Legislators hesitant to ban eminent domain: New Haven CT Register, 4/11/07

By Gregory B. Hladky

Legislation to ban cities and towns from taking private homes to make way for for-profit development was killed by a [Connecticut] General Assembly committee on a 22-21 vote Tuesday.

The legislature’s Judiciary Committee voted instead for a milder version that would place new restrictions on the use of eminent domain, but allow private homes to be taken with the two-thirds approval of the local legislative body.

Lawmakers on the committee voted 38-5 to send the less strict eminent domain measure to the Senate for action.

Public concern about the use of eminent domain powers came to a head more than a year ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a controversial New London case. The high court decision said municipalities are not prohibited from taking private homes for commercial development to increase local tax revenue.

But Connecticut lawmakers have been reluctant to approve the kinds of controls adopted in other states to prohibit taking of private property for commercial development projects.

The panel’s Senate chairman, Andrew J. McDonald, D-Stamford, argued that an outright prohibition on taking private homes for commercial development would be too restrictive for many municipalities.

McDonald said the proposed ban could be manipulated by commercial competitors, who might buy up homes or condos in a neighborhood "for the purpose of thwarting" a proposed economic development project.

"People do some bizarre things when their economic interests are at stake," McDonald said.

According to McDonald, the plan was also flawed because it was restricted to owner-occupied housing of four units or less and didn’t solve issues relating to longtime renters.

McDonald said the legislation the committee approved would make it clear that a municipality couldn’t take a private home only to increase local tax revenue through commercial development.

But supporters of the stronger legislation insisted absolute restrictions are needed.

"This issue doesn’t have to be that complicated," said Deputy Senate Minority Leader David J. Cappiello, R-Danbury. He said Connecticut should have a law stating that, "If you own private property, the government can’t take it away from you unless there is an absolute government need."

Even advocates of stronger eminent domain restrictions agree that the state and municipalities should have the right to take property if it is to be used for a strictly public purpose, such as roads or schools.

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

Chen will issue second eminent domain report : Atlanticville, Long Branch NJ, 4/12/07

Follow-up report will challenge blight designation

By Christine Varno

Almost a year after the release of a study on the use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects in New Jersey communities like Long Branch, state Public Advocate Ronald K. Chen will follow up with a more in-depth report on the issue.

The report is expected to be complete within the next four to six weeks, according to Chen, who said it will contain examples from eminent domain cases he has researched.

Those findings, he said, will support the eminent domain reforms recommended in the initial report.

"Our first report was done at a time when I was first getting into office and into the eminent domain issue," said Chen in an interview last week. "For that reason, we decided not to get too into specifics.

"We have been at it for a year now and we have had a greater opportunity to explore the issue. We thought it would be useful to put those findings in a second report."

In the past year, Chen's office submitted amicus curiae, or "friend of the court," briefs in support of residents of three municipalities fighting their towns' use of eminent domain: Long Branch, Lodi and Paulsboro.

In the Long Branch brief, Chen asks the appellate court to allow a group of residents to have their day in court to challenge the city's use of eminent domain to condemn their oceanfront properties.

In addition to filing the briefs, Chen and his office staff have studied eminent domain procedural findings and court records in towns across the state where officials are using eminent domain to acquire property for private redevelopment projects.

Those findings will be presented in the second report, which could be titled "Eminent Domain, The Year After" or "What We Have Learned," according to Chen.

"In this report we will be able to show scenarios where we think reform is needed," he said, adding that the first report concentrated on the legal aspects of eminent domain and contained general examples.

The follow-up study will present factual data to highlight the points made in the first report, he added.

"We will show more human experiences, because we have now had the chance to go in-depth in the records in litigated cases," he said. "We have more facts to draw from."

One such case is in Long Branch, where a group of residents on the oceanfront are fighting the city's use of eminent domain to condemn their properties for a private redevelopment project.

Chen's amicus brief was filed in state Superior Court to support the group of Long Branch homeowners who reside in the neighborhood of Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace and Seaview Avenue known as MTOTSA.

The brief supports MTOTSA's appeal of a June ruling by Judge Lawrence M. Lawson that affirmed the city's right to take the homes of residents in the three-street neighborhood to make way for a private redevelopment project.

Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider has been a critic of Chen's report and his involvement in the Long Branch case.

After Chen filed the amicus brief in January, Schneider had said that Chen was uninformed of the redevelopment process in Long Branch.

"He decided to go into the case without meeting with any officials in Long Branch," Schneider said in the January interview. "Mr. Chen has never accurately reviewed the redevelopment process in Long Branch."

But Chen said he does not expect every mayor to agree with the content of the report.

"The issue of eminent domain is controversial," Chen said. "But, all of the furor over the mere fact of filing a brief seems to be misplaced.

"In a case like Long Branch, that raises these important issues, it is the role of the advocate," he said.

Chen explained that after researching the MTOTSA case, he has determined the area is not blighted.

"Most of the problem with the MTOTSA case is that the trial judge did not allow for a full record to be developed," he said.

"There has to be a full record, and based on the record we have seen in court, there does not seem to be sufficient evidence that the MTOTSA area is blighted."

Another issue facing the MTOTSA case, he added, is that the residents faced with losing their homes were not made aware of the consequences of having a home in an area in need of redevelopment.

In the upcoming report, Chen said he is continuing a similar perspective as the first report, with the addition of more facts and real-life experiences.

The first report, "Reforming the Use of Eminent Domain for Private Redevelopment in New Jersey" was released May 18. In that report, Chen recommended several reforms, including:

  • Narrow the statutory criteria for designating an area as "blighted" to require that the criteria provide objective and specific limitations on the ability to use eminent domain for private redevelopment;
  • Promote rehabilitation of properties rather than redevelopment;
  • Make the redevelopment process "transparent" by instituting reforms including notifying tenants and property owners of public hearings 60 days in advance; require that hearings be recorded; allow affected residents to bring their own witnesses;
  • Add protections to help ensure that eminent domain is used as a last resort; and
  • Require that homeowners who do lose their homes are compensated with at least the replacement value of their home and are able to remain in the town they live in.

Chen said last week that the first report lists recommended reforms, while his aim in the second report is to be more specific by citing examples and more real-life experiences.

Chen was nominated to head the Department of the Public Advocate in January by Gov. Jon S. Corzine. When his office began operations on March 27, he announced that its first major initiative would be to investigate the uses of eminent domain for private redevelopment.

Although Chen recommends numerous reforms in the initial report, he does not suggest banning the use of eminent domain.

Rather, he states in the report, "redevelopment of truly blighted areas is a legitimate purpose that serves the greater good by helping revitalize communities and create more opportunity for residents."

His recommendation in the first report is to change the statutory criteria that define blight to put strict limitations on the ability of municipalities to use eminent domain for private redevelopment.

Atlanticville, Long Branch NJ: http://atlanticville.gmnews.com

Nevada eminent domain bill moves ahead: Las Vegas NV Sun, 4/11/07

By Amanda Fehd, Associated Press

The [Nevada] Assembly Ways and Means Committee passed a bill Wednesday that restricts eminent domain powers after panel members were reassured it wouldn't have a harmful financial effect on local governments in Nevada.

AB102 is a companion measure to a proposed constitutional amendment that limits eminent domain, but it would take effect as early as October while the constitutional change must pass the next legislative session and then go to a vote of the people.

Ways and Means Chairman Morse Arberry, D-Las Vegas, said his committee can't take any chances, so he wanted to hear from those affected by the bill.

Nicolas Anthony, representing Reno, and Sabra Smith-Newby, representing Clark County, testified that AB102 would not have an adverse fiscal impact.

Arberry then warned them not to show up asking for help from the lawmaker's Interim Finance Committee, which handles fiscal emergencies between Nevada's every-other-year legislative sessions.

"Just making sure that you won't be coming to Interim Finance asking, because we make this mandate here, that we have to now pay," Arberry said.

Eminent domain is the power allotted to governments by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states, "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

AB102 defines "just compensation" as fitting the "highest and best" use of the land, but is not as restrictive as Question 2, a proposed constitutional change that got an initial endorsement from voters last fall.

Question 2, called the People's Initiative to Stop the Taking of Our Land or PISTOL by its supporters, was seen by critics as being too broad and producing potential costs for legitimate public works projects that would be too high.

Assemblyman William Horne, D-Las Vegas, who has led the effort on AB102, said, "It's a better solution to our transportation concerns than was in Question 2 ... that may have a larger, greater impact on transportation."

Las Vegas NV Sun: http://www.lasvegassun.com

Army's use of eminent domain under fire: Pueblo CO Chieftain, 4/10/07

Senate panel OKs bill opposing use of condemnation to expand Army's Pinon maneuver site

By Charles Ashby

A [Colorado] Senate panel approved a measure Monday that won't prevent the U.S. Army from expanding the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site, but might make condemnation of land there a little less desirable.

At least, that's the hope that Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Walsh, and Sen. Ken Kester, R-Las Animas, had in introducing HB1069, which strips state consent to the U.S. government to use eminent domain to expand the Army training site by another 418,000 acres.

While the two lawmakers know the state can't really stop the federal government from using national security as a reason to condemn whatever land it needs, they wanted to send a clear message that the state doesn't approve of it.

"There no one in this room that is anti-military," Kester told the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee, which approved the measure on a 4-1 vote. "But we just don't think this is the right way for them to expand their maneuvering site."

Dozens of people from Southeastern Colorado testified for the bill, many of whom said they just don't trust the Army to stick to its word that it will not condemn any land to expand the site.

They said they remember the Army making similar promises in the early 1980s when the 238,000-acre training site was created.

About 130 people packed the committee room, ranging from county commissioners from the area to ranchers to area high school students.

Las Animas County Commissioner Jim Montoya said the federal government promised to make payments in lieu of taxes for the land they took off the tax rolls, but those payments have steadily decreased over time. He said the Army has made other promises it still hasn't kept.

"But the biggest concern that I have is that several ranchers that were impacted by eminent domain in the first round chose to stay in Las Animas County, and purchased land a few miles away," Montoya said. "Now these ranchers and families are going to be possibly taken to eminent domain for a second time. It's a tragedy that families could be taken not only once, but twice through eminent domain and not be given a fair price for their land."

Opponents to the measure, all of whom came from Colorado Springs and El Paso County, said the measure could jeopardize the state's relationship with the U.S. Army, perhaps to the point that it might consider pulling out of Colorado altogether.

Retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Gen. Wes Clark, who now sits on the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce's Military Affairs Committee, said a measure also would hurt economic development in the state.

He said expansion of the maneuver site is needed to provide adequate training space for the 10,000 additional troops that will be stationed at Fort Carson over the next few years.

"The Army must train the way it is going to fight. You can't train in close quarters and then go into operations over long distances, the results would be chaotic," Clark said. "I understand the concerns of the people who would be impacted by the Army's use of the maneuver site. In my own lifetime I was impacted by the federal government's acquisition of land.

"But I look at it now as an example of sacrifice for the greater common cause for the common good," he added. "And I believe in my heart that the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site also represents sacrifice for the greater common cause."

Sen. Ron May, R-Colorado Springs, cast the lone dissenting vote, but his El Paso County colleague, Sen. Dave Schultheis, R-Colorado Springs, supported it, saying he was torn between what his community wanted and his strong opposition to condemnation rights.

The measure, which cleared the House late last month, heads to the full Senate for more debate.

Four students from La Junta and Kim high schools also testified for the measure, saying anything that causes families to leave the region could devastate their school districts.

"Eminent domain may be legal, however it does not make it morally right," said La Junta High School student Jordan Kurtz. "Although I do believe the United States is the best country in the world, I also believe that our country does have flaws. One of them being eminent domain. If the Pinon Canyon expansion does go through, it will not only be taking away our land and our jobs, it also will be taking away our home, our future, our lifestyle and our dream."

Pueblo CO Chieftain: http://www.chieftain.com

County votes to use eminent domain to acquire stadium land: KARE-TV11, Minneapolis MN, 4/11/07

By Janel Klein

Construction on the new Twins ballpark could begin in early May after the Hennepin County board voted Tuesday to take the land where the stadium will be built through eminent domain.

Under the process approved on a 4 to 2 vote, the site's purchase price will be worked out later. Negotiations over the price had stalled the project, putting the new ballpark's planned 2010 opening date in danger.

Plans for the stadium will be unveiled Thursday, said Twins spokesman Kevin Smith. The team still expects to play in the stadium in 2010.

"That is not up in the air. We're still on schedule to do that," he said.

He said early work clearing the site could begin within a few weeks, and that pile driving for the stadium could begin by mid- to late summer.

Even after Tuesday's vote, the county will still have to work with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad to move nearby tracks. Smith said negotiations over that issue were continuing on Tuesday.

Landowners have claimed the 8-acre site was worth more than the $13.35 million the county has said it is willing to pay. To settle on a price, a three-person court panel is expected to hear arguments next month and issue a decision in June, said developer Rich Pogin of Landowners II, the group that owns the site. Either side can appeal the panel's decision, and a price would then be decided after a jury trial, he said.

Pogin said the agreement with the county over how to hand over the land is a major step forward, but the process isn't over yet.

"Anything this complex things can tip over for a whole variety of reasons," he said. "I would say from a Twins fan's standpoint, it's a significant step, but there's more to be done."

Hennepin County taxpayers are paying an estimated three quarters of the cost of the new $522 million stadium. The money is coming from an additional 0.15 percent sales tax, or 3 cents on a $20 purchase.

KARE-TV11, Minneapolis MN: http://www.kare11.com

NC legislators want eminent domain amendment put to voters in '07: Myrtle Beach SC Sun News, 4/10/07

By Gary Robertson, Associated Press

[North Carolina] State laws that bar land condemnation solely for economic development don't go far enough for some lawmakers, who want voters to decide whether to emboss the policy in the state constitution.

After failing to get a proposed constitutional amendment on last year's ballot, House members have renewed their effort. A bill co-sponsored by 96 of the chamber's 120 members - eight more than last year - would ask voters in November to amend the constitution so "private property shall not be taken except for a public use."

The amendment is needed, supporters say, to make it harder for loopholes closed in legislation approved last year to show up in future laws.

"You want to make sure that when the current crop of state legislators, city council members and county commissioners are gone, there's a protection in place so that their successors won't be tempted to do it," said Rep. Dan Blue, D-Wake, one of the House bill's primary sponsors.

A law approved last year eliminated a handful of exceptions that allowed specific towns and cities in North Carolina to condemn land for economic development. The law was proposed after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that such condemnations were legal but gave states the ability to ban the practice.

However, the North Carolina law doesn't prevent loopholes from being reinstated, and a constitutional amendment would be harder to change, some lawmakers say.

The amendment wouldn't allow governments to transfer condemned land to a third party that wanted to build on it to make a profit, unless the land was in so-called blighted areas.

House Speaker Joe Hackney said an amendment isn't needed at this time, because the 2006 law satisfies concerns highlighted in the Supreme Court decision.

"I think we ought to be very careful about amending the constitution," said Hackney, D-Orange.

The U.S. and state constitutions provide for eminent domain, which gives government the authority to take private property for public use, usually in exchange for compensation to the property owner.

States across the country reviewed their eminent domain laws after the high court ruled 5-4 that the town of New London, Conn., could take houses on property that would be used for a hotel and convention center. However, the justices said states could ban such condemnations.

At least 24 states have enacted eminent domain laws since then, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Last fall, voters in nine states approved constitutional amendments restricting such condemnations.

A similar amendment proposed last year in North Carolina was supported by 88 House members, but Democratic leaders blocked a legislative vote. Then-House Speaker Jim Black said Republicans wanted the proposed amendment on the ballot to boost GOP voter turnout.

Republicans said the constitutional question would be put to voters this November when no state offices would be on the ballot. The Senate version of the bill has 18 co-sponsors, all Republicans and about the same number as last year.

This year's House bill has been sent to the Rules Committee, which allowed the bill to die last year. The current chairman, Rep. Bill Owens, D-Pasquotank, is a co-sponsor but said he doesn't know whether the bill will be heard.

To get on the ballot, the proposal would have to be approved by three-fifths of members in each chamber - or 72 members of the House and 30 in the Senate.

Bill sponsors can attempt to get a floor vote if the committee doesn't hear the amendment.

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, one of the bill's four primary sponsors, said he remains optimistic the proposal will ultimately be heard.

"We have a willingness on the House leadership to follow the rules," Stam said. "Unfortunately the rules still give the House leadership the ability to kill anything it wants to kill."

Myrtle Beach SC Sun News: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com

Petal says eminent domain not imminent: WDAM-TV, Laurel-Hattiesburg MS, 4/10/07

Petal [MS] Mayor Carl Scott says residents in the Cameron Town neighborhood won't be forced to sell their homes to the city anytime soon.

There was concern among residents last week that the city would use eminent domain to make homeowners sell their property for the expansion of Friendly Park. Scott says that's not true.

The city is not interested in expanding the park westward, which is where the Cameron Town homes are located. Instead the city wants to expand the park north on land not occupied by residents.

"I really don't know what the issue is with the Cameron Town neighborhood right now. There's three houses in this whole area that I can see visually and that none of those are in our acquisition list. We really don't want to acquire any of those lands right now," Scott says.

The city is waiting on appraisals of the land it's hoping to acquire. Scott says that process could take three weeks.

WDAM-TV, Laurel-Hattiesburg MS: http://www.wdam.com

Despite Little Fanfare, Property Protection Most Important Success of New Mexico's 2007 Legislative Session: The Free Liberal, 4/9/07

The 2007 legislative session [of the New Mexico legislature] was by all accounts one of the busiest 60-day sessions in memory. With action taken on issues ranging from the momentous to the mundane, sometimes important legislation slips by unnoticed.

This was recently the case as New Mexico property owners won a momentous victory when Governor Richardson signed legislation protecting them from the abusive practice of using eminent domain for economic development.

The issue of eminent domain generated widespread attention and a nationwide public outcry in 2005 when the U.S Supreme Court greatly expanded the ability of local governments to use eminent domain in Kelo v. New London.

As Rio Grande Foundation President Paul Gessing pointed out, “Despite a relative lack of media coverage we are not alone in viewing property rights protections as the signature accomplishment of the 2007 legislative session.”

Gessing noted that, “After having vetoed legislation (flawed as it was) in 2006 that would have prohibited some abusive eminent domain practices, Governor Richardson endured a great deal of criticism. So, I’m not sure why he’s not taking more credit for this success.”

“The legislation passed this year,” Gessing said, “is a compromise that gives the City of Rio Rancho some flexibility in addressing the platting issue that has plagued the city since its inception, but at the same time protects property owners in Rio Rancho and around the state from having their property taken solely for economic development purposes.”

“Hopefully, the Legislature will further improve New Mexico’s eminent domain procedures by addressing the issues of ‘fair compensation’ for property owners and by improving the notice and hearing processes in order to give property owners a fair shake when eminent domain proceedings are undertaken, Gessing urged.”

“With legislative attention focused on everything from banning cock-fighting to Pluto’s status as a planet, we are pleased that the Legislature found time to protect property owners who can now rest easier knowing that their homes are safe.” said Gessing.

The Free Liberal, Woodbridge VA: http://www.freeliberal.com


Top pick for City Hall in question: Eugene OR Register-Guard, 4/7/07

By Edward Russo

A reluctant property owner may force the Eugene City Council to change direction and pick the present City Hall site for a new government headquarters.

Downtown property owner Ada Lee told city officials in a letter last month and in an e-mail last week that she is unwilling to sell her Rock N Rodeo nightclub property. Her land would be needed for a new City Hall at Seventh Avenue and Willamette Street, across from the Hult Center for Performing Arts and Hilton Eugene and Convention Center.

Lee told Mayor Kitty Piercy and the City Council that she does not want to sell her property because she has plans to "upgrade" her single-story building with a four-story commercial structure that would be "more compatible" with the Hult Center and Hilton Eugene.

The city can use its power of eminent domain to buy property from unwilling sellers, but two councilors interviewed Friday said they would be uncomfortable doing that to Lee.

Last December, a five-councilor majority ordered schematic designs for the L-shaped new City Hall building site that would include Lee's property, those of two other private property owners and a two-level parking lot owned by Lane County.

Three councilors preferred plans for a new City Hall on its present site, at East Eighth Avenue and Pearl Street.

With Lee's reluctance to sell, the present City Hall block may rise to be the top choice.

Mayor Kitty Piercy said the council in the coming weeks will discuss what to do. But the city has other building site options, "such as the one I'm standing in," she said, referring to the present City Hall.

City leaders want to replace the 43-year-old, pillar-supported City Hall because it is considered vulnerable to earthquakes and too small for current and future needs of city government, which has offices scattered throughout downtown.

A new City Hall could cost as much as $130 million. City leaders figure that a voter-approved bond measure would be needed to pay for much of it, perhaps in 2008.

The city already has spent more than a year and $1 million to analyze 26 downtown sites and various ideas for a new City Hall. The next planning phase, to be done by September, is expected to cost another $1 million.

Council President Andrea Ortiz said the city should continue planning even though the council's first choice may be unavailable.

Councilor George Poling last fall warned city staff to make sure that all property owners were willing sellers before proceeding too far with plans.

On Friday, he said he would oppose using eminent domain against Lee.

"I think it would be a mistake to force anybody to sell," he said. "Look at the resistance we met last year when eminent domain was mentioned as part of the Connor and Woolley downtown development project."

There are advantages to building on the present City Hall block, Poling said, "especially when we have the property available to us free and clear."

"Granted, it will cost us money to tear down City Hall and build a new one," he said. "But in the long run it's our only option right now."

Ortiz said she would be uneasy pursuing eminent domain against Lee. "You would have to sell me on condemning her property," she said. "There are a lot of options downtown."

Eugene OR Register-Guard: http://www.registerguard.com

Some fear new eminent domain law will hurt redevelopment: Virginian Pilot, Norfolk VA, 4/7/07

By Meghan Hoyer & Matthew Jones

Local officials say they'll have to change the way they manage and redevelop cities after the General Assembly's passage this week of a law that limits local government's power to take property.

In Norfolk and Portsmouth, where the new legislation will have the most effect, this means some projects will be placed on hold and greatly modified.

The new law, among other things, requires that the process known as eminent domain be used only to take properties for public uses, not for resale to developers. And it specifies that the property itself must be blighted and not merely in a blighted area, as was previously allowed.

The legislation also raises the bar on what is considered blight, from "dilapidated or deteriorated" to "beyond repair" or "unfit for human occupancy or use."

The changes were driven by those who felt the previous law gave localities too much power to take people's property.

"I think it's overdue," said Joseph T. Waldo, a lawyer who often represents clients in eminent domain cases. "All they're saying is, do your redevelopment projects, that's OK, but you just can't take someone's home who's done nothing wrong and kept their home up."

Norfolk has long used these powers to either conserve areas - which makes them candidates for programs such as renovation grants - or perform wholesale redevelopment, in which entire blocks are razed and rebuilt from the ground up.

The Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority has two redevelopment areas and 11 conservation areas for which it may need to acquire more land.

"This new legislation affects all of that," said the agency's Jim Gehman, adding that it "eliminates the idea of redevelopment areas. We have to focus on individual houses. It changes the definition of blight and makes it much harder to get a property declared blighted."

The housing authority has acquired all the property the city requested under its current plans, Gehman said. But if any more land is needed, it would require a new plan under the stricter law.

The legislation spares the Kroc recreation center, which the city hopes to build as part of its Broad Creek development. But it will have an effect elsewhere.

An example is Park Place, where the authority and a citizens group have been working for nearly a year to craft a plan, which will now have to be reworked.

Another example is Wards Corner, where the housing authority wrote a plan to conserve the neighborhoods of Oakdale Farms and Monticello Village and completely redevelop the northwest corner of Denby Park.

"Now we'll have to start all over again," Gehman said.

In Denby Park, the new rules may mean the agency would be able to acquire only a portion of the properties, Gehman said, leaving a handful of homes among a checkerboard of unusable vacant lots.

"I'm not sure that's better than what we have now," he said.

"If the definition of blight is so high that you can't take the properties, then your most effective tool in the worst neighborhoods is taken away from you."

In Portsmouth, officials decided last year to concentrate all their acquisition dollars on redeveloping Cradock, where residents have pleaded for years with the city to help them reclaim their neighborhood.

Last May, Portsmouth's Redevelopment and Housing Authority deemed a small section of the historic neighborhood blighted.

In many cases, the houses aren't "beyond repair," as the new eminent domain law states - they are simply vacant or not maintained, said Kathy Warren, the authority's development director. In most situations, the city and the owners can agree on a sales price, so the city never moves to take the property.

But Warren said she believes that, many times, the threat of eminent domain brings people to the table and without that tool, owners won't be as willing to negotiate with the city.

Warren anticipates having $700,000 to spend on acquisition starting July 1. But instead of designating specific properties to buy - the authority usually targets the area's worst houses first - officials may just move to the open market, buying houses as they go up for sale, she said.

"We're going to continue to try," she said. "We'll do our best. But if we have someone who's a holdout, there's nothing we can do."

Clarissa McAdoo, executive director of the Suffolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority, said the new legislation will make it extremely hard - and perhaps impossible - for her agency to rehabilitate blighted areas.

She cited The Fairgrounds, the city's only redevelopment project, which calls for 170 homes and a small business district near the Planters factory downtown. The authority still needs to acquire 20 out of 60 properties to complete the 17-acre plan.

She said the new law will result in the authority having to spend more money to buy land for redevelopment.

In Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, the new legislation will have little, if any effect, city officials said.

Both cities say this is because they do not take property for economic development purposes.

In Portsmouth, both Warren and City Attorney Tim Oksman worry that without eminent domain, neighborhoods will slowly decline and the city will be powerless to step in to take abandoned or neglected buildings.

Localities are "without a doubt" going to lobby hard to reinstate looser rules, Warren said. "Our focus has already shifted to how we attack this from the other side, next year."

Norfolk's Gehman said he is organizing a meeting with other housing authorities from around the state so they can take the new law's language apart and figure out how best to proceed.

"We're going to go through this line by line and try to understand what it really means."

Meanwhile, Waldo calls the legislation "a major turning point."

"It all comes about," he said, "because in increments, all the housing authorities have become more aggressive over the years."

Virginian Pilot, Norfolk VA: http://content.hamptonroads.com

This land is my land: Long Island NY Business News, 4/6/07

By Ross Daly

The Supreme Court decision affirming local government’s right to take property for the common good led to a certain amount of “tearing out of hair and rending of clothing,” as one Long Island attorney puts it. Mostly, says another lawyer, it was a “non-event.”

Both views are right on.

The case was Kelo v. City of New London, and the Supreme Court ruled that local governments can seize people’s homes and businesses not just for public projects such as roads and schools, but also for private economic development.

The case had little direct impact in New York because the state has long recognized this principle. But that doesn’t mean Long Island isn’t awash in contentious eminent domain battles, most notably involving Stony Brook University’s expanding campus, redevelopment in Long Beach and a North Hempstead golf course.

The Kelo decision doesn’t directly affect those cases, but it has moved public perception of eminent domain.

“Kelo acted kind of like a lighting rod for the whole question of eminent domain,” said M. Allan Hyman, a senior partner at Certilman Balin who practices condemnation law, adding the case has raised people’s awareness about the concept of surrendering property to private developers.

Flower, power and cash
Hyman was counsel on one of the more significant uses of eminent domain on Long Island in recent years. He represented Stony Brook University during its condemnation of the St. James property known as Flowerfield.

The 246-acre parcel was seized by the state in 2005, allowing the university to build a state-of-the-art technology center, among other facilities. The owner of the property, Gyrodyne, was paid $26.3 million for the land; the company says the land is worth more and has filed suit in the Court of Claims seeking an additional $158 million.

A Gyrodyne spokesman said the company is optimistic the process will end in a fair result for company shareholders. But a Stony Brook official familiar with the case said the price paid was fair, based on real estate appraisals, the land’s light industrial zoning and its foreseeable uses.

Both sides have retained expert witnesses and are awaiting a hearing date.

Eminent domain disputes usually come down to questions of compensation, said Michael G. Zapson, a real estate attorney with Davidoff Malito & Hutcher LLP. Once government declares a property necessary for a public purpose, the courts tend to agree, he said.

Zapson – a self-professed “big fan” of eminent domain – joked that 99.9 percent of eminent domain disputes are over compensation, while the other 0.1 percent are also about compensation.

Part of that enthusiasm for the process stems from his experience as a Long Beach City Council member through the 1990s. For about 20 years, the city had sought to develop a site known as the “Superblock,” which had several distinct parcels with a variety of owners.

After finally acquiring the properties in October through eminent domain, Long Beach transferred the Superblock to a developer who intends to build a condominium/hotel complex with commercial space, restaurants and a catering hall. Construction at the site has yet to begin.

“People used to say that Long Beach was a blighted area, and it was,” Zapson said. “What the city was able to do was acquire the blighted areas and have them redeveloped. That’s a formula that should be followed in more areas.

“Eminent domain is a very good tool for the municipalities to use to ensure positive development and remove blighted areas,” he added.

Old concept in New York
A. Thomas Levin, chairman of the municipal law, land use and environmental compliance practice for Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein P.C. in Garden City, said that despite much “tearing out of hair” following the Kelo decision, New York law was already clear: Governments can take property for economic development reasons, as illustrated by the Superblock case.

He added that despite the post-Kelo outcry, governments continue to use eminent domain as they always have. The much-heralded rebirth of Times Square, for instance, was accomplished through eminent domain.

One major side effect of the Kelo decision has been increased attention from lawmakers around the country looking to limit the use of eminent domain, according to Patricia Salkin, associate dean and director of the Government Law Center at the Albany Law School. That includes New York lawmakers, who introduced bills to compensate property owners subject to eminent domain at 125 to 150 percent of market value. The bills went nowhere.

Considering litigation and transaction costs, a price above market value may be appropriate, suggested William Cornachio of Uniondale law firm Rivkin Radler.

One piece of eminent domain legislation that did become New York law last year was extremely limited in scope. The village of North Hills had been considering using eminent domain to take the private Deepdale Golf Club and open it to village residents, but the wealthy and powerful club members banded together to defeat the idea.

In the end, state Sen. Michael Balboni authored narrowly crafted legislation that prohibits municipalities in the Town of North Hempstead from seizing private recreational facilities and using them for the same purpose.

Long Island NY Business News: http://www.libn.com

Miss. Working to Acquire More Land for Toyota: MyFox Memphis, Memphis TN, 4/6/07

Toyota Plant Could Help Memphis

By author

Officials in northeast Mississippi are taking steps to acquire more land for Toyota's SUV assembly plant.

The P-U-L Alliance, the group responsible for developing the site, has begun legal proceedings against two landholders at the 17-hundred acre site. The alliance is made up of representatives from Pontotoc, Union and Lee counties.

On February 27th, Toyota announced it will build its new North American manufacturing plant west of Tupelo near Blue Springs. The 400-acre core site is expected to be ready for construction to begin May 1st.

The entire plant will need more land. That's the focus of the current flurry of negotiations and property assessments.

Eminent domain proceedings have begun on a one-acre site held by the Poplar Springs Baptist Church. The church received a deed to the property in 1886. The land has been vacant for 50-60 years.

Randy Kelley, director of Three Rivers Planning and Development District, which is helping the PUL Alliance with its site prep duties says attorneys couldn't find any living people from the deed.

He says once the court approves the eminent domain, the money will be deposited with the court until someone claims it and the judge approves.

Eminent domain is the power to take private property for public use by the state or municipality with just compensation through a legal procedure.

Kelley says the other site that will be taken the same way is owned by relatives who can't decide among themselves to sell.

MyFox Memphis, Memphis TN: http://www.myfoxmemphis.com

Tourism dust-up settles: Munster IN Times, 4/6/07

By Patrick Guinane

The Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau won't be rolling tanks into Valparaiso anytime soon.

President Speros Batistatos was at the Statehouse doing damage control Thursday, assuring legislators the tourism group has no desire to expand its land-grabbing powers beyond Lake County.

County-line tempers erupted earlier this week, with Porter County leaders charging that pending legislation would allow Batistatos' agency to exercise eminent domain powers outside Lake County.

Porter County Commissioner Bob Harper, among others, saw a below-radar attempt to invade his territory.

But Batistatos said his group made an honest error in writing legislation to tweak other portions of its governing law and that no sneak attack was in the making.

"Unfortunately, you've got a lot of people that don't have any experience in this (legislative) process overreacting," Batistatos said. "Thankfully the legislators recognize the issue, and they're working with us right now."

Porter County legislators say they believe Batistatos.

"I talked to Speros because I got a lot of e-mail about it," said state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso. "I don't see anything sinister here. You know how many bills have technical errors it them?"

Even if Batistatos wanted to invade Porter County, Soliday continued, it would be a suicide mission.

"Nobody is that stupid. I mean, think of the political capital you would spend to try to do eminent domain in someone else's county," Soliday said. "I don't think it's constitutional. ... Even if you tried a stunt like that, you know you'd get sued."

Batistatos' legislation, an amendment to House Bill 1166, would have crossed out a portion of state law that says the Lake County tourism group must spend its budget "within the county." The same language was crossed out in another section dealing with eminent domain powers, though Batistatos and several legislators say that was inadvertent.

"I have no information to the contrary," said state Rep. Duane Cheney, D-Portage. He and Soliday voted for the legislation when it cleared the House 93-1 in February.

The legislation is dead in the Senate, though Batistatos hopes to find another tourism to bill to amend - minus the eminent domain drafting error. Odds are against him, ahead of a key Tuesday deadline to move legislation.

Soliday said a member of the citizens group that organized to oppose the Illiana Expressway asked him to pursue an investigation into the eminent domain mystery. Soliday says a cross-county rivalry appears culpable.

"You've got this feud going on between the two tourism bureaus," he said. "They love lobbing grenades."

Munster IN Times: http://www.thetimesonline.com

Eminently Sensible: Vancouver WA Columbian, 4/6/07

Bill limiting condemnation of land by ports for tourism projects could be felt here

A bill moving through the [Washington state] Legislature might take the eminent domain hammer out of the hands of the Port of Camas-Washougal in the proposed 65-acre RiverWalk project on the banks of the Columbia. The same thing goes for any other port district in the state that gets into the business of attracting tourists, which was made easier by the same bill.

That’s good, which is not to say RiverWalk or other potential port projects are a bad idea if done right with public input. But condemning private property for a nonpublic benefit is bad policy.

The bill in the state that passed the House of Representatives 89-7 Wednesday paved the legal road for a waterfront development in Bremerton that would involve the local port district as a participant. A provision would have allowed port districts to seek condemnation of private land under eminent domain.

But the American public has been rightly outraged by local governments condemning private land for private projects, thanks to exposure of the practice on the “60 Minutes” program and a 2005 U.S. Supreme court Case, Kelo vs. New London, Conn.

An amendment by Rep. Richard Curtis, R-La Center, that had bipartisan support removed the power of eminent domain from port districts that might otherwise have used it to get land for tourism-promotion purposes.

“We feel eminent domain has a place with schools, hospitals, roads and other things of public necessity,” Curtis said Thursday, “but not tourist facilities. We don’t want the taking of someone’s land” for that purpose.

At the same time, other aspects of the bill, SB 5339, appear to clear the way for all ports to get into the tourism-promotion business. Given that port districts typically own waterfront property, which is a natural draw, and given that ports are supposed to create jobs, the bill has much to commend it and could influence future developments at ports all along the Columbia River. But it’s best to do that by purchasing private land, not condemning it.

Byron Hanke, consultant to the Port of Camas-Washougal on the proposed RiverWalk project, said Thursday that talks between the port and private landowners in the “footprint” of the proposed development are ongoing but have not produced any deals so far.

“At this point, eminent domain has not entered into the conversations on this project,” Hanke said.

Much of the 65 acres is owned by the port, but a large chunk is Hambleton Lumber Co. land. The Parker House Restaurant is another privately owned parcel.

As if further evidence were needed that RiverWalk has its critics, Roger Daniels of Washougal, a leader of Concerned Citizens in Action, fired off an e-mail Thursday saying he was “delighted” to read about Curtis’ amendment passing. “Maybe Hambleton Brothers may soon have some protection,” Daniels said.

Vancouver WA Columbian: http://www.columbian.com

Judge gives OK for Haverstraw village to enter chair factory site : Westchester NY Journal News, 4/6/07

By Akiko Matsuda

A state Supreme Court judge gave the OK for the village [of Haverstraw NY] to enter the old chair factory site for environmental testing, although he didn't decide if the village's authority to condemn the property was still valid.

Owners of the former Empire State Chair Factory site in Haverstraw village have filed a complaint in state Supreme Court in Westchester, claiming that the village and its contractors have been trespassing on their property.

The 10-acre waterfront property on Liberty Drive was designated in 2003 as part of the village's urban renewal zone and was to be developed by Ginsburg Development Cos. into condominiums.

Village officials argued that the village's agents have recently entered the property because under state eminent domain law, the village has the right to conduct environmental testing on the property even before acquiring it.

Bruce Kanner, an owner of the property, disagreed and said that based on the village's August 2003 eminent domain agreement, the village was supposed to acquire the property within three years. Because the village didn't do so, the agreement expired, and the village no longer had authority to enter the property, Kanner said.

Justice John R. La Cava issued an order last week, saying that because property owners failed to prove that the village's action would irreparably harm the property, the owners' request to stop the village from entering their property was denied.

"I'm very pleased with the judge's decision and not at all surprised," Mayor Francis "Bud" Wassmer said. "We knew we had the right for our agents to be on the property to do the necessary testing."

Wassmer said the once-stalled testing was resumed yesterday. The work will continue today and possibly Monday, he said.

Kanner that he was disappointed with the judge's decision, but that he was still hopeful because the judge did not make his determination regarding the validity of the eminent domain agreement.

"We have a very strong position there," Kanner said. "It's very clear that the agreement was for three years."

Liane Watkins, attorney with Watkins and Watkins LLP, the village's special counsel for eminent domain, disagreed with Kanner's interpretation of the eminent domain agreement, saying that as long as the village started condemnations in certain areas of the urban renewal zone within three years, the village was authorized to continue the process.

"Frankly, I don't understand how they can possibly argue ... that it's only three years because it's not just that way," said Watkins, adding that even if that were the case, the village still could make a new agreement to condemn the property.

Kanner said he and his lawyers were ready to present their basis for arguing the three-year limit.

Both parties have filed documentation with the court to support their cases, and decisions would be made within a month or two, Kanner said.

Westchester NY Journal News: http://www.thejournalnews.com

Don't destroy my neighborhood, LAUSD: Los Angeles CA Times, 4/1/07

His house, along with many others in his community, may be forcibly condemned to make way for a public school

By Marcos M. Villatoro

RULE NO. 1: Always, always open your junk mail.

I almost didn't. I saw "LAUSD" and thought: "Probably a public awareness flier." But there was that subtitle, "Real Estate Office." Then all three phones rang: two cells and our land line. All of our neighbors in this corner of Van Nuys opened their junk mail that day.

Nowhere does the letter say "eminent domain," but there it is, in all its overstuffed, half-apologetic rhetoric: the legal taking, if necessary without consent, of private property.

"We plan to build a new elementary school in your community…. The property(s) you own and/or occupy … is located within one of the sites being considered for this school."

So our little neighborhood is part of a grand scheme. The district has already spent billions of dollars to put up 65 schools since 2000. It plans to build 80 more. So far, the district says it has "successfully relocated" 2,200 businesses and households.

At a public meeting on Wednesday, with 300-plus enraged homeowners in the audience, Al Grazioli, the Los Angeles Unified School District development manager, shared the vision: The district wants Elementary School No. 14 to be built on one of two contiguous full blocks north of Vanowen Street, between Tobias and Willis, Hart and Bassett. The new school, he said, would relieve the populations of five other schools in our area and help put schools back on the traditional calendar.

Earlier, Grazioli's real estate manager told me over the phone that my neighborhood needs to look at the greater good. And fear not: The LAUSD will hire an appraiser and buy our homes at market prices.

We will sell "voluntarily" to the district or get involuntarily "condemned," unless the plan changes.

My interpretation: Not only can the government take my land without my permission, it can also set the price . And here, between the little streets of Tobias and Willis, Hart and Bassett, it can bulldoze a community that's taken decades to build.

Over the years, I've learned to be mistrustful. I don't take much to the phrase "the greater good." Especially when it comes out of the mouths of powerful monoliths like the LAUSD.

The school district's ability to use eminent domain may blind it to what its power does to the folks on the ground. Our neighborhood anecdotes may come off as subjective, one-sided and irrelevant measured against the need for more schools. But perhaps the LAUSD could humor me for a moment.

After the letter arrived, my wife, Michelle, walked the blocks, house to house.

Half of our neighbors are Spanish speakers. Though the letter also came in Spanish, Michelle explained the situation to them: No matter which of the two blocks is chosen, 22 houses will have to go. All afternoon she heard, "I had no idea what this was about," usually followed by, "Oh no. Not here in America!"

"Where will we go?" asked Mona, who's lived here over 35 years. "We have nothing, nothing but our house." Next to her, Rejo, who just moved in his young family three weeks ago, is too stunned to speak in either English or Indonesian.

Neighbors across our street received no letters. Yet they're as upset as those of us waiting to be condemned. We meet on the sidewalk, something we've done for a dozen years. Because this is that type of neighborhood. We throw block parties a couple of times a year — potato salad and pupusas in my driveway, two barbecues filled with four meats on Ron's patio. We hand over our house keys to one another while on vacation. We're the Latino-Jewish-white-Armenian Wilmas and Bettys, gossiping at the fence.

People outside our neighborhood don't see this. They don't see Chi, who ran an electric line from his house to next door so his neighbor could finish his bathroom renovations. Nor do they see Constance and Dwayne, who've lived here almost 50 years and have made their home and gardens into a gorgeous Japanese-motif setting.

We live in one of those hidden places you pass while driving down Victory Boulevard or Sherman Way. The place of potholes (we've asked the city for 17 years to repave our street), the place where all those brown people aren't raking the yards, but instead walk through their own front doors after work.

We have our hell-raisers. Norma lives across the street. Whenever something smells of injustice, Norma always gets that Cesar Chavez look in her eyes.

Norma is the president of our community organization, the Cedros Associated Neighborhood, made up of the residents of the two targeted blocks. She's studied the letter and has done her own homework. The letter states that "there is simply no vacant, safe land in the location where the school is needed." Yes, there is. There's a huge, fallow field one block north of us, owned by a church. Six blocks east of us stands a plot that the LAUSD bought up over a year ago. The houses are still there, behind barricades. There are overgrown fields, an abandoned Ralphs, an empty Red Cross building.

At the public meeting, I couldn't tell whether Grazioli and his district compadres were absorbing the outrage or wearing Teflon suits. Did he hear us when we said to cheers, applause and outcries that we do not want to leave our homes? If the meeting was meant to "educate" — I read that as "pacify" — the locals, it didn't work. We were already mad as hell; after the meeting, we were madder. More schools — that's important, but isn't there another way?

Something that was once so safe, the place you ran to when afraid or tired, can be taken away. Just like that — with a form letter, dressed up as junk mail. But the people on these two city blocks in Van Nuys have more to lose: One another. Community. A word the district doesn't use on its site-selection-criteria form.

The LAUSD, with its clumsy, ham-fisted, photocopied letter and the fear it delivered, has ironically made our strong community stronger. The district would blindly tear apart a lively, close-knit, vintage community. Here on the ground, those who crouch under the bulldozing shadow of eminent domain ask only one thing from it: Don't.

Los Angeles CA Times: http://www.latimes.com

Marcos M. Villatoro, a novelist and poet, is a professor of English at Mount St. Mary's College in Los Angeles and a columnist for Tu Ciudad Los Angeles magazine: http://www.marcosvillatoro.com

NFIB escalates opposition to eminent domain: Red Bank NJ Hub, 4/5/07

By Lori Anne Oliwa

A group of local business owners gathered in Brielle [NJ] March 20 to participate in an interactive and educational forum on the controversial issue of eminent domain.

The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) hosted the event, due mostly to increasing concerns from their membership.

"Clearly, our members have communicated the message that eminent domain is one of their biggest concerns, and we are responding," said Andrew M. Langer, regulatory policy manager and chief property rights activist from NFIB's Washington, D.C., office. Langer was the keynote speaker at the event and stated that 80 percent of the NFIB membership voted to include eminent domain as a legislative priority.

Several business owners from Long Branch, who are currently battling the city over property rights, attended the forum and expressed outrage at what is happening there. One landowner, who asked that his name be withheld, said, "Eminent domain is a terminal disease, which never goes away."

He said he has spent more than $400,000 in his effort to keep his property from being taken through eminent domain for a redevelopment project.

NFIB is a proponent of stronger eminent domain laws and believes that current legislation is doing little to protect the business community.

"The legislation being considered now has no teeth at all," said Laurie Ehlbeck, director of NFIB's New Jersey office. "Businesses will literally lose their livelihood if they are displaced."

Ehlbeck presented a listing of all eminent domain bills that have been introduced in the state Legislature starting in January 2006. "There are 31 bills in all," she said, adding, "Not one of them addresses all of the issues."

Recently, Sen. Ronald L. Rice (D-Essex) introduced S-1975, a comprehensive bill that is actually a merging of several other eminent domain bills, Ehlbeck said.

"I am still very concerned about issues of compensation. How can fair compensation be calculated when applied to someone's business?" she asked.

Langer, who discussed past cases involving eminent domain, expressed concerns about the definition of the word "blight" and the methods that municipalities use in applying that term. "When a city says an area is blighted and in need of redevelopment, that seems pretty nebulous," he said, and added, "I don't hold out much hope for legislative solutions in their present form."

Langer and Ehlbeck said they would like to see legislation that will force local governments to be more responsive to the business community and to change the way they are using eminent domain. The NFIB officials support legislation to restrict the definition of blight and to provide better notice to business owners.

"The burden of proof needs to be shifted to the municipality," Langer stated, and added, "It is their responsibility to define and prove that an area is blighted."

Ehlbeck said that notices of condemnation proceedings should always be sent by registered mail. Commenting on compensation and due process, both agreed that payment to property owners needs to be increased and due process expanded.

"People should have adequate opportunity to challenge the taking of their property," Langer said. He also feels that better compensation will make the municipality think twice about taking property at all.

NFIB and its legal wing, the NFIB Legal Foundation, have taken a very vocal stance in support of the Monmouth County business community, and recently became involved in an eminent domain case in Belmar.

The organization is supporting BMIA, the corporation that owns the Belmar Mall property, and has already filed an amicus brief with the Superior Court of N.J. Appellate Division, urging the court to find that the municipality of Belmar lacks sufficient evidence in applying the term "blight" to the property in question.

"Small businesses are at such great risk right now," Langer said. He explained that problems develop because small businesses will often go into areas "ripe for redevelopment" when looking for lower rents and lower operating costs.

"They don't realize what they are getting into," Langer said. "While I am skeptical of legislative solutions, I do believe that political leaders need to provide guidance, and that citizens themselves need to take responsibility by speaking out," he stated.

Red Bank NJ Hub: http://hub.gmnews.com

NFIB is a small-business advocacy organization with offices in Washington, D.C., and all 50 state capitals.

Ulmer Park library tug o’war - Feud over land sparks Community Board 13 meltdown: Brooklyn NY Bay News, 4/5/07

Michèle De Meglio

A simple vote about the future of a Bensonhurst library nearly resulted in a riot at a Community Board 13 meeting.

What was supposed to be a discussion about the Brooklyn Public Library’s (BPL) desire to purchase the 2602 Bath Avenue lot occupied by the Ulmer Park Branch Library quickly turned into a screaming match.

Problems began when board Chair Marion Cleaver announced that BPL’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) application – it’s asking the city for permission to negotiation with the land owner – had been altered to exclude the words “eminent domain,” a term residents fear would allow the city to seize the land the library occupies, which is owned by the Parisi family.

But members of the community board, as well as the Parisi family, seemingly were not informed prior to the meeting that the change had been made, and were unsure as to what it would mean for BPL’s application.

Adding to the confusion was that the board’s Housing, Zoning and Land Use Committee rejected the ULURP application last month because of the possibility that eminent domain would be used.

Generally, community board members vote in accordance with a board’s committee, but in the case of BPL versus the Parisi family, members were voting against the committee’s stance.

That left many CB 13 members questioning what the ULURP application entailed.

When an attorney for the Parisi family offered to clarify the ULURP process, Cleaver asserted that the public was allowed to discuss BPL’s application at a hearing last month and at a meeting of the Housing, Zoning and Land Use Committee, and could not comment further.

The attorney and members of the Parisi family bit their tongues and complied with Cleaver’s rules – but not for long.

After CB 13 quickly voted to approve the ULURP application, the Parisi clan jumped out of their seats and screamed at the board for ruling in favor of BPL.

“This is eminent domain,” shouted a family member as he stormed out of the meeting. “The city’s going to take all your properties!”

At last month’s community board meeting, a BPL rep said that eminent domain would be the next step if the ULURP application is approved by the city and negotiations with the Parisi family prove fruitless.

“The city has the right to condemn the property through eminent domain,” Steven Schechter, BPL’s director of government and community affairs, told residents at the hearing.

But that would be a last resort.

With the community board’s backing, BPL will present its ULURP application to the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA). If approved there, negotiations would begin with the Parisi family.

“We can only pray that a negotiation will be reached,” Cleaver said.

Although BPL and the Parisi family have peacefully agreed to rent the Bath Avenue property to the Ulmer Park Library since 1963, that friendly accord fell apart last year when the family tried to raise BPL’s rent from $15 to $19 a square foot.

Library officials maintain that the money saved by owning rather than renting Ulmer Park Library’s land could be used to serve the public.

Schechter said, “One year’s rent would buy 10,000 more books, 225 new PCs, and allow us to make needed improvements to our buildings.”

Brooklyn NY Bay News: http://www.baynewsbrooklyn.com

Panel presents differing views on eminent domain: Atlanticville, Long Branch NJ, 4/5/07

By Christine Varno

It's been said that Long Branch has become the poster child for eminent domain abuse, but last week Mayor Adam Schneider offered another perspective.

Schneider was one of three panelists at a forum on eminent domain at Brookdale Community College in Lincroft March 28.

In addition to Schneider, panelists included Stuart Meck, director of the Center for Government Services at the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers; and William Potter, an attorney in the Princeton law firm of Potter and Dickson which specializes in land use.

While Meck outlined the rulings of a U.S. Supreme Court property rights case that favored private redevelopers, Potter explained that there are ways other than eminent domain to revive a community.

The public forum was sponsored by The League of Women Voters of Monmouth County.

In defending Long Branch's exercise of eminent domain to further a city-wide redevelopment, Schneider noted that the city has received recognition for its plans.

"I did not take this job because I wanted to be a spokesman for eminent domain," said Schneider, who has held the office since being elected in 1990.

"I am a spokesman for Long Branch and I am damn proud of what we accomplished," he said. "I intend to continue what we are doing and it is going to be a much better city when we are done."

Schneider told the crowd that filled the room at Brookdale that the redevelopment underway in Long Branch has been recognized by the state planning association, the county and praised twice by Gov. Jon Corzine as "a model for how an urban area should do redeveloped."

He called the city's plan "thoughtful" and "balanced" with set goals.

Meck called attention to the June 23, 2005, U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London (Conn.), a property rights case, affirming the taking of private homes for economic redevelopment.

"The Kelo decision weakened property rights, but may ultimately strengthen them," he said.

"It made property owners, especially in working-class neighborhoods, aware of what could actually happen with the exercise of eminent domain."

According to Meck, the Kelo decision was "the correct legal decision."

"I felt they followed precedent," he said. "They recognized the issue of economic development is a complex one and deferred to the state to solve the problem."

Since the decision almost two years ago, 34 states, not including New Jersey, have passed legislation to ban eminent domain, according to Meck.

Schneider told the forum that Long Branch has followed every law in developing its redevelopment plan that designated six redevelopment zones in the city, affecting some 600 properties.

When elected almost two decades ago, Schneider said he was considered the anti-development candidate.

"I did not like what I thought was a lack of planning," he said.

Two years into office, Schneider said he was approached by a group of city residents, known as Long Branch Tomorrow, who said something needed to be done with the deteriorating city,

"We made a couple of smart moves," he said, explaining that the city hired a planning firm and established redevelopment zones throughout the city.

In 2000, the city awarded its first development agreement for the Pier Village project, which broke ground in 2001.

"There was more economic activity in Long Branch in January and February than in August," he said. "It is a destination again, which is exactly what we said we were going to do."

The city then awarded a contract for the Beachfront North project which broke ground in 2003. At the same time, the city built 100 for-sale units and rehabilitated 500 affordable rental houses, according to Schneider.

"We maintained a police force for a safer community," he said, " And we bought land for open space and parks.

"We exposed ourselves to election every four years, telling people what we are doing and we never deviated from that," he said.

Long Branch resident Michelle Bobrow told the panelists that she purchased a brandnew condominium on Ocean Boulevard in 1990.

"I was told there was going to be infill," she said, asking," What recourse do we have?"

Schneider replied that the city did not say her property, which lies in the Beachfront South redevelopment zone, was slated for infill.

Potter added, "Unfortunately you have to go to court."

Long Branch resident Bruce MacCloud, whose Cooper Avenue home was taken for the Beachfront North phase I redevelopment project almost five years ago, asked the panelists where the justice system is.

"I still haven't been to court," said MacCloud, who is disputing the amount of compensation the city paid for his home.

A business owner spoke in support of the Schneider administration plan.

John Bonforte, president of Monmouth Rubber and Plastics Corp. in the Broadway redevelopment zone, said his business has been at its location for 40 years.

"We couldn't get females to work in the building," he said. "How would you have gotten rid of the murders and the properties you couldn't give away.

"The mayor is the boots on the street," Bonforte added.

Potter said at the forum that taking properties for private redevelopment projects, even if the current state statutes allow it, is un-American.

"Eminent domain and redevelopment is going on around the state of New Jersey at an incredible pace," Potter said. "We always come up again with the notion that it is a necessary evil.

"It is just not American," he said, adding, "Your property is your right."

The current statutes governing redevelopment and eminent domain could be perceived as fraud, Potter explained.

"When you hear [your home is] in a redevelopment area, do you think 'my home is blighted?' No.

"You think great, we will redevelop this area and I will be part of the growth.

"If it is a redevelopment area, it is a blighted area," he said.

Potter also said there is not enough research to determine the lasting benefits of redevelopment projects and the displacement of residents for the projects.

"We have no good data when we talk about reform," he said. "We are allowing redevelopers to conduct an experiment on New Jersey at an incredible pace.

"Frankly, I don't think we should continue this experiment on ourselves," he said.

Atlanticville, Long Branch NJ: http://atlanticville.gmnews.com

Brothers lose round in eminent domain battle: KTEN-TV10, Denison TX, 4/5/07

A Payne County judge rules against two brothers who hold the last piece of property Oklahoma State University needs for its planned athletic village.

District Judge Donald Worthington ruled that Kevin and Joel McCloskey can't challenge the validity of O-S-U's board of regents, which initiated proceedings to acquire the home.

The McCloskeys had claimed the board was unconstitutional because it hadn't abided by a long-forgotten requirement that a majority of its members be farmers.

The judge ruled the brothers may not make this claim in their court case.

The brothers plan to continue to challenge the university's right to seize the property through eminent domain, the legal concept under which private property can be taken for public use.

The next court hearing in the case is planned for July 23rd.

KTEN-TV10, Denison TX: http://www.kten.com

Business owners wait for fair compensation, relocations for south end redevelopments: Kansas State Collegian, Manhattan KS, 4/4/07

By Mandy Stark

They have been shuffled not once, but twice by the City of Manhattan.

Janice Slanary, co-owner of Art Craft Printers, 339 Colorado, said her business was one that was displaced by Manhattan Town Center in 1987. She said the strip mall in which her business resides was built specifically for those displaced by the mall.

Now they are moving again to make room for the south downtown redevelopment project.

"I feel being relocated once was enough," Slanary said. "But we've been fair and reasonable with Dial because we don't want to go the eminent domain route."

Dial Realty is the developer working on the redevelopment project with the city. They have been trying to negotiate agreements with property owners for the project, but the city commission agreed as part of the project to use eminent domain to remove any property owners that did not make agreements with Dial.

Eminent domain comes from Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, "... nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that using it to take land for economic development is constitutional.

Developers are pushing the south project because of a law passed by the Kansas Legislature last year. The law ends the city's ability to use eminent domain to buy property for economic development purposes on July 1.

The city commission voted to use condemnation on two property owners in the north project last year and approved an ordinance to begin condemnation proceedings on properties in the south downtown redevelopment area Tuesday evening.

The south redevelopment project extends from Fort Riley Boulevard to the south and east, Fourth Street to the west and Pierre Street to the north. The city plans to replace the current businesses there with a discovery center, a theater, hotel and conference center, parking garage, restaurants and retail stores.

Tuesday's meeting was the second reading of the ordinance that allows government entities to acquire private properties through eminent domain, a constitutional right enacted through statutory law, said William Frost, city attorney.

"Under this law, court-appointed appraisers decide the amount the city must pay for each of these properties," said Frost. "After the second meeting (last night), the ordinance will be published, allowing us to file the eminent domain lawsuit."

Assistant city manager Jason Hilgers said property owners could negotiate contracts with Dial and avoid the eminent domain process.

"Our hope is that everyone will sign contracts, and we can avoid resorting to eminent domain transactions," Hilgers said. "Both parties need to continue to communicate and reach a solution."

Hilgers said the offers from the city were for the properties' market values plus 25 percent and included a relocation plan. He said the eminent domain process would give the market value, but that other details of the price are up to the judge.

The remaining property owners can reach a settlement with Dial any time during the eminent domain process, Hilgers said.

Slanary said Art Craft Printers still is negotiating with Dial.

"Signing a contract, for us, is contingent upon finding a suitable relocation site," she said. "We would like a secure place to move to."

Slanary said they are working with Dial to buy a suitable property from its current owners. She said though they are working toward a solution, she feels her business could have been compensated more.

"For all of what's being taken from us, I think we could have been compensated even better," Slanary said. "I would have liked to have seen an offer that reflected the revenue we will lose from our tenants, too."

Rick Kiolbasa, partner in Dial Realty, said he believes they are making progress in the negotiations. Dial has signed contracts with 16 of the 23 property owners.

"I think we'll be successful in negotiating contracts with most folks," Kiolbasa said.

Mike Conkwright, owner of Bud's Auto Service, 301 Colorado St., said he and his family are not opposed to the project, but they are waiting for an offer they can accept.

"In the long term, this project will be very good for the Manhattan community," Conkwright said. "We don't want to be against the project. We just feel it should not be at the present business owners' expense."

Conkwright said the offers his family has received have not offered enough to maintain their business.

"We're expected to move to a location that's not as competitive for a one-time price," he said, "but they're going to continue to profit from this deal for a long time."

Conkwright said he and his family would agree to a contract with a new site for their business, provided the site is acceptable and relocation costs are included.

"This is a third-generation business that my family has owned for more than 50 years," he said. "We have to have an offer that allows us to continue our way of life."

City commissioner Ed Klimek said the commission's intent is to treat the property owners fairly in the purchase of the properties and assisting them in relocation.

"Businesses in the redevelopment district need to be able to stay in business if they want to do so," Klimek said. "We need to make sure we're giving them a fair offer. At the same time, there is a limit to what the city and Dial can pay."

Klimek said he has spoken with the majority of owners in the district and understands what they need.

"The city commissioners are the policy makers, not the negotiators," he said. "We pass on what we find out to the negotiating team, and if we don't feel the offer is fair, we can step in and say, 'Hey, you need to go a little further.'"

Robert Greene, director of real estate legal services for O'Reilly Automotive, 324 Fort Riley Blvd., said the company has cooperated with Dial and is waiting for an appropriate relocation site to be found before they sign a contract.

"Our view is that we have to have a suitable new site as step one," Greene said. "Once we have that, we can move to steps two and three, getting to the value of our property and relocating costs."

Greene said since O'Reilly Automotive has more than 1,700 stores across the nation, it is easier for the company to change locations than other businesses in the district.

"We set up stores often so we can move our Manhattan store pretty economically," Green said. "For a lot of the people affected by this redevelopment, this is their one business. Everyone is pretty unique down there."

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

Property case upholds owners' rights: Sarasota FL Herald-Tribune, 4/4/07

Judge sides with Olympia owners on case that tests state eminent domain law

By Anthony Cormier

Joel and Cindy Jarvis, husband-and-wife developers who dabble in small-time projects in Palmetto, bought the Olympia Theatre from the city in 1995 for $1 and promised sweeping changes to the historic building.

Twelve years later, though, the Olympia is still in bad shape. It's rarely open to the public. There is no indoor stage. The once glorious movie house is a shell of its former self.

Frustrated with the pace of renovations, Palmetto officials tried to take it back through eminent domain and do the renovations themselves.

But a judge ruled this week that the Olympia is private property - and the city cannot take it back - in a case that some observers are calling the first of its kind for Southwest Florida.

The Olympia decision is this region's first test of a new law that protects property owners and limits the government's ability to take land for redevelopment.

It also underscores the complex debate over individual rights and public goals, which took hold during a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling two years ago.

"There is no reason governments should step in when they see a property they like and say, 'We'll take it from here,'" said Bill Moore, a Sarasota land attorney who represented the Jarvises.

Moore's firm helped lobby the state Legislature in 2006 to tighten eminent domain laws, which came under fire after a Supreme Court decision that gave wider discretion to governments and developers.

Eminent domain cases are rarely noticed, and most often are tools that help widen roads and build sidewalks. In many cases, the government buys property from a landowner and uses that property for the greater public good.

But in February 2005 the federal Supreme Court ruled that New London, Conn., officials could take private property that had fallen into disrepair and give it to a developer who wanted to build a shopping center and business plaza.

The decision shocked many observers and drew near universal scorn. For Florida legislators, the worry was potential for abuse in cities where wealthy and well-connected developers could eye valuable waterfront properties for redevelopment into condominiums and shopping plazas.

So legislators changed Florida's laws and said that governments could not use eminent domain for their own economic or redevelopment goals. Essentially, legislators made one thing clear: The government cannot take property in order to turn a profit.

"They looked at the law and found it very skimpy," Moore said.

In this case, Palmetto leaders wanted to turn the Olympia into a municipal auditorium - for public and private community use, such as senior nights, holiday gatherings, even wedding receptions. Many in the city felt the Jarvises, who paid $1 for the title in 1995 and were recently offered as much as $600,000 by the city, were not holding up their end of the deal to refurbish the Olympia.

The auditorium would be the centerpiece of a downtown renewal, which could transform 10th Avenue West back into "Old Main Street" with quaint shops and restaurants surrounding the Olympia. So, after negotiating for months with the Jarvises, the city filed suit against the couple in July 2006.

In Florida's eminent domain cases, the burden is on the government to show two things: a public purpose and reasonable necessity for the taking. Circuit Judge Peter Dubensky agreed that Palmetto had a public purpose in mind, but that they didn't need to have the Olympia.

In fact, the judge said that Palmetto never did traffic or demand studies, didn't budget for a new auditorium and never mentioned the building in long-term development plans. Officials were "clearly disturbed" at the slow pace of renovations, Dubensky wrote, but "declared the theater a public necessity - out of necessity."

For Tanya Lukowiak, director of the Community Redevelopment Agency, this week's decision is not a surprise - but is certainly a disappointment. The CRA, a tax arm of the city government, paid for nearly $30,000 in repairs in what some feel was a bad investment.

"It was always our intention to finish the theater as a theater," Joel Jarvis said during a February hearing.

With the Jarvises' job unfinished, the city wanted the building back. But even staffers such as Lukowiak admit that eminent domain is tricky - and the questions are nearly always the same:

How far should a government go to spur change? And what role do private property owners have in public renewals?

"It's a touchy subject," Lukowiak said Tuesday. "It's about public benefits and private property rights. But the city's position has always been: 'If you can't do it, we'll do it for you.'"

So, more than a century after the Olympia opened in 1916 as one of the first movie houses on Florida's west coast, the history-rich building will not be a symbol of the city's downtown renewal.

At least not for now. City officials have not decided whether to appeal the ruling, and the Jarvises' attorneys say they want to work on a public-private partnership that would restore the Olympia to its former glory.

Mayor Larry Bustle says he is all for a solution, and the city could appeal the decision, refile another eminent domain petition or go back to the drawing board with the Jarvises.

"I'm really open to any option," Bustle said. "I do feel, though, that we would do a great job of turning what is a shell of a building into a fantastic multi-use structure for our citizens. That's what this has always been about."

Sarasota FL Herald-Tribune: http://www.heraldtribune.com

Eminent domain curb is winning: St Louis MO Post-Dispatch, 4/4/07

By Phil Sutin

Creve Coeur [MO] voters on Tuesday were approving a city charter amendment that would require a two-thirds favorable vote of the City Council — six of its eight members — to approve eminent domain before the city or any of its affiliates could use it.

Eminent domain became an issue in Creve Coeur when the Olive Boulevard Transportation Development District indicated it might use the process — but never did — to obtain part of a service station at Olive and CityPlace Drive for its improvement project. The district is a separate entity from the city, but the mayor and two council members serve as directors.

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

Businessman resists condemnation plans: Indianapolis IN Star, 4/4/07

By James A. Gillaspy

As county commissioners try to expand downtown [Noblesville IN] parking through land condemnations, one targeted property owner says the claim that he refused to negotiate a sale of his half acre is not entirely accurate.

“They never came over and made me a decent offer,” said Chuck McMillan, owner of McMillan’s Auto Care and Towing shop across from the Hamilton County Government and Judicial Center.

In recent objections to the condemnation proceedings, McMillan and his attorney also contend the decision to seize the property through eminent domain was premature because officials did not adequately specify the intended use or necessity as required.

The condemnation proceedings initiated last year involved properties between White River and Sixth Street just south of the government center. The idea was to expand an existing 188-space parking lot to about 300 spaces, primarily for county employees and jury pools.

Besides their stated desire to add parking spaces, the commissioners’ lawsuit cites vague plans “for the potential future construction of offices for Hamilton County government.”

Officials also have declared the possibility of a parking garage.

According to the objection filed last month in Hamilton County Superior Court 1, the county “failed to make an offer to purchase based on the actual current fair market value” and “failed to demonstrate either the ‘use’ or ‘necessity’ which would justify its attempt to take the private property...

“The proposed take is excessive and not based upon what is reasonably necessary now or in the reasonably foreseeable future, and is based upon remote and speculative needs,” said the filing by McMillan’s lawyer, J. Michael Antrim.

A nearby property owner on White River, who was sued in a separate condemnation action, also had complained that the $90,000 offered for his land was insufficient. He settled when the county bumped its price to $120,000.

McMillan, who has run his business at a former gas station at 599 Conner Street for 22 years, said the county’s offer of $314,000 attaches no value on the business or his cost to relocate it.

“You can’t buy a decent house with that,” said the 72-year-old proprietor.

Based on an appraisal and his own calculations, he estimates a fair price at $1.5 million, which would cover costs of replacing equipment he can’t move and expenses necessary to comply with added restrictions on his business that don’t affect his current operation.

Mike Howard, attorney for Hamilton County Commissioners, said he understands McMillan’s expectations for more cash. He said a separate statute, and separate negotiations, would apply for those relocation expenses, however.

“This is a separate issue that is really decided outside of the eminent domain proceeding,” said Howard. “The eminent domain proceeding is fair market value of the property.”

Howard said the relocation expenses would be taken into consideration if the county is given a go-ahead to obtain appraisers to set the value of the real estate for condemnation.

“Of course, he’s saying that we don’t have the right to take it,” Howard said of the pending objections that will be set for a hearing. “So, if he wins that then we don’t have anything to talk about.”

Indianapolis IN Star: http://www.indystar.com

Plea to developers - Be open: Philadelphia PA Inquirer, 4/6/07

A consultant prescribes a policy of "extreme engagement" with the public as the way to avoid damaging opposition

By Louis S. Bezich

Recent polls confirm that New Jerseyans want lower property taxes, more open space and less suburban sprawl. However, if redevelopment projects with the potential to advance these worthy goals carry even the hint that eminent domain could be used, they are feverishly opposed.

How then in a state where our future relies on redevelopment do we resolve such conflicts?

A strategy which has proved successful in my experience managing controversial redevelopment projects is what I have labeled "extreme engagement."

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo decision triggered a backlash against eminent domain.

New Jersey has proposed legislation to curb eminent-domain abuse. Nevertheless, the leading legislative proposals appropriately maintain eminent domain as a last resort.

So even with these reforms, projects may still be dogged by eminent-domain opponents no matter how great the public benefits or protections.

In today's ultra-competitive media world, David vs. Goliath stories positioning the oppressed property owner against the powerful developer are the mother's milk of newspaper editors and TV news producers.

They can pump up the underdog to cult status, giving comparatively little column space or air time to the complexities of redevelopment and, more important, the benefits.

For their part, local officials and developers alike have been slow to recognize the need for civic engagement.

Too often it's only after a negative public reaction that officials and developers scramble to get the word out on the details of their projects and solicit public input.

Failure to recognize the value of a comprehensive public-engagement program can threaten or even kill the best-intended projects. Just ask the folks at Cherokee who were thought to be the saviors of East Camden.

As a practitioner of economic development for more than a decade and a local official for almost two, I believe the key to successful economic development in the post-Kelo environment is aggressive civic engagement that educates, informs and makes use of technology.

For projects to overcome both the abstract opposition to eminent domain and the media storm so prevalent in today's environment, officials and developers need to employ strategies that go well beyond even those proposed in the new legislation.

A new model of redevelopment must be built on the principle that good projects are best served by voluntary transparency.

In two high-profile South Jersey redevelopment projects, in Haddon Township and Westville, my firm has advised the developer, Fieldstone Associates, in this strategy.

In both projects, the developer was confronted early on with significant public opposition, based largely on the possibility of eminent domain, even though eminent domain was not used and the developer said it saw it as a last resort.

In every other measure, both projects are case studies in state-encouraged "smart growth," meant to promote urban and suburban revival and reduce sprawl.

While the projects are far from finished and there is still opposition, the public perception of each project is much more balanced as measured by newspaper editorials, the public positions of elected officials and candidates for public office, and, perhaps most important, actual investments in properties adjacent to the redevelopment sites.

The strategies used to build this new model have included developer-sponsored tours; videotaping of public forums for repeated broadcast on municipal cable stations; project Web sites and e-mail forums; direct mailing of project information to every household and business; third-party review; expanded communication with the news media; and disclosure of property-acquisition offers and relocation benefits.

The goal is to bring transparency to a new level so that fair treatment can be distinguished from abuse and the redevelopment debate can advance from the abstract to the specific.

Philadelphia PA Inquirer: http://www.philly.com/inquirer

Louis S. Bezich is president of Public Solutions Inc., a Haddonfield-based economic development consultancy.

Drafting error? House bill would give Lake County power to condemn private land in Porter County: Chesterton IN Tribune, 4/3/07

By Vicki Urbanik

A bill that passed the Indiana House giving the Lake County Convention and Visitors Bureau the authority to use eminent domain outside of its home county, as well as to promote tourism beyond its borders, has prompted a harsh war of words.

Lake County CVB President Speros Batistatos said the eminent domain language was a drafting error and something that he never requested. However, he said he still strongly supports another component of the bill that would lift language banning the Lake County CVB from spending money to promote tourism in other counties.

The bill, H.B. 1166, authored by Bill Cochran, D-New Albany, was amended in a House committee, when the eminent domain language was among the changes made by the sponsor of the amendment, Rep. Chester Dobis, D-Merrillville. The bill passed the House 93-1, with all Northwest Indiana representatives voting in support.

In the Senate, the bill passed the Committee on Economic Development and Technology, but then was reassigned to the Committee on Tax and Fiscal Policy, where it appears dead.

State Sen. Vic Heinold, R-Kouts, said that today is the deadline for the committee chair, Sen. Luke Kenley, to call up bills, but that he hasn’t scheduled H.B. 1166.

“It’s dead on arrival,” Heinold said of the bill. However, Heinold also acknowledged that the language could be resurrected in the final weeks of the Legislature. “It could pop up anywhere.”

The Lake County CVB already has eminent domain authority in its home county. The House amendment removed language limiting that authority to within Lake County.

The current law also bans Lake County from spending money to promote tourism in other counties unless it agrees to establish a joint tourism bureau with at least one other adjoining county. The amendment struck that language as well, essentially giving Lake County the right to both condemn land and to spend funds on tourism anywhere in the state.

Batistatos said the Lake County CVB is unlike other CVBs, such as Porter County’s, because it is a state agency. As such, he said he doesn’t have to ask Porter County or other CVBs for permission to promote tourism on regional level.

This isn’t the first time that the tourism bureaus in Northwest Indiana have clashed over territorial issues, but Batistatos said he’s done with trying to work cooperatively with his counterparts to the east. He blamed the tourism bureaus in both Porter and LaPorte counties for making an issue out of the eminent domain language, which he said stemmed from attempts to clean up outdated language and to make it clear that the CVB is a state agency.

He said the only time he could ever foresee having to use condemnation powers is if the CVB wanted to build a new convention center and didn’t have a willing seller. He said he planned to write Dobis today asking him to remove the language that would extend the eminent domain authority outside of Lake County.

“This story is so laughable,” he said. “The conduct of my alleged peers is laughable.”

The Lake County CVB runs a top-notch tourism bureau, he said. “We’ve been drugged down by two parochial fear mongers,” he said, referring to Lorelei Weimer and Susan Bierty, the respective heads of the Porter and LaPorte county tourism agencies.

Batistatos said he now has to spend the next two days in the Indiana Legislature “putting out the fires” created by his counterparts due to their “meddling, unprofessional, paranoid and parochial” conduct. He said that no one in Porter or LaPorte counties called him to ask about the bill’s language before they began raising concerns.

“I’ve had it. My board’s had it,” he said, urging this reporter to make certain that the Porter and LaPorte counties know his phone number -- 1-800-ALL-LAKE.

He further blasted the Porter County Convention, Recreation and Visitor Commission, in that it “didn’t even have the guts” to endorse the state’s plans last year for a privatized beachfront hotel in the Indiana Dunes State Park or to be “visionary enough” to take a stand in support of the Illiana Expressway. The Lake County CVB, by contrast, has taken positions in support of both proposals.

“They lack the common sense to be involved in this industry,” he said of his Porter and LaPorte colleagues.

Neither Weimer nor Bietry could be reached for comment.

Eminent Domain?

To Porter County Commissioner Robert Harper, however, the issue of why the eminent domain language was included in the bill in the first place, and why no one noticed it, raises questions.

Once he became aware of the language involving eminent domain in counties outside of Lake County, Harper wrote a letter to several lawmakers asking them to ensure that the language doesn’t make it into law.

“I am always amazed when elected officials give non-elected officials the power of eminent domain,” Harper wrote in his letter.

On Monday, Harper said he finds it even more objectionable that anyone would give the authority for eminent domain to non-elected officials for use in other counties.

Harper questioned how the language passed both the House and the first Senate committee before it was noticed. “The sad story is the answer is that they probably didn’t know it was in there,” he said.

That’s true, according to State Rep. Duane Cheney, D-Portage.

Cheney said with several hundreds of bills, it is impossible for lawmakers to track all the language in every bill. “I certainly didn’t pick it up,” he said, noting that he shares one-third of a staff member with other lawmakers.

Cheney said he wouldn’t care about the eminent domain language just for Lake County if Lake County legislators want to retain it. “But I certainly would care if it crossed the border,” he said.

Cheney said it speaks well to the vigilance of people who are tracking bills on the Internet to question bills that they notice. He also said that Porter County officials have every right to voice their concerns about a proposed bill that affects their county.

Of Harper, Batistatos said that Harper is grandstanding in order “to keep his NIMBY followers.”

Chesterton IN Tribune: http://www.chestertontribune.com