determination of what the actual value of this property will be,” he says. “If there’s a real impact on the value of his property that would be taken into account as part of the appraisal process.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, Brophy takes a dim view of these proceedings and disagrees with Klingner that he’ll get a fair shake out of the deal.

“Eminent domain is their first resort and they don’t care about property owners,” he says. “They point a gun at your head and then you ‘volunteer’ to give them your land. Eminent domain is the gun. … I have to agree on a price with them before they steal it from me.”

Brophy says he can appeal the assessed value to a quasi-jury composed of landowners, and that he can make his case for additional compensation over impaired access to a judge if he’s not satisfied with the city’s offer.

If eminent domain were used to take his land, “a judge would be the one who would decide if this is a public use,” he says. “We’re not having eminent domain for a public use. What we have here is a theft. If the public use is met by a roundabout and it causes less damage to my property, then I don’t think a mob should be stealing my property from me.”

Klingner emphasizes that a decision hasn’t been made about the future of the intersection. Currently, the city is hosting a variety of open houses so that citizens can learn more about each project and give their input.

“At the end of the day, it’s a taxpayer-funded project and it’s built for the people of Fort Collins and they have a lot of say in that,” he says.

And while he understands Brophy’s arguments and concerns, he says it’s important to realize that a property’s value has a lot to do with where it’s located — the value of Brophy’s property, he says, would be quite different if it were located in a city “where there were no organized efforts to improve the streets.”

“The value of that property is very tied to the fact that it’s in the city of Fort Collins,” he says. “There’s a high quality of life here in Fort Collins. I see the debate, but sometimes what gets overlooked (is that) the overall value to everyone’s property is having a competent, well-organized government.”

Ft Collins CO Weekly: http://www.fortcollinsweekly.com

Why build skate park where it’s not wanted: West Milford CT Messenger, 3/20/07

Letter to the editor

By Jim Geist

There has been much talk about the Highlands Act and eminent domain. The Fifth Amendment in the Constitution gives us the right to own and use private property and is a keystone of the capitalist system. As with other freedoms, the right is not absolute.

Under eminent domain, private property may be taken when it is for the greater public good. For example, the land might be needed to build a freeway, school or in our case, protecting our water for future generations. The Fifth Amendment guarantees that property owners will receive just compensation for giving up their land.

In 2001 grant money was given for Mount Laurel Park to rehabilitate the tennis and basketball courts. In September of 2006, James Rauth and I walked around (as Terry Duffy, James Warden and Bob Nolan did the year before) and listened to 30 residents. Of the 30 home we visited, 26 were against the skate board park, two were indifferent to the idea and two homes supported it.

I find it ironic that our Republican Council majority are against eminent domain when it comes to the Highlands Act, but are content to force a skateboard park on a majority who oppose it. The West Milford Council should move the skateboard park to Bubbling Springs Park or to the Jungle Habitat property.

West Milford CT Messenger: http://www.strausnews.com