Leader of push for change in eminent domain resigns: Dallas TX Morning News, 3/30/07

Official with nonprofit was criticized for legislative proposal

By Scott Goldstein

A lead official with the nonprofit that is lobbying for controversial legislation to allow the use of eminent domain for private development in South Dallas resigned this week.

Nat Tate, president and chief executive officer of Frazier Revitalization Inc., the development arm of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, was the public face of the push for eminent domain in the Frazier Courts neighborhood in recent weeks.

The plan was met with staunch criticism from community leaders who said they feared that eminent domain would be misused to displace longtime residents.

But the resignation also follows criticism from some who said Mr. Tate and his organization failed to include the broader community in discussions about their proposal.

Mr. Tate and his boss, FCE founder and chairman J. McDonald "Don" Williams, vowed until recently to continue their push for legalizing the use of eminent domain in objectively defined "blighted" areas for residential and commercial redevelopment.

Mr. Tate and Mr. Williams, former chief executive of Trammell Crow, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday evening.

Victoria Loe Hicks, senior writer for FCE, said she was unaware of a reason for Mr. Tate's resignation.

"I could only speculate that he didn't want to continue working on the project," Ms. Hicks said.

The Foundation for Community Empowerment had hoped to broaden eminent domain powers in the Legislature. The organization was pushing for changes in law that would allow a municipality to designate a wide area as blighted based on objective criteria, including the male unemployment rate, crime rate, property value and percent of unfit and undeveloped parcels.

After public hearings and in accordance with a City Council-approved development plan, the local government could initiate eminent domain in the designated blighted area to acquire commercial property, vacant and abandoned lots, rental property and multifamily units. Eminent domain, however, could not be used to acquire single-family, owner-occupied residences.

Mr. Tate defended the plan to sometimes raucous crowds at two town hall meetings on the topic, including one hosted by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, a week ago.

Mr. Tate continued to defend the Frazier Courts project as a way to clean up the community while protecting homeowners' rights. He gave no hint of any intention to resign during his public comments at that March 23 meeting.

"I ask the one question: Are you satisfied with what you have now, and do you want to see change?" he asked the hundreds of residents who attended.

But after the proposed changes met with community resistance, project supporters had vowed to go back into the community to better frame the issues at stake.

"I think it goes back to having discussions with the community," said Antong "Kiddo" Lucky, an ex-gang member who sits on the Frazier Revitalization Board.

Frazier Revitalization Incorporated Board members received official notice of Mr. Tate's resignation Thursday.

Though legislation probably would have applied to broader areas of the state, the proposal was prompted by the organization's development plans for the Frazier Courts neighborhood of South Dallas. The area comprises over 1,100 acres, roughly bounded by Scyene Road, Fitzhugh Avenue, South Haskell Road and Parkdale Lake.

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

Wither Willets Point redevelopment: Queens Courier, Bayside NY, 3/29/07

By Pete Davis

For nearly 75 years three generations of the Bono family have been waking up every morning to go to work at their sawdust supply store on 127th Place in Corona, a few short blocks from Shea Stadium. Back in 1933, Jacob Bono scouted locations for the store and custom-built Bono Sawdust Supply Co. Inc. on the Corona Street because of its strategic location and easy access to the highways.

Now, the current owners, Jacob’s son Jack and grandson Jake are gearing up for a fight to save their property from a takeover by the city.

Bono Sawdust Supply Co. Inc. is one of more than 200 businesses located in the Willets Point corridor, commonly referred to as The Iron Triangle, which the city wants to acquire so it can begin a massive, private development project at the 75-acre site.

At a recent town hall meeting organized by City Councilmember Hiram Monserrate, representatives from the city’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) presented their vision for the site as a mixed-use facility complete with affordable housing, office space, a first class hotel, convention center, school and open space for the community to enjoy.

However, business owners, local representatives and EDC officials acknowledged that this is only the beginning of a long public approval process that is bound to have bumps in the road along the way.

The Willets Point area, which is home to approximately 250 businesses with nearly 225 in the auto-related industry, encompasses the area east of 126th Street right across from the new Citi Field, north of Roosevelt Avenue and south of Northern Boulevard going up against the Van Wyck Expressway on the East.

One of the biggest factors at the site concerns environmental problems. There is no sewer system, rampant illegal dumping, open petroleum spills and poor infrastructure.

“When you look at the spectrum of its history literally starting off as an ash dump, it could end up to be a national model for environmental stewardship and responsibility,” Bill Walsh, Vice President, Real Estate Development for EDC said.

However, some community members at the meeting criticized EDC officials for only recently taking an interest in the poor environmental conditions in the area now that they are looking to develop the region.

“Anything down here that comes along with them saying it is blight or a destroyed neighborhood is due to neglect from the city,” said Jake Bono. “The city caused all of this.”

Currently, the city is working on an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which will be available to the public that would describe and analyze the effects a development would have on the environment.

When Mayor Michael Bloomberg took office in 2002, he began looking at the Flushing area as a prime spot for redevelopment and looked at development in the area in a three-step process: Reconnect downtown, revitalize the waterfront and redevelop Willets Point.

Two years later, the city formed an advisory committee, chaired by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall, to explore the development of Willets Point. They issued a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI) for the area, and in 2006, they issued a targeted Request For Proposals (RFP).

In the targeted RFPs, developers submitted plans that included more than 1 million square feet of retail and entertainment space, 500,000 square feet of office space, 5,500 units of mixed-income housing as well as community and public space that would make Willets Point a regional tourist destination.

“Hopefully, by creating this new destination at Willets Point, we can not only keep them [tourists] in Willets Point, but get them out in the surrounding communities in Flushing, Corona and Elmhurst,” Walsh said.

Currently, the city is in the process of reviewing eight proposals from prominent development groups for the site as well as soliciting input for the community before it goes back to the developers with more specific requests.

The new development would have tremendous economic impact creating nearly 20,000 construction jobs, 6,000 new permanent jobs and more than $1.5 billion in additional tax revenue for the city over the next 30 years, according to EDC officials.

City Councilmember John Liu, who represents the Flushing area near the proposed development site, said that while the development would generate billions of dollars in tax revenues for the city, which is EDC’s job, he wanted to make sure that the community’s input into the project was heard.

“For our community it’s not just about tax revenues,” Liu said. “It’s about making sure that we have the jobs, making sure affordable housing is part of the equation, more school seats for youngsters.”

During the town hall meeting, EDC officials announced that within the next few months they would be rolling out their comprehensive Business Assistance and Workforce Development Plan to all businesses that lie within the proposed area.

“It’s very important for us to work with these businesses as we move forward,” Walsh stressed.

The expected plan will set up a ‘one-stop shop’ for businesses and workers who have questions about what is happening in the Willets Point area as well as provide individual relocation assistance, financial and technical assistance to all parties in the area.

However, those plans did not satisfy some Willets Point business owners at the meeting including Jake Bono, who told EDC officials repeatedly that he was not interested in selling his land to the city and relocating his business.

“This is not about money,” Bono said. “This is about not being strong-armed out of something that is supposed to be protected by the Constitution and an abuse of eminent domain.”

That is where the eminent domain debate comes into play. There has been conjecture that if existing businesses do not reach an agreement to sell their property to the city, it would entertain the use of eminent domain.

According to New York State law, eminent domain is used to give due regard to the need to acquire property for public use as well as the legitimate interests of private property owners, local communities and the quality of the environment.

“Eminent domain is not a pleasant process that the government likes, nor certainly do those that are subject to the use of eminent domain,” Walsh said.

If the city could not reach an agreement with all the property owners to acquire their land, they would need to receive approval from the City Council to grant them the power to use eminent domain - something that Monserrate said is not a guarantee.

“I clearly am not a fan of eminent domain,” he said. “I have a lot of very grave concerns in particular when government enacts these policies that take away people’s property by compelling them to do so.”

Queens Courier, Bayside NY: http://www.queenscourier.com

Eminent domain hold-outs give up: Cincinnati OH Enquirer, 3/30/07

By Steve Kemme

Joy and Carl Gamble Jr. have reluctantly decided to give up plans to move back into the home that they spent three years fighting to save from demolition in the landmark Norwood eminent domain battle.

Because of serious health concerns, the Gambles have agreed to sell their house in Norwood to the Rookwood Partners for $650,000 – $370,000 more than the value a jury had placed on their property in the early part of the eminent-domain court fight.

Carl Gamble Jr. has been hospitalized since December for cancer and heart and lung problems, said Bert Gall, attorney for the Institute for Justice, a Washington, D.C., civil-liberties law firm that represented the Gambles and two other property owners for free in the successful fight to stop Norwood from taking their properties through eminent domain.

“The main thing that’s kept us going these past couple of years is the thought of moving back into our home,” Joy Gamble said in a statement released by the institute. “Now, however, Carl will never be able to go back there because of his health, and I just can’t go back there without him.”

The Gambles, who lived in their Norwood home for 35 years, were forced to move out two years ago when a Hamilton County judge ruled in Norwood’s favor. They moved to an apartment in Northern Kentucky.

Last July, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled against Norwood and the developer and ordered the properties returned to the Gambles and two other property owners.

The Rookwood Partners had bought and demolished all but those three properties in a 75-parcel piece of land on 11 acres at Edwards and Edmondson roads when the Ohio Supreme Court issued its decision.

The ruling delighted eminent-domain opponents in Ohio and throughout the nation. It forced Ohio legislators to consider making it more difficult for cities to use eminent domain for economic development.

It was the first eminent-domain case to reach a state supreme court since the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in 2005 that supported the right of New London, Conn., to take private property for commercial development. But the court said each state could decide how restrictive to make its eminent-domain laws.

In the Norwood case, the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision prevented Rookwood Partners from building a $125 million office-retail-condo development on 11 acres at Edwards and Edmondson roads. The three structures still standing on the large site – the Gambles’ home, the rental home of Joe Horney and the home that Sanae Ichikawa-Burton and Michael Burton converted into a math and reading learning center – are situated so that the Rookwood Exchange could not be built as planned.

Horney and the Burtons, whose houses have been vacant for more than two years, have indicated in recent months that they’re keeping their options open. But they have not agreed to sell, Gall said.

The Rookwood Partners declined to comment on its purchase of the Gambles’ property.

Norwood Mayor Tom Williams said he hopes Horney and the Burtons sell their properties so that the Rookwood Exchange can be built. That development would generate about $2 million a year for Norwood.

“It’s good news for us,” he said of the Gambles’ decision to sell. “I hope it’s a positive indication of things to come.”

Tim Burke, an attorney for Norwood, said the sale of the Gambles’ property “removes one of the roadblocks to seeing that entire area redeveloped.”

Joy Gamble was unavailable for comment Friday because she was at her husband’s side in a hospital, Gall said.

“This is a very difficult time for her,” Gall said.

“The Gambles are true American heroes,” he said. “They took a courageous stand for homeowners and small business owners. Their lasting legacy will be the Ohio Supreme Court’s decision.”

Cincinnati OH Enquirer: http://news.enquirer.com

Eminent domain raises ire: Norristown PA Times-Herald, 3/30/07

By Carl Rotenberg

Preliminary plans for the proposed, $250 to $300 million, six-lane widening and reconstruction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike's Northeast Extension from the Mid-County to Lansdale exit were presented to several hundred local residents Thursday night at St. Helena School.

Construction on widening the 10.5-mile, four-lane highway, the busiest four-lane section of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, will start in 2008 and be completed in 2014, said Carl DeFebo, a Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission spokesman.

Residents of the Timberfare Circle cul-de-sac in Plymouth loudly objected to the proposed, "total taking" of two homes owned by Yves and Joretha Bourjolly and Anne Marie King on the circle for a required storm-water detention basin.

The commission plans to take nine properties "completely" and 150 to 200 properties "partially" to widen the roadway, said Gerald H. Rollman, commission reconstruction program coordinator.

"We're just going to lose property value with a detention pond on our street," said Dennis McGlinchey of Timberfare Circle. "We're OK with the widening. But we didn't know they were going to take down homes in the middle of our block."

"It's going to be a huge area," said Cynthia Kopaci of Timberfare Circle. "It seems it is dividing the neighborhood. It's just a shame that they can come in and do this."

One man asked if the detention basin could be built on the other side of the turnpike in the Valley Square Corporate Center.

Rollman said the original construction of the N.E. Extension more than 50 years ago did not include storm water management. The commission is required to design storm water management for the existing turnpike and the additional lanes to be built.

The six-lane roadway will have three 12-foot travel lanes northbound and southbound, a 26-foot median and 12-foot shoulders. The widening requires the replacement of seven overhead bridges at Walton Road, DeKalb Pike, Morris Road, Bustard Road, Bethel Road, Kriebel Road and Sumneytown Pike.

Construction of the Bethel and Kriebel Road bridges will require local detours around the bridgework for seven to nine months in the 2008 construction season. The one-year construction of the Walton and DeKalb Pike bridges in 2008 will require no detours.

Ten "mainline" bridges that take the turnpike over local roads will be replaced as reconstruction work on the roadbed and widening occurs from 2011 to 2014, DeFebo said.

Members of WhitpainResidents.org, a nonprofit advocacy group organized to oppose the move of Montgomery Hospital to Whitpain, gathered contact information from residents Thursday night as they arrived at the public open house.

"Our goal is to represent responsible development," said Amy Fruncillo, a WhitpainResidents.org board member. "We want the least amount of land taken and the least intrusive development."

Dave Miller, president of the Whitpain group, wanted the commission to design the detention basins with "the least impact" on the neighborhood.

"We're not sure they looked at all the alternatives," Miller said.

DeFebo said the 10.5-mile turnpike segment, with 24 million vehicles traveling north and southbound in 2006, was the busiest 4-lane section of the turnpike.

"The number of total acquisitions is amazingly low given that it is a 10.5 mile project," DeFebo said.

He said Rollman's estimate of 150 to 200 "partial takings" was made because the construction design had not been finalized yet.

A dedicated informational section of the commission's www.paturnpike.com Web site is expected to be activated this week, DeFebo said.

The proposed location and design of noise walls was questioned by several residents.

"A noise sensitive area (on the design maps) does not mean that a wall will be built there," Rollman said. "It has to meet the 'warranted, reasonable and feasible' rules for construction."

The criteria requires that a noise reduction of five dBA benefit the majority of impacted residences. The cost per residence to receive a three dBA (or greater) noise reduction cannot exceed $50,000. A community consensus is required to build a sound barrier.

"I think after this meeting that no one will be able to sell their homes," said Donna Maines of Whitpain. "Our property values will go down."

These plans will be presented again at an April 10 meeting at Pennbrook Middle School in North Wales from 6 to 9 p.m.

Norristown PA Times-Herald: http://www.timesherald.com

Bill Would Make It Harder To School Districts To Exercise Eminent Domain: KWTX-TV, Waco TX, 3/28/07

Public school districts would be required to study at least three different properties before they can forcibly buy private property to construct new buildings, under a measure tentatively adopted by the Texas House Wednesday.

Such a feasibility study would force school districts to prove to landowners ``that that's the right piece of property,'' for them to build on, said the bill's author, Rep. Phil King, R-Weatherford.

Under King's bill, the study would have to be conducted by a licensed engineer or architect and must include costs and benefits to the district.

The district could study just one site if the district shows that it is the only location suitable.

Supporters say the use of eminent domain in Texas is widespread with few rules to ensure fairness.

Critics argued that the requirement is too burdensome and costly to the school districts, which would probably pass the costs on to taxpayers.

KWTX-TV, Waco TX: http://www.kwtx.com

Uh'ville OKs eminent domain action: New Philadelphia OH Times-Reporter, 3/28/07

Uhrichsville [OH] City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to proceed with an eminent domain action against the owner of a property at 315 S. Water St. after failing to reach an agreement with the owner during an executive session.

Council President Mick Donato said council took action at the special meeting and provided the property owner notification that the city will get an appraisal of the property on Friday. The eminent domain action could be halted if an agreement is reached, he said.

Donato said the house would be razed as part of the S. Water St. project, which is slated to begin in late summer or early fall. The project would eliminate a blind spot for drivers when the road is widened and drainage issues are addressed.

The city will pave S. Water St. to the corporation limit, where it becomes Moravian Trail Rd., Donato said.

New Philadelphia OH Times-Reporter: http://www.timesreporter.com

Lake Zurich can’t use eminent domain to take downtown welding shop: Chicago IL Daily Herald, 3/28/07

By Madhu Krishnamurthy

In a reversal of fortune, Dave and Laura Majkowski may not have to move their welding shop out of downtown Lake Zurich after all.

The couple’s landlord, the village of Lake Zurich, tried to condemn the welder’s lease at 16 W. Main St. under the Tax Increment Financing Act and under provisions in the Illinois Municipal Code. The property figures prominently in the village’s downtown redevelopment plans as a future retail building.

On March 16, a Lake County Circuit Court judge dismissed the village’s eminent domain lawsuit against Comet Welding.

Eminent domain allows governments to seize private property for public use with just compensation based on fair market value.

Judge Raymond McKoski ruled that while the village made a “good faith attempt to agree on the amount of compensation,” it does not have authority to use eminent domain in this case.

The ruling came as a relief to Laura Majkowski, who said Tuesday the couple is open to either staying at the site until the lease expires in 2013 or selling the lease to the village for the desired compensation.

“We’ve lost business because of what the village has already done to us,” she said.

The village has 30 days from the ruling date to appeal. Both parties say they want to settle the matter.

Acting Village President John Tolomei said he is inclined to let the welder stay and back off on the eminent domain fight because he never was a fan of eminent domain.

“I feel we had to use it to jumpstart the downtown,” he said. “It (the Majkowskis’ case) made me rethink seriously if we really need to keep using it.”

Tolomei said the village could design its redevelopment around the Majkowskis’ shop and allow them to stay until the end of the lease.

Village Attorney Mark Burkland said the Majkowskis’ latest demand of more than $500,000 for their lease and other costs is too high.

The village is also liable for the Majkowskis’ attorney’s fees and costs of about $75,000.

A larger question raised by the judge’s ruling is whether it could affect past or future use of eminent domain by the village.

McKoski ruled the village made legal errors when establishing its tax increment financing district.

“You have a detailed statutory scheme to go through to ensure that the property is being taken for a valid public purpose,” said Margaret Borcia, the Majkowskis’ attorney.

The village is now five years into its tax increment financing district, which allows it to capture taxes from increased property values since the district was established in 2002 into a 23-year fund to be used for redevelopment purposes.

The village in its plan said the district funds could be used for other redevelopment areas not within the district.

McKoski ruled the village’s plan should have stated “the incremental revenues would be used exclusively for development of the project area.”

Burkland contends municipalities can use revenues from one redevelopment area for eligible costs in another as long as it is contiguous, or separated only by a roadway or forest preserve. Burkland said McKoski’s ruling will not have a broader effect.

Chicago IL Daily Herald: http://www.dailyherald.com

Protection from eminent domain abuse is coming: WIchita KS Eagle, 3/28/07

By Steven Anderson

Real eminent domain protection is about to come to Kansas.

Home and small-business owners across the state have this year's Legislature to thank for beating back an effort by the beneficiaries of eminent domain abuse.

Last year, Kansas enacted historic reforms that prohibit local governments from taking property by force for private economic development. This problem gained national attention and infamy after the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision in Kelo v. City of New London, Conn.

Kansas was one of more than 30 states that enacted protections against the use of eminent domain for private gain in the aftermath of the dreadful Kelo ruling, though the Kansas law does still allow the Legislature to approve condemnation for economic development, unfortunately.

One important provision of the Kansas property-rights legislation, however, was its effective date: July 1, 2007. So while Kansas was widely known as one of the worst abusers in the country of the power of eminent domain - tellingly called the "despotic power" by the Supreme Court - the commonsense property protections do not begin until this summer.

This legislative session, Senate Bill 296 threatened to take away some property protections by allowing the use of eminent domain for the removal of so-called "blight."

For far too long, local governments have claimed blight removal - or its sibling, urban renewal - as a backdoor method to forcefully transfer property from one private individual to another.

As I told both the Senate judiciary and commerce committees last session, it is a place to tread very carefully, especially in Kansas, whose constitution does not contain a public use clause and whose Supreme Court has ruled that economic development is a proper use of the eminent domain power.

But because the power of eminent domain was abused so often in Kansas, the Legislature joined a number of other states, such as Florida and the Dakotas, to make sure home and small-business owners would not lose their properties for the purpose of removing blight.

To its credit, the Senate Judiciary Committee did not send S.B. 296 to the full chamber, so the threat this year is gone. Soon there will be meaningful and near complete protection against eminent domain abuse for all landowners in Kansas. Beginning in July, all Kansans, regardless of where they live or what they own, will be far more secure.

That does not mean, however, that threats will not arrive again. As they did this year, those who benefit most from the use of eminent domain for private profit - notably land-hungry private developers and tax-hungry government officials - will be back in the Legislature with even further efforts to roll back the protections.

Sadly, entrenched special interests will continue to use their money and power to chip away at eminent domain reforms. This has already occurred in Utah, which passed comprehensive reform in 2005 only to see those protections cheapened in 2007.

To prevent that from happening in Kansas, you will need to remain vigilant. Otherwise, local governments easily may be able to snatch away what is rightfully yours.

WIchita KS Eagle: http://www.kansas.com

Steven Anderson is an attorney at the Institute for Justice, a law firm in Arlington, Va., that litigated the Kelo case: www.ij.org

City Commission takes first step toward using eminent domain in south redevelopment: Kansas State Collegian, Manhattan KS, 3/28/07

By Willow Williamson

The city commission voted unanimously on the first reading of an ordinance to allow the city to use eminent domain to acquire certain properties within the South End Redevelopment Area.

The commissioners agreed that though it was not something they wanted to do, it was necessary for continuing the redevelopment project.

"As an elected official, this is truly a test we are faced with in terms of our commitment to our vision of recreating the downtown area and trying to be fair to everybody and all parties involved," said commissioner Tom Phillips.

Mayor Bruce Snead said he hopes the city will not need to rely on eminent domain.

"I am optimistic that the number of properties will be secured by successful neutral negotiations, and hopefully we don't need to use eminent domain at all," he said. "That will remain our priority, but if necessary, we have to take these steps at this time frame."

Negotiations are ongoing between Dial Realty and the seven property owners who still have not accepted Dial's offers. During any time of the condemnation process, the property owners still can negotiate, according to city staff.

"Of the seven that are left, there are a lot of meetings going on, probably only one or two that have really been less communicative, but we keep chiseling away, and we keep trying and working pretty hard to get it," said Bob Welstead, president of Dial Realty.

Representatives from O'Reilly Auto Parts said they were not so satisfied with Dial's negotiations. Charlie Downs, who spoke on behalf of O'Reilly told commissioners that two years earlier during the first planning of the redevelopment project, they had given Dial three different sites where they would be willingly relocate.

However, he said Dial would not communicate with them during that time, and all but two of the sites were sold to other buyers. Later, he said Dial did offer them a relocation site, but it was not adequate.

"Through this whole thing, folks, money has not been an issue. All we've asked is to be kept whole," Downs said. "Were not asking for blue skies. We just want to have a quality location that our great team can continue the great sells that we've earned in the Manhattan area."

There was a heated discussion after the meeting between Welstead and the representatives from O'Reilly Auto parts. Robert Greene, director of real estate and legal services for O'Reilly Auto Parts, told Welstead that Dial did not do anything for them when Dial had the chance.

"We joined in the hunt three years ago," Greene said of the three properties. "If you want to force us out, have at it."

One of the three sites is still available, and negotiations are in the making to secure it for O'Reilly.

"The sky is the limit, and if need be, we'll pay the limit," Welstead told them.

Kansas State Collegian, Manhattan KS: http://media.www.kstatecollegian.com

Public advocate fights eminent domain misuse: Asbury NJ Park Press, 3/28/07

Officials want to improve their towns, build tax bases, says Chen, but he's opposed to taking people's homes against their will

By Carol Gorga Williams

State Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen took one look at last year's court decision that upheld Long Branch's right to take oceanview homes by eminent domain and knew he had to fight it.

Chen, appearing before the Asbury Park Press editorial board Tuesday, on the first anniversary of the reincarnation of his Cabinet-level office, described the motivation for choosing Long Branch's proposed redevelopment of the second phase of Beachfront North as one of three eminent domain cases in the state he opted to oppose.

"Many mayors — and I can't fault them for this — want their town to be the Emerald City," Chen said. "It is now a concept of increasing ratables and making your town look pretty. All things being equal, I don't think that is what eminent domain should be used for."

The other communities Chen is taking on are Lodi and Paulsboro. In Lodi, the municipality wants to seize 20 acres on Route 46, currently home to a 200-unit trailer park, and convert it into a strip mall and upscale senior housing.

In Paulsboro, the advocate is fighting the borough's decision to designate a 63-acre vacant waterfront parcel "underutilized" so it can give way to a commercial port on the Delaware River. Arguments before the state Supreme Court are scheduled for April 26.

And in Long Branch, Chen also has filed a "friend of the court" brief in support of property owners in the Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue neighborhood where about 20 owners are fighting the city's plan to replace homes and vacant lots with about 185 upscale condominiums.

Mayor Adam Schneider has challenged Chen's fact-checking in deciding in August to support the MTOTSA community without meeting with city officials to review their methodology in declaring the neighborhood "one in need of redevelopment."

Schneider ultimately met with representatives of the advocate's office in December.

He reviewed the evidence
But Chen said Tuesday he does not need to see the city's materials because he reviewed the entire record before Superior Court Judge Lawrence M. Lawson, who issued the June 22 ruling permitting the city to proceed. The place for that evidence is before the court, not in his office, Chen said.

Schneider, contacted after Tuesday's editorial board session, said Chen was being "disingenuous."

"Oh, that's ridiculous," Schneider said of Chen's position. "He called me up a year ago and indicated he wanted to study the issue and understand it thoroughly. He wanted to meet with us. And the next time I heard from him (in August) was when he held a press conference" saying he would oppose the city's plan.

"He did that without reviewing 15 years of work" the city did, Schneider said.

"The fact is he's been intellectually dishonest in his approach to the issue and as it applies to Long Branch," the mayor said.

MTOTSA is appealing Lawson's decision, and briefs, due next month, are being prepared.

"If they are going to make the case, it's not me who needs to examine those documents, it is the court," Chen said after the editorial board meeting. "Every time Mayor Schneider says "I've got all this relevant evidence,' I say, "Why didn't you present it to the court?'

"On the issue of eminent domain, and on Long Branch particularly, I was completely and utterly informed," said Chen, noting Lawson should have permitted MTOTSA a hearing in which evidence could have been presented. Instead, Lawson ruled after listening to oral arguments and examining exhibits.

"Blight" label misused
Chen said the MTOTSA neighborhood is not blighted and criticized what he termed the "drive-by" examination performed by the city that researched whether the 38-parcel community met the definition of blight. (About half the property owners have settled with the city or the developer.)

Chen, who plans this year to issue a follow-up to his landmark May 18 report on eminent domain and its abuses, said he wants definitions for blight tightened, notice to property owners improved, and "just compensation" to include replacement value. In some cases, he added, owners should receive the enhanced value from the anticipated redevelopment project.

While he supports an Assembly bill that addresses some of his concerns, the Senate version is stuck in committee.

"I have not promoted an utter moratorium but obviously there are areas in dire need of reform if this is to survive," said Chen, noting that "expected sources" have opposed the reforms.

Chen has taken on other issues in his first year, advancing measures to help students in special-education programs and on behalf of people with mental illness and developmental disabilities. He also has advocated for voters' rights.

He said he is monitoring the costs of beach fees in coastal communities and is seeking ways to enter beach access issues — a traditional responsibility of the public advocate.

Asbury NJ Park Press: www.app.com

Allred sponsors eminent domain restriction bill: Burlington NC Times-News, 3/28/07

[North Carolina] State Rep. Cary Allred has sponsored a House bill restricting the power of state and federal government to seize private property for anything other than a public purpose.

Allred, who represents Alamance County, was joined by 95 colleagues in sponsoring HB 878. If passed, the General Assembly would place a constitutional amendment on the November ballot.

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local governments can condemn private property and then transfer it to another private owner for economic development.

“If approved by the voters, the constitutional amendment reverses the infamous Kelo decision for North Carolina, permanently forbidding government from taking private property for anything other than a public purpose,” Allred said in a press release.

The eminent domain restrictions measure would bring the state in line with the rest of the nation by requiring a trial by jury in all condemnation cases as a matter of constitutional law.

Burlington NC Times-News: http://www.thetimesnews.com


Lawmakers argue for eminent domain protection: New Haven CT Register, 3/24/07

By Gregory B. Hladky

Connecticut should follow the lead of 30 other states that have already acted to protect private homes from seizure by eminent domain for the purpose of commercial development, lawmakers were told Friday.

The General Assembly’s failure to act on this issue has "been something of a black mark against this legislature," said state House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-Norwalk.

"We as a legislature have failed our citizenry," Cafero said during his testimony before the legislature’s Judiciary Committee, supporting a bill to restrict municipal and state authority to take private property.

Many municipal leaders, including New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., have warned against placing too many restrictions on use of eminent domain. They argue that forbidding the taking of private homes for private development could preclude any real urban redevelopment projects.

The legislature’s Planning and Development Committee Friday also approved a bill providing more protections for property owners, but which falls short of prohibiting taking of private homes in connection with for-profit developments.

State Rep. Joseph Serra, D-Middletown, said there should be some mechanism for state or municipal action when a "small piece of private property stands in the way of a major development."

Cafero said it’s been 640 days since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down the decision in a controversial New London case, ruling that there is no federal prohibition against the use of eminent domain to take private homes to make way for a massive for-profit project.

That decision created nationwide concern about the potential for abuse of eminent domain powers and a series of actions in various state legislatures.

The co-chairman of the judiciary panel, state Rep. Michael P. Lawlor, D-East Haven, said he is "optimistic something is actually going to take place" this year on the issue of eminent domain.

Lawlor said local New London officials fumbled badly in their attempts to acquire private homes to make way for a development project that is scheduled to include a hotel, high-end housing and office space. The planned New London project is adjacent to the Pfizer Inc. complex.

"I can’t imagine they could have handled it any worse," Lawlor said of the efforts of the New London development officials.

State Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, said he would support even broader restrictions on eminent domain than are now being proposed with regard to private residences of four units or less.

"Taking a private business for a private purpose … I think that should be prohibited," Meyer said.

Carl Yacobacci, a businessman from Derby, testified in support of protections for small businesses. He said any eminent domain bill "should include commercial property … so we can be protected."

New Haven CT Register: http://www.nhregister.com

ACC can derail runaway power of Union Pacific: Tucson AZ Citizen, 3/27/07


The Legislature has stepped into Union Pacific Railroad's attempts to run roughshod over Arizona landowners - a needed intervention on the side of those who are virtually powerless against the rail giant.

Union Pacific plans an enormous switching yard directly across Interstate 10 from Picacho Peak, a popular state park that is resplendent with wild- flowers each spring.

The plan has substantial opposition from farmers, landowners, visitors to the park and those who stay at a nearby RV resort.

That meant little to Union Pacific, which planned to ignore critics and use its power of eminent domain to take over state land and build the switching yard.

Now the Legislature has stepped in.

The Senate Natural Resources and Rural Affairs Committee voted unanimously last week to require that railroads receive approval from the Arizona Corporation Commission to use eminent-domain authority to compel the sale of land.

Under HB 2020, the commission would be required to consider whether the railroad had evaluated alternative routes and factored in economic and environmental matters before moving to condemn the land.

That clearly has not been done in the case of the switching yard near Picacho Peak.
While Union Pacific says the 585-acre rail yard would bring 200 jobs from Tucson to Pinal County, there are well-founded fears that its diesel residue will taint desert flora and fauna and infiltrate the aquifer.

The state Parks Board spent $265,000 and bought 10 acres last year to protect views from Picacho Peak. The board has deemed the railroad yard "clearly not compatible with a state landmark park."

The proposed switching yard also would be on top of a Central Arizona Project groundwater recharge site. A large number of standing trains that drip fuel and oil isn't compatible with water recharge.

It is understandable why Union Pacific picked the site. It's already level and lacks washes and riverbeds, making it inexpensive for the railroad to develop.

An independent review by the Arizona Corporation Commission is needed to ensure that any such decision is made on factors in addition to those most favorable to the railroads.

HB 2020 is a reasonable bill that would prevent the powerful, multistate railroads from using the power of eminent domain to cause havoc to people who otherwise would not have the means to fight them.

And it would ensure that factors such as the environment become part of what could easily be a money-only decision.

Tucson AZ Citizen: http://www.tucsoncitizen.com

Eminent domain looms over race: Chicago IL Daily Herald, 4/1/07

Arlington Hts. board incumbents keep quiet

By Sheila Ahern

A stalled special tax district at the south end of town is the one Arlington Heights election story few candidates are talking about — mostly because village attorney Jack Siegel told incumbents not to.

In 2005, the village board approved a plan to build a SuperTarget on the site of International Plaza on the north side of Golf Road just east of Arlington Heights Road. But three lawsuits have held up the plan.

Tenants at the International Plaza are mostly a mix of Chinese, Korean and Russian small-business owners. X-Sport Fitness currently anchors the U-shaped mall.

Assuming the lawsuits come down on the side of Arlington Heights, chances are the next step for the village board may be to condemn and start eminent domain proceedings to clear the area for the retail giant.

To do that, the board would need a majority vote, and depending on who is sitting on the board after the April election, plans for the area could change. A majority takes five votes. Seven candidates are running for four 4-year terms.

“The board would still need to adopt an ordinance to move forward with eminent domain,” Siegel said.

That’s even though village trustees already approved a redevelopment contract in 2005 saying they would use eminent domain if necessary.

The agreement directed developer Gershman Brown and Strategic Real Estate Services to get property owners to sell their land to make room for a 174,000-square-foot SuperTarget and up to 47,300 square feet of other retail shops at the site.

But Gershman wasn’t able to get any property owners to sell and gave up on negotiations in mid-August 2005.

According to the redevelopment agreement, village officials must now complete the job Gershman could not, which means voting in favor of eminent domain, where the government forcibly buys private property and pays the owner what a court determines to be fair market value.

Because of the pending lawsuits, Siegel told sitting board members not to discuss their position on eminent domain. Following Siegel’s advice, incumbents Tom Stengren and Tom Hayes declined to comment directly on the topic.

But while he wouldn’t predict his vote if the issue comes up, Stengren noted the International Plaza has “met almost every criteria set by state statute” to be considered for condemnation. He added “eminent domain is a legal tool which should not be used unless in extreme circumstances. In my years on the board, there has been no abuse of using eminent domain.”

Hayes likewise wouldn’t predict his vote, but said, “Generally, the use of tax increment financing districts has proven to be an effective tool to spur redevelopment in Arlington Heights. Eminent domain should be used on a limited, last-resort basis.”

Incumbent Helen Jensen, who also is running, stopped short of ruling out eminent domain but said she is against it.

“There’s a lot of problems down there, which is why I voted against the formation of the TIF,” Jensen said. “Maybe the board won’t have a choice, but I wouldn’t vote in favor (of eminent domain) unless it was forced on me.”

Candidate Phillip Walter called the use of eminent domain in this case “morally wrong.”

“I don’t think the village should be using it,” Walter said. “If Target wants to pursue that property on their own, that’s fine. If the village needed the land for a hospital or school, that would also be a different story.”

Candidates Laura Bartell and Keith Moens agree with Walter.

“I would not vote to take somebody’s property for a SuperTarget,” Moens said.

Candidate John Scaletta said “in my opinion, eminent domain should only be considered when every other avenue has been exhausted and only when it is clearly in the best interest of the community.”

But he added he was concerned about the redevelopment agreement, which says the village will clear the site and would consider voting in favor of eminent domain in this case.

“I would need to understand the liability of the village,” Scaletta said. “A lot of the facts haven’t been made public, but according to the redevelopment document, the village said they would use eminent domain.”

In October, the village board delayed eminent domain proceedings for about 10 properties, citing the litigation.

The only other trustee to talk publicly about the situation is Virginia Kucera, who is not up for re-election.

“I would vote against it,” she said.

Hayes, 50, and Stengren, 60, both are running for their fifth terms, while Jensen, 69, is running for her third term. The challengers are: Bartell, 44; Moens, 55; Scaletta, 37; and Walter, 40.

Scaletta is the director of operations for the Arlington Theater in downtown Arlington Heights. Hayes is a lawyer, and Bartell is a stay-at-home mom. Jensen is retired and the former village public health nurse. Stengren is a real estate broker, and Walter is a roofing contractor. Moens is a middle school math teacher in the Chicago Public Schools system.

The election is April 17.

Chicago IL Daily Herald: http://www.dailyherald.com

Eminent domain law still possible: The Hanover PA Evening Sun, 4/1/07

By Tim Pratt

Although the Tyrone Township supervisors last month said they are "not leaning toward" an ordinance that would fight eminent domain, the anti-land-taking measure is still a possibility.

Supervisor Margaret Barra said Wednesday she would still like to explore the ordinance before discounting it completely.

Barra said she wants to sit down with township Solicitor Henry Heiser and Tom Linzey of the of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund to further discuss the measure.

"I'm not sold on not using the ordinance," Barra said Wednesday.

The supervisors in December retained Linzey's services to draft the ordinance after Duke Energy said land for a proposed 16,000-horsepower natural-gas compressor station and its adjacent power lines could be seized if property owners don't sell.

Linzey in December said that since Duke Energy is classified as a utility company and makes natural gas available to the public, it has the right to seize the land.

But Supervisor Galen Smith said that, after speaking with Heiser, he doesn't think a corporation like Duke Energy even has the right to seize land.

And a Duke Energy official earlier this year said eminent domain might not even be necessary because the company is close to finalizing deals with landowners.

Still the plan has attracted opposition and the concern of many area residents.

The compressor station is proposed on 40 acres near the intersection of Route 234 and Oxford Road. Duke officials have said a compressor station is needed every 50 to 70 miles in order to boost pressure and deliver natural gas from Texas to numerous sites throughout the Northeast.

Officials said the existing natural-gas pipelines lose pressure because of friction in the pipes and increases in the number of locations at which the pipes are accessed. The nearest compressors are in Chambersburg and Marietta.

The Hanover PA Evening Sun: http://www.eveningsun.com


Owner of former Indian Springs files Chapter 11: Kansas City KS Business Journal, 3/28/07

By Jim Davis

The former Indian Springs Shopping Center's owner on Monday filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Kansas City, Kan.

The owner's agent said the filing was made to delay a proposed demolition of the long-struggling mall by the Unified Government of Wyandotte County/Kansas City, Kan. The Unified Government declared the area blighted in November.

Joe Vaught, president of the Vaught Group, the owner's commercial real estate agent, said the Unified Government isn't entitled to condemn the property.

"We want to protect the property by slowing down the eminent domain clock," Vaught said.

A new law will take effect in Kansas on July 1 that will require governments to get legislative approval before using eminent domain for economic development.

Vaught, a former county commissioner, said he thought this requirement would provide for "a much more fair" review.

Mike Taylor, a Unified Government spokesman, said the bankruptcy filing will complicate the government's purchase efforts but won't stop them.

"We are going to pursue the redevelopment," Taylor said.

The blight designation has disrupted a proposed conversion of the mall into an office park, Vaught said.

The Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services was negotiating to lease space for 300 employees, he said. The 10-year lease would have generated $11 million.

A $7 million lot sale was canceled, Vaught said. The buyer intended to employ 120 people on the 6-acre site, he said.

Indian Springs, now called Park West Business Center, is owned by Kansas City Mall Associates Inc. of Panorama City, Calif. The bankruptcy filing lets the company restructure its debt so it can continue operating.

Kansas City KS Business Journal: http://kansascity.bizjournals.com

Tacoma should approach condemnation cautiously: Tacoma WA News Tribune, 3/26/07

No doubt about it, the hulking eyesores called South Park Plaza and North Park Plaza in downtown Tacoma need to go. They’re ugly, crumbling and an obstacle to downtown revitalization.

That said, the City of Tacoma would do well to resist pulling out all the stops to accomplish the garages’ transformation.

The city, which eventually hopes to overhaul both of these downtown “tombstones,” is moving forward on a plan for South Park Plaza at South 13th Street and Pacific Avenue. The corrugated concrete monstrosity could look a whole lot different by 2009 if the City Council approves a $32.5 million plan to rehab it.

The plan, a public-private partnership with Pacific Plaza, LLC, would give the garage not just a new look, but also add 102 parking stalls to the existing 380 and build 67,000 square feet of office space and 36,000 square feet of retail.

The first step comes next week, when the City Council may consider authorizing city officials to buy the property underneath the garage.

The city owns the parking structure, but not the land, which it sold off after the garage was built more than 30 years ago in a failed bet that parking would be the key to urban renewal. Now the property is divided among five owners, some of whom operate businesses in the cave-like retail space at street level.

The plan calls for the city to reacquire the property and then sell it to Pacific Plaza for the project. Getting the property back is the trick; the city could move to condemn the property if it can’t negotiate sales with the existing owners.

Eminent domain — forcing a private property owner to sell at a fair price — is an important tool for the city to have in its arsenal. Just the threat of its use can bring reluctant sellers to the table and offer them incentives to sell.

But the city would be wise to proceed cautiously. Sometimes, as in the case of highway or other public infrastructure projects, the use of eminent domain cannot be avoided. But when government exercises its condemnation powers to advance private redevelopment of an area, things get sticky.

The national debate sparked by the 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. New London has led many states to put further limits on condemnation actions. Here in Washington, the state constitution forbids the taking of property for private use, but courts have given local governments wide latitude in determining what constitutes a public use.

In Tacoma’s case, the public benefit is tangible. The city would get a fix for a deteriorating building and additional parking fee revenues from an expanded parking garage once Pacific Plaza finishes rehabbing the structure. But there would be private gain as well, since the developer would keep the retail and office space.

The city has used eminent domain in the past to help spur downtown revitalization, but with that rebirth well under way, it’s harder to continue making the case for it. Here’s hoping the last resort won’t be necessary in negotiations with the existing property owners at South Park Plaza.

Tacoma WA News Tribune: http://www.thenewstribune.com

District Moves Toward Eminent Domain Acquisition for Hotel: Washington DC Post, 3/26/07

By Amy Joyce

District officials are proceeding with their plan to acquire a locksmith shop at the corner of Ninth and L streets NW to make way for a convention center hotel, according to D.C. officials and the owner of the shop.

Whit Conway, who leases the space for his Central Safe and Locksmith, said a District appraiser came to his store Wednesday. "It looks like they're moving expeditiously," he said.

Conway, who has been at the location since 1980, said he and the owners of the parcel of land received letters Nov. 30 notifying them of the District's plans. The property is key to completing the acquisition of land needed to build a hotel with about 1,400 rooms at Massachusetts Avenue and Ninth Street NW.

The District had said it hoped to acquire the property by the first quarter but now says its goal is the end of the year. Construction on the hotel is expected to start next year.

Last summer, the District approved the use of eminent domain to acquire the site of the locksmith shop.

Conway, who has eight years left on his lease, won a lawsuit in October requiring that his landlord buy out the lease if the property is sold. Two weeks later, he said, the District said that if it took the land through eminent domain, it could relieve the landlord of any obligation or payment for Conway's lease.

A letter sent to Conway said the appraiser would determine fair market value. After that, the District will make an offer and negotiate with the landlord. If they can't come to an agreement, the District will use eminent domain to acquire the land.

Washington DC Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com

Columbia Eminent Domain in Harlem Condemned by Alumni: Press Release, 3/28/07

Libertarian Party of New York

Columbia University president Lee Bollinger’s plan to use eminent domain to obtain land for a new campus in the Manhattanville section of West Harlem faces new opposition from the Libertarian Party of New York (LPNY) led by Columbia College alumni.

State Chair Richard Cooper, Christopher Garvey and Mark Axinn condemn the University’s resort to the Empire State Development Corporation to condemn property-owners who will not sell voluntarily from West 125th to 133rd Streets between Broadway and 12th Avenue.

The ESDC designated the area as “blighted.” Cooper responds, “Hands off Harlem!”

Cooper notes that he previously fought SUNY-Stony Brook’s eminent domain grab of Flowerfields in St. James. “Eminent domain is a legalized assault on tenants, taxpayers and property-owners. Moses said to Pharaoh, “Let my people go.” The Libertarian Party says to our modern pharaohs, the politicians and ureaucrats, “Let the people stay.” Bollinger cites our beloved Columbia’s educational mission and the infamous Kelo decision. Is it Columbia’s mission to teach that legalized theft is just and constitutional? Is it to teach that the end justifies the means?”

Mark Axinn, a Manhattan real estate attorney and Manhattan LP treasurer, laments “I am particularly appalled that Columbia University, which already has significant real estate and financial resources far in excess of others is desirous of relying on the thuggery of government to force other real estate owners to relinquish their property rather than simply purchasing any land it desires on the open market. Surely an institution with the power and wealth of Columbia could simply buy property. By seeking to usurp others' legitimate property rights by eminent domain, a university of which I should be proud lowers itself to the level of the street bully simply taking what it wants from those weaker individuals who might also be
on the schoolyard.”

Christopher Garvey, a Long Island patent attorney and former LPNY candidate for Governor,is outraged. “On The Brian Lehrer Show (3/8/07), President Bollinger stated his case for expansion into the Manhattanville section of West Harlem. He described the activities of his private university as "public purposes", which justified having the government invoke its powers of eminent domain to steal property from existing owners to give to the University. How arrogant! Declaring one's "purposes" to be "public" is so much easier and cheaper than buying property fairly, from willing sellers on the free market.”

Besides the Columbia University Manhattanville eminent domain, the Libertarians oppose the Brooklyn Nets Arena/Atlantic Yards project. They will hold their State Convention on Saturday, April 28th at the Radisson MacArthur Hotel in Holtsville, New York.

Libertarian Party of New York: http://www.ny.lp.org

Some plan to fight YSU and city: Youngstown OH Vindicator, 4/2/06

By Harold Gwin

Joseph Grenga says there will be a court fight if the city and Youngstown State University try to take his property as part of the Lincoln-Rayen-Wood Development District project.

Grenga, a professional engineer and owner of Grenga Machine & Welding Co. on Wayne Place, bought the former Hood Electric building and property at 128-130 W. Rayen Ave. in 1997.

His company uses the Rayen Avenue building for storage and some assembly work, and it's not for sale, he said, adding that a number of other businesses make use of the property as well.

Grenga said he attended a March 16 public meeting on the development plan and learned that his property is on the list to be acquired for the project. It appears to sit right in the way of a YSU-proposed extension of Hazel Street, which now runs from downtown north only as far as Wood Street.

YSU, as part of its campus master plan (which is tied into the city development project), wants to extend Hazel two blocks farther north to Lincoln Avenue and tie it into campus walkways. The goal is to encourage more foot and vehicular travel between the campus and the downtown business district, university officials have said.

The project would cut his property in half, Grenga said, calling the proposal to extend Hazel Street "worthless."

"There's no foot traffic there," he said, pointing to Elm and Phelps streets, which already parallel the proposed Hazel Street route. There's not much vehicular traffic on those streets either, he said.

No one has approached him about buying his property, he said. He said he bought the site because his facilities on Wayne Avenue are overcrowded.

Although no employees work at the Rayen Avenue location full time, it is visited and some work is done there daily, he said. He wants to do more business at that location but is reluctant to go to the expense of moving heavy machines to the building if he might lose the property.

He noted that he's been offered $350,000 for the property in the past and turned it down.

"I need the property," he said, warning that, should the city try to take it by eminent domain, "There will be a court battle."

Mayor's response Mayor Jay Williams said it is premature to discuss eminent domain when it comes to this area.

The city is awaiting a study of the location and after it is evaluated, a decision will be made about trying to obtain properties there, he said. But several steps have to be taken first: The city planning commission must recommend the proposal, and then city council has to approve it, he said.

"If there are properties we need to acquire, you first negotiate with property owners," Williams said. "If they don't want to sell, we have alternatives."

Among the city's options are adjusting the plan to accommodate property owners who don't want to sell, and as a final option, taking the land through eminent domain, he said.

"By no means is eminent domain the first option," he said. "Most people want to see progress. We're sensitive to the needs of business owners, but we'd all agree that progress is important. We don't use eminent domain as a threat. It's used when necessary as a tool for progress."

Colleen DiVito, owner of University Pizzeria & Italian Eatery at 133 Lincoln Ave., said she was told that the building in which her restaurant is located is also on the taking list for the Hazel Street extension.

She doesn't want to move, noting she started her operation in May 2005 and has a $350,000 investment and 14 employees. She said she is where she needs to be geographically to survive. "I could never relocate this business because I depend on the university [for customers]," she said.

The plan to encourage foot traffic between the campus and downtown won't succeed, DiVito said. Students aren't likely to travel downtown between classes. "It's just really kind of senseless," she said.

Marie LaCivita, owner of Youngstown Plant and Flower Inc. at 150 W. Rayen Ave., said she has been told recently that her floral wholesale company will be spared. "I want it in writing," she said.

"I still oppose the plan as is. A lot of us do," she said, expressing criticism of the proposal to rezone the entire 38-acre area as institutional.

Much of the area is now zoned for business and should stay that way, she said. If the university takes all of the land around her business, she will eventually be limited to selling the property only to the university, LaCivita said.

She said she plans to present her case to the city planning commission when it meets April 18 to vote on the development district project. "I'm for revitalization ... but taking businesses to build a school for business doesn't make sense," she said, referring to YSU's plan to build a new Williamson College of Business Administration building in the block between Rayen Avenue and Wood Street.

The site would be bordered on the east by Phelps Street and on the west by the proposed Hazel Street extension.

Hunter Morrison, director of YSU's Center for Urban & Regional Studies, said recently that the university will need the city's help in securing properties for the project.

He also said that viable businesses in the project area should be allowed to remain and should work with the city to find funds to improve their properties, if improvement is needed.

"We're hopeful that we can get everyone sharing the vision and seeing the benefits," said Dr. David C. Sweet, YSU president.

The university is already talking to a number of property owners to gauge their interest, he said. Not every property owner in the target area objects to the development project.

The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown stands to lose buildings housing its Catholic Charities Housing and Catholic Service Center along Phelps Street to make way for YSU's new business school building.

The diocese is willing to give up that property, said Monsignor Robert Siffrin, diocesan administrator, in hopes that it may be able to acquire some of a vacant car dealership property on Rayen to expand its chancellery offices.

YSU also wants a part of that property for its development plans, Sweet said.
Part of a diocesan parking lot off Wood Street will also be lost for the Hazel Street extension.

It could be a win-win situation for the diocese, Monsignor Siffrin said, adding that the diocese supports the university and the city's efforts to improve the area. Seeing various segments of the community working together is "encouraging," he said.

Earl Calvin, owner of an occupied apartment building in the 200 block of Phelps Street, said he's not sure what will happen at this point. Most of the property owners in the proposed new business school area appear to be willing to work with the university, he said. His property would also be needed for the business school building.

Adam Rutushin, who owns an occupied apartment building at 224 W. Wood St., said he is nearing completion of an extensive remodeling project on his building and isn't sure yet if the city intends to take his property.

"I'm not going to stand in the way of any kind of progress," he said, but he also made it clear that he doesn't want to subsidize this project. "They have to treat the owners of each property fairly," he said. The apartment building is his main source of income. "I want to be cooperative ... but I have a lot invested in this property," said Rutushin, a YSU alumnus.

He questioned the need to rezone the entire area as institutional and said that, should the project development drag on for years, he might not even be able to sell his property in the future. There's just a lot of uncertainty about the whole project, he said. Rutushin said he would accept a fair offer "with some regret" if his property is to be taken and would be reluctant to see the building demolished.

Youngstown OH Vindicator: http://www.vindy.com

A note from one of the affected property owners to Eminent Domain Watch
on April 2 2007 stated the following:
The City of Youngstown told me they wanted to go through my building to appraise the building and land. I was told by the city's representatives that if I didn't let them into the building, they would get a locksmith and have the door opened. I agreed to let two persons in; however, they came with at least six people (I was not present; one of my associates opened the building for them).

Since they went into the building, about three weeks ago, I have not heard from anyone from the city. I have not had any discussion, other than above, with the city or YSU.

Indio land deal wise? Palm Springs CA Desert Sun, 3/25/07

City defends purchase, says revenue covers possible loss

By Xochitl Peña

After spending more than $14.5 million to buy land near the Indio Fashion Mall and transform the area into a hip, outdoor shopping and entertainment center, city officials are poised to abandon their plan and sell the property - even at a loss.

The city used eminent domain and negotiated tirelessly to secure 20 acres of land behind the mall - paying 370 percent more than the appraised value for 11 pieces of property alone since July 2005, a Desert Sun analysis of city records found.

However, unless a deal is reached with the mall's owner, City Manager Glenn Southard is under instructions from the City Council to put the property - about the size of six La Quinta Costco stores - up for sale. The city is working on an appraisal, but Southard estimates the land the city bought for $14.5 million could fetch $10 million to $15 million.

Regardless of what happens in negotiations, Southard said Indio is better off having bought the land and converted it to retail use. And even if the city sells the land at a loss, Southard said the difference could be made up easily through sales, property and hotel taxes.

City officials say improvements to the land behind the mall will jump-start development along the city's Highway 111 corridor - one of several priority areas for the city's retail future.

Southard defends the above-market price purchases. He said the city owed businesses and residents behind the mall compensation for razing a neighborhood, relocating people and, in Al Meza's case, 18 years of property taxes.

"They paid me for all the damage, for all the business I lost. They made me bulldoze. They left me hanging for years," said Meza, who received $1.25 million for his 1-acre property that housed a business. His land was appraised at $450,000.

Southard said the city is making the right moves.

"We're required by law to take into consideration things like relocation expense, goodwill, the pain and suffering of some of the actions," he said.

While Southard thinks it would be great if the two properties could combine for one development, he added, "I don't think there's anything magical about it being together."

But some residents and mall owner and developer Richard Weintraub say the city failed to protect taxpayers' interests.

"I know they paid many, many times too much for (that land). There's no question," Weintraub said.

Weintraub, Southard and two City Council members have met since February to see if their original plan - to build a large lifestyle center along Highway 111 that would rival The River in Rancho Mirage - can come to fruition. In the past, negotiations haven't gone well, but both sides meet Monday with a mediator to see if a deal can be made.

Not only would the city risk losing money, but it could be forced to rethink plans for one cohesive development.

"At this point, it would take close to a miracle to find a way to make this thing a large single project," said City Councilman Mike Wilson, who has served on the City Council for nearly 12 years.

Sore spot
The Indio Fashion Mall is a touchy subject for longtime residents. They remember watching a neighborhood, comprised mostly by African-Americans and Latinos, leveled for what would wind up being a failed mall expansion in the late 1980s.

The city spent $8 million back then to acquire most of the property behind the mall through eminent domain to help then-owner David Miller, the founder of Miller's Outpost clothing, double the mall's size.

Cities are able to use eminent domain to acquire private property for public use. In this case, the city approved the process to help with the expansion of the mall. But Miller's financing for the project fell through

Thus, the city never finished total acquisition, leaving 11 properties behind.

The city renewed efforts to buy those remaining parcels after Weintraub bought the mall in November 2003 and announced elaborate plans to transform it into a lifestyle center, with outdoor shopping, water features and places to dine.

"I thought great things would happen," said Indio resident Robbie Sanford, "and nothing's happened."

Weintraub announced earlier this month that he would submit to the city plans for renovating the mall's interior and exterior within 60 days.

But he says he would still like to create a mixed-use lifestyle center for Indio by combining the mall property - about 20 acres itself - with the 20 acres the city owns behind it.

However, the price the city's considering for that land is too much, he said.

"That is way out of the ballpark of what I think it's worth. Not even marginally close," he said.

The land behind the mall is only worth $2.3 million, according to a 3-year-old appraisal study Weintraub says he has. He has not provided that study to The Desert Sun.

Maggie Montez, senior vice president with Indian Wells commercial brokerage firm CB Richard Ellis, disagrees with Weintraub's assessment. Based on her knowledge of local market trends, she says the price is about right.

"I think it's a good, solid site to take to market. Indio has come a long way in the last decade, and I think Indio has proven itself," she said.

Rudy Herrera, a commercial and home developer with projects in Indio, agreed the asking price is right for a project that would include Highway 111 frontage.

But it would be challenging, he said, for a developer to buy the city's land and work with Weintraub - not from a personal standpoint but as a professional with a different vision.

Southard said other developers are showing interest in the land though.

Selling to another developer is shortchanging residents on what they were promised initially, former City Manager Tom Ramirez said.

Ramirez, who was Indio's city manager when Weintraub bought the mall in 2003, said the intent was always to expand the mall to the south.

"There were never any details. We were working on an agreement when I left," said Ramirez, who resigned in July 2004.

"I'd like to see that mall expand. If it doesn't, then the mall will dry up and won't attract good retail."

Decades of effort
The city's acquisition of the 20 acres behind the Indio Fashion Mall is almost complete, ending where it began in the 1980s - with the use of eminent domain.

Since July 2005, the city has negotiated for the 11 remaining properties behind the mall, spending $6.56 million and paying more than the appraised value for some parcels.

In one extreme case, the city paid 1,228 percent above the appraised value for Mount Zion Church of God in Christ.

City officials say they spared no cost to do right by those residents left in limbo for years.

For Meza, his property was appraised at $450,000. But the city also ended up paying $800,000 for attorney fees, 18 years' worth of property taxes and the cost of making him raze his convenience store and car wash.

Indio is close to clinching the final piece of its 20-acre puzzle.

On Wednesday, City Council unanimously approved condemnation on a 14,450-square-foot vacant parcel because of title issues with its owners. Most are in favor of selling the land.

But because some original owners are deceased, the land can't be sold without court intervention via eminent domain.

Meanwhile, the city continues talks with Weintraub behind closed doors.

Whatever happens, an end is in sight for almost 20 years of uncertainty.

Palm Springs CA Desert Sun: http://thedesertsun.com

A Rockies saga: San Diego CA Union-Tribune, 3/25/07

For years, Neal Blue had plans for his Colo. valley; Telluride used eminent domain to block them, and now has days to secure funds

By Bruce V. Bigelow

First there was the gold, which drew miners by the hundreds to Colorado's San Miguel River Valley in the summer of 1875. Then came the railroad, silver lode discoveries, mining companies, merchants and hotels.

Another century passed, though, before the next boom hit – and that was only after the little mountain town of Telluride reinvented itself in 1972 as an exclusive ski resort. Mix the stunning, alpine scenery with the historic, Victorian-era mining town, and it was obvious that someday, real estate in the vicinity would be worth a fortune.

San Diego's Neal Blue presumably saw that bargain in 1983, when a company he controlled acquired about 880 acres in the valley immediately west of Telluride for a reported $6 million.

Within a few years, Blue's San Miguel Valley Corp. had prepared development plans for the river valley that included a golf course, hotel, condominiums and luxury mountain homes.

But one thing wasn't apparent in the scenic meadow or the steep granite peaks that surround Telluride like a high-altitude cul-de-sac and rival Switzerland for snow-capped beauty.

“What you have in Telluride is a large constituency of people who moved here because they are of the mind that the Earth is imperiled,” said Seth Cagin, publisher of The Telluride Watch, one of two local newspapers. “To them it's important to draw the line and take a stand – and just say no.”

After battling the community for two decades, Blue has never realized the potential of his investment in Telluride real estate. The scion of a prominent Colorado family has made his fortune elsewhere, largely from his successful reign at General Atomics, San Diego's largest privately held government contractor.

But now the 71-year-old industrialist is fighting off a power play by Telluride to take nearly two-thirds of his property.

In a series of ballot measures that began in 2002, the town of 2,339 people has voted to use Telluride's power of eminent domain to acquire 570 acres held by San Miguel Valley Corp. for preservation as open space.

Their efforts to legally condemn the property culminated last month in a court ruling that triggered a countdown for local activists, who are trying to raise about $24 million in private donations to help buy the land.

A spokesman for General Atomics said Blue would not comment on the controversy. But his Denver lawyer, real-estate specialist Thomas J. Ragonetti, says the community's bid to condemn private property has infuriated the conservative-minded Blue.

“The owner is very, very angry at the notion that he should have property expropriated by Telluride that is outside the borders of Telluride, that is bigger than the town of Telluride itself, and that is to be used for their own private playground,” Ragonetti said.

Eminent domain laws grant local governments the power to seize property for a public benefit, such as roads, parks and libraries. But local governments have stirred controversy in recent years by their creative use of eminent domain.

In 2005, for example, the U.S. Supreme Court ignited a firestorm by upholding moves by New London, Conn., to take private property so a developer could build a hotel and offices to complement a new Pfizer research facility.

In Telluride, environmental activists maintain that seizing private property for open-space conservation is a tried-and-true use of eminent domain.

The activists contend that the 570-acre parcel, along the south side of the highway leading into town, represents a unique landscape that frames the approach to Telluride and defines the town itself. The San Miguel River runs through the grassy meadows, shimmering aspens and piles of mine tailings.

Acting on a petition submitted by local activists, the National Trust for Historic Preservation named the Telluride Valley Floor in 2001 as one of America's 11 most-endangered historic places.

“It's more like entering a national park than entering a ski resort,” said Joan May, a longtime environmental activist who serves on the San Miguel County Board of Commissioners.

“I don't think anybody looks at it as a playground,” May said in response to Ragonetti's comment. “I think we look at it as preserving a really environmentally sensitive piece of land.”

Yet publisher Cagin, who has been critical of the way the dispute has played out, contends an air of elitism and high-minded utopianism permeates the preservationists' camp.

He said the community “snatched defeat from the jaws of victory” in 2006 by rejecting a compromise that would have preserved more than 500 acres of the parcel through a conservation easement, while allowing construction of some luxury homes and a commercial shopping area.

The Feb. 14 vote, which was 603 to 439, sent a Valentine's Day message from the community to Blue by directing city officials to proceed with the condemnation.

The five-year dispute reached a high point six weeks ago in a courtroom in Delta, a blue-collar community near Grand Junction, Colo., where a trial determined the fair market valuation for the 570-acre parcel.

Telluride had appraised the land at $26 million, but a panel of six jurors set the value at $50 million. The ruling ignited a furor in Telluride, which culminated in an opinion-section commentary published by The Telluride Watch that denounced “the jurors from Jerkwater Junction.”

“Like many longtime locals,” wrote Rob Schultheis, “I have a long memory regarding the Delta knuckle-draggers' long antipathy toward those of us who live so high above them in every sense of the word.”

The jury's findings left the town with a $24 million shortfall in its condemnation plans.

The city itself has more or less exhausted its financial resources by raising almost $26 million for the valley floor acquisition – mostly by incurring bond debt.

So the $50 million valuation set by the jury left the preservationists scrambling to make up the $24 million difference – by a self-imposed deadline that expires Friday.

“As daunting as it appears, they said we couldn't bring the Grateful Dead here in 1988, and we did,” said Telluride Mayor John Pryor. “Anything is possible in Telluride.”

The group leading the fundraising effort, the Valley Floor Preservation Partners, said last week it had raised $19 million since mid-February in pledges and donations. But the group must raise at least $5 million more over the next five days.

With the groundswell to “save the valley floor” reaching fever pitch, the effort to raise millions has prompted waiters to donate tips and third-graders to empty their piggy banks.

Organizers said last week that they had received pledges and donations from 877 individuals in 35 states, Canada, Jordan, England, Germany and Bermuda.

But Blue's lawyer pointed out that a community of 2,300 doesn't raise almost $20 million in contributions from piggy banks and pocket change.

“Telluride likes to talk about Mr. Blue as an extraordinarily wealthy man,” Ragonetti said. “But this is an extraordinarily wealthy community” that includes luxury vacation homes owned by people such as actor Tom Cruise, eBay Chief Executive Meg Whitman and retired U.S. Army Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf Jr.

The symbols of wealth range from the private jets parked at the Telluride airstrip on the valley floor to the luxury homes in the mountains surrounding the town. The median home price in Mountain Village, the incorporated community that surrounds the Telluride Ski Resort, was $2,017,500 in 2002, according to a Worth magazine survey of “America's Richest Towns.”

Telluride, which failed to make the 2002 list, ranked No. 200 in the magazine's 2001 survey, with a median home price of $547,500.

“We have 26 people at this point who have pledged or donated six-or seven-figure gifts,” said Jane Hickox, a spokeswoman for the Valley Floor Preservation Partners. “This is a very capable community financially, so it's very possible to say this could happen in the next few days.”

A recent decision by the judge overseeing the valuation trial has given Telluride some flexibility in its fundraising campaign, but the question remains: Can it be done?

“If they're expected to pay $50 million, there has to be real cash there,” Ragonetti said. “It can't be promises.”

As chairman and chief executive of General Atomics, Blue also commands considerable resources of his own. With his brother Linden, he purchased the San Diego company in 1986 from Chevron Oil for a reported $50 million.

The company has expanded dramatically since then.

Today, General Atomics and its affiliated companies specialize in a range of industries, from nuclear reactor technology to oil and gas production, uranium mining, nuclear waste management, electromagnetic systems, life sciences research and robotic aircraft.

A study released this year by the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce ranked General Atomics as the region's fourth-biggest government defense contractor. Pentagon procurement contracts alone represented more than $1.4 billion worth of business for the company from 2001 through 2005.

Much of that is related to the success of the Predator, a robotic surveillance aircraft developed for the U.S. military by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, an affiliated company.

Yet even if the community of Telluride can raise the entire $50 million, it's unclear whether Blue will accept the condemnation or continue the legal battle.

“It is possible we will appeal,” Ragonetti said.

San Diego CA Union-Tribune: http://www.signonsandiego.com

The powerless have always been targets of eminent domain: Orange County CA Register, 3/25/07


By Steven Greenhut

Isn't that nice?

The city of Manhattan Beach is renaming an oceanfront park, Bruces' Beach, after Charles A. and Willa Bruce, an African-American couple who had purchased the land in 1912 and developed it into a beachfront resort in the 1920s.

The Bruces were driven off their land in the mid-1920s, according to a Los Angeles Times article last week, after city officials became uncomfortable with the idea of numerous black people sunbathing and dining at Bruces' Lodge. At the urging of the local community, the officials discovered a compelling public interest in creating a public park on that very spot, and they used the power of eminent domain to drive the couple away.

The land sat vacant for years, but the goal was accomplished – keeping "them" out of the neighborhood.

I'm pleased to see today's council members recognize the evil deed of their predecessors. But it's about 80 years too late for the couple. And I can't help but laugh at one sentence that will be inscribed on the plaque that will soon grace the park: "Those tragic circumstances reflected the views of a different time."

Certainly, racial views have changed, but the fundamental view that allowed the "public" to steal the Bruces' property has not changed. In fact, the times are worse now than they were then with regard to property rights.

In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the now-infamous Kelo decision that governments have every right to take property from its current owners and give it to other private owners for virtually any reason at all. If city officials believe the new developer will pay more in sales tax than the old homeowners, then it's fair game. Back then, the city had to at least find a public purpose – i.e., a park – as a pretense for the theft. These days, if officials think a neighborhood is "blighted," then they can give the land to a developer for pennies on the dollar. Blight means anything that officials say it means.

While I haven't seen any instances where city officials state their goal of keeping blacks or Latinos or Asians out of a neighborhood, as happened with the Bruces in the 1920s, many of the neighborhoods targeted for the type of eminent domain the Supreme Court reviewed (private party to private party, so that cities can improve economic development or expand the tax base) happen to be minority neighborhoods.

"Cities use code words," explained Supervisor Chris Norby, a longtime foe of eminent domain abuse. "In the 1950s and 1960s, governments used the term 'urban renewal,' but critics knew that it was widely called 'Negro removal.' These days, we're looking at forced gentrification," as cities try to redevelop poorer areas into wealthy areas.

Norby reminded me of a case I covered in an unincorporated area outside Lake Elsinore, where county officials apparently didn't want older retirees and poorer people living on prime land near the lake.

Today's code words and attitudes may be different than they were in the 1920s, but by giving government so much power to drive people off their land, we all are subject to the whims and rationales of officials. In the 1920s, officials didn't think blacks were "appropriate" for the neighborhood, and these days officials don't want "working-class people" enjoying prime land that could be home to upscale condos.

The founders' idea of property rights was to provide a place where individuals could live their lives as they choose, without fear of intimidation by those who don't like them, for whatever reason.

That's why property rights are so important to the powerless. Former Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in her stinging dissent in the Kelo case, got it right when she argued that the court has allowed a massive shift in power from the poor and working class to wealthy developers with enormous political power. The latter always will be protected because they have wealth and influence, whereas the former must depend on protections in the Constitution.

In the 1920s, black people had little political power and tenuous legal rights. If property rights had been protected for everyone, the Bruces would have been able to keep their dream alive. Today's mob uses different language and explanations for the takings they support – i.e., gentrifying neighborhoods, improving the tax base, fighting "blight," promoting New Urbanism – but the results are the same. The less powerful must give up their dreams to the more powerful.

Instead of building plaques on the many spots where city officials have destroyed people's lives by taking their land, their businesses or their houses, Californians ought to craft language that will protect future Bruces from government abuse. Last November, city officials and big developers did their part to stop Proposition 90, a statewide initiative that would have banned eminent domain abuse for nonpublic uses and also stopped the sort of regulatory takings that the city of Brea is engaging in against a group of Japanese property owners in the hillsides on the north end of town. There, the city is attempting to use a zoning change that would allow significantly fewer homes to be built, thus rendering hundreds of acres of private property nearly worthless so that those who already have their hillside homes can keep out others who want hillside homes.

Action is still needed. The Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association has unveiled an initiative for the June 2008 ballot that would shut the door on most eminent domain abuses for private transfers. Unfortunately, the Jarvis group – which complained that Prop. 90 was not Kelo-only, but gummed up the works with a regulatory takings provision – has gummed up this proposal with a restriction on rent control. I hate rent control also, but it's unfortunate that the Jarvis group has chosen to risk this initiative in order to placate its apartment-owner base.

In response, the League of California Cities, one of the biggest advocates for the current eminent domain situation, is circulating its own initiative for the same ballot. Basically, the initiative does nothing. It protects only single-family homes from takings, and even those protections evaporate in the fine print. There are so many exceptions that the goal is clear: Give the public the sense that reform has passed without actually changing the way these cities do business. "It's Lent," says Pacific Legal Foundation attorney Timothy Sandefur. "During Lent, I always like to give up things I don't do anyway. Apparently, that's what the league is doing."

Meanwhile, the U.S. Supreme Court is considering a case that could be far more significant than Kelo in its impact on property rights. Oral arguments started last week in Wilkie v. Robbins, a Wyoming case in which federal officials engaged in blatant forms of harassment and abuse as a means to force a property owner to deed over an easement on his land. When the owner refused, federal officials "promised that [Frank] Robbins' refusal would 'come to war' and that they would give him a 'hardball education,'" wrote Sandefur, in a Legal Times article. "They cancelled his right of way over government-owned land, repeatedly harassed the guests at his ranch, cited him for minor infractions while letting similar violations by his neighbors go unnoticed, and brought him up on the criminal charges of interfering with federal agents during their duties."

Robbins sued, but the government insists that there is no constitutional right against government retaliation. It's up to the Supreme Court to decide. So while Californians try to piece together a few protections against wanton government takings through a new eminent-domain initiative next year, the Supreme Court might obliterate even more of the Constitution by granting the government a "right" to harass, abuse, retaliate and threaten property owners who don't give agents a piece of their land for no cost.

Are things really that different from the dark days of the 1920s, when officials harassed a couple off of their own resort?

Orange County CA Register: http://www.ocregister.com