Twin Lakes settlement reached, but problems are 'not going away': Minneapolis MN Star Tribune, 8/14/07

Roseville forfeited the right to $827,650 in a settlement with developers, closing the book on a doomed proposal to develop a blighted area. But the city still must decide what to do with the land.

By Eric M. Hanson

It's not likely to end the debate about what to do with the large industrial and trucking area in northwestern Roseville called Twin Lakes.

But a recent court settlement between the city and developers probably is the exclamation mark on the final sentence of the six-year saga of an ill-fated 275-acre "master planned" mixed-use redevelopment project.

In 2005, citizens sued the city, arguing that the City Council needed a super majority of four out of five to ratify it. The citizens won the case when the Minnesota Supreme Court declined to hear an appellate court's decision that went in favor of the residents' group.

Afterward, stymied by the opposition and a slumping real-estate market, the developers killed the project. The city took control of an $827,650 letter of credit that the developers had taken out as a guarantee for the city's expenses related to eminent domain proceedings.

The developers then sued to get the money back. Now, the settlement returns the $827,650 to the developers and gives the city $100,000 for expenses.

"This really gives us an opportunity to put all litigation involving Twin Lakes to rest," said Paul Reuvers, the lawyer who represented the city.

All told, he said, the city will be on the hook for about $130,000 in other costs.

But that's in addition to thousands of dollars the city spent on consultants and other expenses related to the project, said City Council Member Amy Ihlan, a longtime critic of the project and the process by which it was approved.

She estimated that the city has paid $300,000 to $400,000 in related expenses just in the last few years.

As with many of the votes associated with the Twin Lakes project, the City Council's decision to accept the terms of the court settlement was divided 3-2, with Ihlan and Tom Kough voting against it.

"That letter of credit was money that we could have used, and were intended to use, to cover these eminent domain expenses," she said. " ... There's no way now for the city to collect anything from the developers at all, other than that $100,000 that they are paying us as part of the settlement."

At the very least, Ihlan said, the city should have consulted a different lawyer to get a second opinion because taxpayers will now bear any costs beyond $100,000 associated with the eminent domain proceedings.

Mayor Craig Klausing, who has supported the redevelopment project for years and won reelection against Ihlan last fall in a campaign where the project had been an issue, defended the settlement.

It's true that the city gave up some claims that it otherwise might have been entitled to, he said, but it did so in exchange for the assurance that it can now move on to other possible projects and with $100,000 to cover environmental reports and other costs.

The roughly $130,00 that the city is out, Klausing said, is "something that the city will have to shoulder now," a necessary concession that was made in order to move on.

The shape of future development in the area isn't known, although a hotel and restaurant have been proposed for one part of the area, as well as an FBI office.

Ihlan said she would like to see the city get more broad-based agreement in future development proposals.

The reason this project failed, she said, was a failure of leadership to build a consensus.

"The litigation [that killed the project] was preventable," she said. "It could have been prevented by building community support and doing the necessary environmental review and just being cautious about taking on risks for the taxpayers."

Klausing said he hasn't given up hope that the area can be redeveloped in a comprehensive way, rather than piece by piece.

"This settlement ends this particular development plan. But the area, Twin Lakes, remains there. There is significant blight that remains there. There's soil contamination that remains there," he said. "So something needs to be done with that area. That's not going away."

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

Sens. seek to safeguard Piñon land: Denver CO Post, 8/12/07

Salazar and Allard want to reassure ranchers through legislation that the Army won't pursue eminent domain

By Anne C. Mulkern and Erin Emery

Responding to widespread fear the Army will seize land to expand its Piñon Canyon training site, U.S. Sen. Ken Salazar said he will write legislation to block mandatory property sales.

The Democratic senator said in an interview that he is considering a measure that would not only insulate property owners but force the Army to say what it is doing with its current property and why it needs more land.

Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Wayne Allard also has hardened his position.

Allard is negotiating with the Army on legislation that would offer assurances to landowners who do not want to sell, a top aide said.

The willingness of the two senators to step in now, after weeks of saying they wanted to balance conflicting needs of the Army and residents, could alter the military's plan for growth.

"The Army has told me that they only want to purchase land from willing sellers," Salazar said. "If that's the case, we ought to put it into law."

The fight over expanding the Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site by more than 400,000 acres heats up next month when the Senate returns from its August break.

Legislation funding military construction is one of the first bills on the schedule.

Salazar and Allard must decide if they will use that as a means to direct the Army on Piñon Canyon. There are, however, several hurdles to passing legislation.

The Army would not comment on possible legislation.

Although the Army has said it hopes to buy from willing sellers, it maintains it has a legal right to use eminent domain, where the government can force a property owner to sell at market value.

In June, Republican Rep. Marilyn Musgrave of Fort Morgan and Democratic Rep. John Salazar of Manassa added an amendment to a House spending bill that blocks the Army from spending money on a Piñon Canyon expansion for one year. It passed 383-34.

Since then, Allard and Sen. Salazar have faced pressure from landowners to write similar legislation.

The senators meanwhile have wrestled with the Army's argument that it needs the land to train more than 10,000 soldiers headed to Fort Carson from Fort Hood, Texas. The Army also said it needs space for a new generation of high-tech weapons that fly farther and faster.

Allard now says that the Army must agree to "take condemnation off the table" and that it has to be in legislation because landowners don't trust the Army, said Sean Conway, Allard's chief of staff.

Allard also wants language that the Army, landowners and other lawmakers can agree with, Conway said. The Army is showing it is open to that, he said.

Army Secretary Pete Geren, in a recent meeting with Allard, said the Army "wants to be a good neighbor, and good neighbors don't take other people's land," Conway said.

Allard also is concerned that people who want to sell have the ability to do so.

Salazar said he doesn't need the Army's agreement to block eminent domain.

"It's a congressional prerogative" to use legislation to block eminent domain, Salazar said. "I don't think it's an Army prerogative how we proceed."

The Pentagon previously waived a moratorium on land acquisition, allowing Fort Carson and the Army to expand the current 235,000-acre site, established in 1983.

That triggered an earthquake of passion and resolve among farmers and ranchers, many of whom come from families who have been on the land for decades.

"I don't think people realize what this land means to people," said George Torres, 58, a rancher who owns 6,500 acres south of the current Piñon Canyon Maneuver Site.

His family has been on the land, which is in the southern 105,000 acres targeted for expansion, for 70 years. "People aren't holding this land to sell to the highest bidder."

Salazar said the stories of such ranchers greatly affected him when he traveled Tuesday to speak to land owners. Salazar and his brother, Rep. John Salazar, grew up on a ranch in Conejos County that has been in the family for five generations.

"I know what it's like to have an attachment to a piece of land that transcends your own life," Sen. Salazar said.

The effort by Salazar and Allard to resolve how the Army acquires land could become complicated.

The Senate has little time left in its calendar and needs to pass 11 spending bills — suggesting the possibility that some or most of those bills could be rolled into one large "omnibus" spending bill.

That could mean all extraneous provisions — such as the Musgrave and John Salazar amendment — get stripped out.

That makes it important to negotiate something acceptable to everyone involved, Conway said. With agreement from all parties, he said, legislation could be added to the omnibus bill.

Getting that agreement will be difficult. Reps. Salazar and Musgrave, for example, aren't willing to settle for blocking condemnation. Both oppose the expansion, saying it would take farmland out of production.

Republican Rep. Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs wants to give the Army what it needs for training and other purposes.

"Premature use of the term 'eminent domain' has created hysteria which hinders rational and productive discussions," Lamborn said.

Many lawmakers may prove to be leery of setting a precedent of barring the government from acquiring land, said Chris Hellman, a military policy fellow with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

"I find it very hard to believe that it (legislation) is going anywhere," Hellman said.

"As a practical matter, it looks very good on paper, but unless they have commitments from committee chairs that have jurisdiction over this kind of stuff, including Armed Services in both houses, it won't happen."

Ranchers want the senators to take away the Army's checkbook. Blocking funds for the expansion guarantees it won't happen, said Lon Robertson, head of the Piñon Canyon Expansion Opposition Coalition.

"They can say that they will put it into a bill that they are not going to allow condemnation, but it still opens the door for funding," Robertson said.

The issue of condemnation is close to Gary Hill, a Las Animas County Commissioner, who owns land in the targeted area. The government condemned land owned by his father and brother in the early 1980s for the current 235,000-acre Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site.

For the past two years, Hill, like other landowners, have feared the Army would condemn his land.

"I don't think anybody can understand the stress that puts you under," Hill said. "As a rancher, you worry about everything anyway and then you crawl in bed and you try to go to sleep and you worry about: 'Where am I going to go? How am I going to leave? What happens to my family?' It's a tough deal."

Denver CO Post: http://www.denverpost.com


Land seizure plan angers some owners, relieves others: Asbury Park NJ Press, 8/11/07

By Fraidy Reiss

Hilda Bogursky has never seen the tiny property off West County Line Road [in Jackson NJ] that her father-in-law won in a movie theater raffle more than 70 years ago.

Even after he died in 1972 and left the land to Bogursky's husband and sister-in-law, the Glen Wild, N.Y., resident did not visit the site. She and her husband do not know their way around this area, and they were afraid of getting lost, she said.

But that did not make her any less angry to find out Jackson has moved to seize the property through eminent domain — along with 22 other small, undeveloped lots — as it proceeds with its plan to build the Solar Avenue affordable-housing project.

"I don't think it's right that they should be taking it away," Bogursky, 70, said. "How can they just do that?"

Township officials have been working since February to acquire the last 4.15 acres of the 20-acre site where the Solar Avenue project will be built. They have purchased three of the 23 lots and are in the process of buying another three.

However, on July 27, the town filed condemnation complaints against the 10 owners of the remaining 17 lots. Under its power of eminent domain, the government can condemn and seize private property for a public purpose after paying the owner fair compensation.

"They're just being unreasonable," Mayor Mark A. Seda said of the 10 owners. "They think that their strip of land is worth a million dollars."

Some of the owners cannot negotiate because they cannot show "clear title" to the land, he added.

And one of the owners, Mark Properties, probably will negotiate the sale of its seven lots in the coming weeks, said George Gilmore, the township attorney.

Alan Krupnick, of Mark Properties, could not be reached for comment.

Eminent domain has made headlines recently as state officials, including Public Advocate Ronald Chen and Attorney General Anne Milgram, have called for tighter control over local governments' ability to seize private property for redevelopment.

While towns' seizing land to build affordable housing is less common, it has happened before, according to Peter H. Wegener of Lakewood, an attorney who represents Long Branch homeowners fighting eminent domain in their town.

The Solar Avenue project will contain 105 low- and moderate-income rental units, said John Russo, Jackson's affordable housing attorney. It will partially fulfill Jackson's affordable-housing requirement, which is set by the state Council on Affordable Housing.

Jackson last month entered an affordable-housing agreement with Community Investment Strategies, based in Bordentown, which will purchase the 20-acre project site for $1. The company will apply for government funding to build the rental units and then will manage them, Russo said.

Community Investment Strategies could not be reached for comment.

The town purchased part of the 20-acre site with affordable-housing fees it has collected from developers, and in June the Township Council voted to borrow $675,000 to help fund the Solar Avenue project.

Norman Peck of Montana received $1,500 for his .09-acre piece. He said he was happy to get rid of the "landlocked, postage stamp-size property" that his father received some 30 years ago as partial payment for a car he sold.

Now Peck no longer needs to worry that someone will discover oil drums on the property he has never seen, or that a teenager playing in the woods will fall and trip there, he said.

"The objective was just to make it go away," Peck, 61, said. "If they find Jimmy Hoffa on my plot, he's all theirs."

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

Farmer fights eminent domain: Marysville CA Appeal-Democrat, 8/12/07

By Andrea Koskey

Longtime farmer Jeanette Rice is fighting the government’s attempt to take her land for levee improvements.

Rice lives on 19 acres of farmland on Plumas Avenue off Feather River Boulevard in south Yuba County, less than a half a mile from the Feather River levee.

“There’s no other land like it,” the 56-year-old farmer said. “If they remove the trees, the soil will go with it.”

Rice said it is prime agricultural land for her family’s peach, nectarine and citrus trees, but the Three Rivers Levee Improvement Authority approved plans for a setback levee that would cut across the westernmost plot – taking nearly six acres of her land.

The proposed setback levee is a part of the final phase of the county’s levee repairs.

On Tuesday, TRLIA approved a declaration of necessity to go forward with repairs. That means that acquiring the Rice property is a matter of public good and the land will be taken through eminent domain for what is determined to be the fair market value.

“I want to encourage staff to continue negotiations and find a resolution,” TRLIA Director Mary Jane Griego said just before a vote to take the land. “But I want to firmly stand by the timeline of completing this work. It’s critical for those who’ve had a levee break.”

TRLIA directors approved the intent to take the land by Nov. 10 through eminent domain if the Rices refuse to sell.

Most of the surrounding farmers, Rice said, took the money offered by TRLIA, before the use of eminent domain.

Rice said the $18,000-per-acre offered is well below the value of the land, but money doesn’t matter.

“We’re not for sale,” Rice said. “Farming is in my blood. My father and grandfather taught me everything.”

According to staff, the land is the best possible piece for the setback levee and is consistent with the project. Therefore, an offer was made to landowners based on the assessed value, but the landowners declined to sell.

“The key is to try to maintain a balance between public good and personal injury,” TRLIA Executive Director Paul Brunner told directors.

“We tried our best to move it off the Rice property, but it’s crucial to maintain as much of the levee on the best soil. We believe this is the best alignment.”

Rice, however, said negotiations never took place.

“They offered, we refused and that was it,” she said. “They decided on the land in February. But I thought, the way it worked was they offer, we refuse and then we try something else.”

Despite the controversy, the Rices say they are not against levee improvements or repairs – they’ve been flooded three times in the last 50 years. They are just against their land being taken.

“It will wipe us out,” Rice said. “We won’t be able to farm. (The land they want) is the richest soil.”

Rice said if the levee is moved 300 yards to the west of the existing proposal, her farm will be spared.

Changing plans now, however, would require engineering work and a change in schedule.

“It’s possible,” Brunner said. “But it would impact funding from Proposition 1E (state funding for flood prevention and disaster relief). We need to acquire this land in order to maintain schedule and hopefully put the project for bid.”

The intent to acquire the land was unanimously approved by the board of directors.

Rice said she’s indicated to her attorney that she plans to file a lawsuit preventing the government from taking her land. A lawsuit has not yet been filed.

As for her thoughts on the future, Rice said she doesn’t think about the possibility of losing her land.

“I don’t want to think about that,” she said. “I have no intention of moving. I’m going to fight, regardless of where that road takes us.”

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

Spa official eyes Saratogian spaces: Albany NY Times-Union, 8/10/07

By Dennis Yusko

The city [of Saratoga Springs NY] could take property belonging to The Saratogian newspaper by eminent domain to satisfy its need for more downtown parking, a city official has suggested.

"Maybe we bring it to the table, certainly as a last resort," Public Works Commissioner Thomas McTygue said Friday.

He initially raised the possibility of pursuing eminent domain proceedings for the Lake Avenue property's 75 or so parking spaces at Tuesday's City Council meeting. Any eminent domain action would have to be approved by the five-member council.

McTygue claimed The Saratogian's owners reneged 20 years ago on a deal with the city that would have allowed public parking after business hours in its parking lot, which the paper had purchased in the early-1980s.

City officials have not found written proof of that deal, but the agreement was included in news reports of the time, Accounts Commissioner John Franck said.

McTygue went on to say even when the paper doesn't use the entire lot, it tows cars of non-employees, McTygue said. "It's frustrating for us," he said. ``They completely ignored the city."

Anthony 'Skip' Scirocco, a Republican who is challenging McTygue in November for Public Works commissioner, blasted the eminent domain idea as a "land grab" being orchestrated by McTygue because the public works commissioner is upset over coverage he has received.

The Saratogian Publisher Frank McGivern was out of the office and not available for comment Friday, his assistant said.

The 1.05-acre property and 7,474-square-foot brick building are assessed at $1.6 million, or $2 million at full market value, according to the city's Web site. It's located steps away from City Hall and the present police station.

City officials have been debating for months whether to build a new public safety building and more parking downtown, both of which are expensive proposals.

Last month, McTygue and Franck sent a letter to McGivern, saying the city was interested in acquiring the property at 20 Lake St. for government offices and public parking. McGivern did not respond to the inquiry, Franck said. The paper is owned by the Journal Register Co.

In their letter, Franck and McTygue requested a meeting to discuss terms to purchase, lease or lease with an option to buy the building and parking lot. The paper no longer prints its product on-site, which has opened up additional spots that are going unused, Franck said.

Albany NY Times-Union: http://timesunion.com

Southwest Fresno Residents Meet with Mayor About Impact of Running Horse: KFSN-TV30, Fresno CA, 8/10/07

By Amanda Perez

For the first time since Donald Trump first flew to Fresno to look at Running Horse, hundreds of southwest Fresno residents met face to face Thursday night with Mayor Alan Autry.

They demanded to know what promises the city has made the billionaire and they're concerned over what will happen to their homes.

For now, the Running Horse project still sits in bankruptcy...its future uncertain. But, there is still a lot of fear among homeowners in southwest Fresno, who are afraid of losing their homes to eminent domain.

One unidentified woman says, "This project is going to take everybody's home, so don't be deceived by these little meetings."

It was standing room only as hundreds of people from southwest Fresno demanded answers from city officials. The residents say they're not opposed to the development of Running Horse or Donald Trump. But, they are concerned about what the city offered to get Trump to come in.

Ruthie Clark, Southwest Fresno resident, says, "My concern is for the property owners who might not be able to afford another place."

One by one, people fired questions at Mayor Alan Autry, City Manager Andy Souza, and City Councilwoman Cynthia Sterling. A former city councilmember was one of the few people in attendance who urged others to give them a break.

Les Kimber, Former Councilmember, says, "These people don't need to cut off their nose to spite their face. They need to understand the only way to get this area of town developed is to have a catalyst to do it."

Throughout the night, Fresno Mayor Alan Autry defended his negotiations with the Trump team, telling people the project could bring thousands of jobs to the area and allow people to make a profit on their homes. But, many questioned just how fair market value is in southwest Fresno.

One unidentified woman says, "The price of our home over here is not enough to buy us anything anywhere else in the City of Fresno."

To those skeptics, Mayor Alan Autry made a promise saying he will not support eminent domain unless housing standards from north Fresno are used to determine the selling price.

Mayor Autry says, "I won't support something an eminent domain that isn't going to be a net win for the property owner."

But even with the promise, some say they didn't get enough from city leaders. Debbie Darden of southwest Fresno says, "We got a lot of questions from the Mayor and the City Council, but there were a lot of questions we didn't get answered."

The City Manager tried to calm fears by telling residents a one mile buffer zone around the project is no longer an option and its unknown if Donald Trump will even end up buying this piece of land.

But, many of the residents said they are still afraid eminent domain will come back into the equation.

KFSN-TV30, Fresno CA: http://abclocal.go.com/kfsn

Board takes no action on blight certification: Carlisle PA Sentinel, 8/10/07

By Dale Heberlig

Shippensburg [PA] Borough’s planning commission took no action Wednesday night on a county request to “certify” three Walnut Bottom Road properties as blighted — an action that would open the door to potential federal funding to spur redevelopment of two dilapidated buildings and a vacant lot.

The blight certification is the first step in creating a “redevelopment area” targeted for revitalization. It is also a necessary first step in any possible eminent domain action in which the county could take the property for public or private use.

Decision deferred
Citing the absence of two key planning commission members and a reluctance to trample on individual property owner rights, Art Berman — acting chairman of the commission — urged caution and pressed the other board members to defer a decision on the Cumberland County Redevelopment Authority request to designate the properties as “blighted.”

Board member Elizabeth Mauer-Minnich said she was convinced the properties were blighted but said she was willing to table the matter “if you two want to wait.”

Mai Baltimore said she considered the two fire-damaged buildings — the former University Lodge and a one-story concrete block building owner by Harold, Alan and Bradley Swidler — blighted, but she said she was less convinced about the vacant lot owned by Kenneth Bender.

The three properties make up a seven-acre parcel at the eastern approach to the borough. The buildings have been vacant and crumbling for five years or more.

The commission will readdress the issue Sept. 12, when chairman Scott Madey and member Mike Pimental may be in attendance.

On Sept. 20 agenda
Because of the delay, the county’s planning commission will not review the “blight” request until its Sept. 20 meeting. County planners were scheduled to consider the request Aug. 16.

Cumberland County commissioners will have the final say after the planning commissions speak.

Chris Houston, the redevelopment authority’s real estate director, said the “blight” designation sounds more negative than it is and that eminent domain is not the only possible result.

He said the current owners have the luxury of selling the property on their own or taking steps to improve or replace the existing buildings.

However, Houston said, eminent domain “will likely be used on the University Lodge property” if it becomes part of a redevelopment area.

The Vigilant Hose Co. made a purchase offer for the vacant motel property but was rebuffed by the owners. Vigilant Hose President Danny Byers confirms the overture, but declines to identify the amount of offer. He says company officials continue to consider several options for a new headquarters.

The University Lodge situation is muddied by a dual ownership arrangement — shared by Ed Rosenberry of the Leeann Corp. and Jaydip Inc., of which Umesh Patel is a principal. Patel spoke privately with Byers following Wednesday’s meeting.

Eric Swidler — real estate broker for the Swidler property — said there is no interest in selling the property. In the past, Swidler has said they want a build-to-lease agreement with a tenant. He said that effort remains active.

No notification
Bender, who owns the vacant property, was agitated because he had no official notification of the county’s intent to designate his property as blighted.

“If I were setting the wheels in motion to take someone’s property, I would certainly notify them,” he said.

After hearing the details, Bender acknowledged that his property is virtually “unsaleable” because it has just 45 feet of road frontage. He said the redevelopment action could “help me financially.”

The University has been vacant since Aug. 12, 2002, when a two-alarm fire started in the restaurant area. The Swidler property has been empty much longer. It is also fire-damaged, according to the county’s assessment of the property.

Carlisle PA Sentinel: http://www.cumberlink.com

Port Chester to hire own lawyers in eminent-domain case: Westchester NY Journal News, 8/8/07

By Liz Sadler

The village [of Port Chester NY] is looking to hire its own lawyers to fight the long-standing eminent-domain lawsuit against businessman William Brody.

The Board of Trustees is expected to hold a special vote later this week to hire the White Plains law firm Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker as special counsel in the suit. That vote had been scheduled for Monday, but was postponed after the board failed to gather a quorum.

The seven-year suit has so far cost the village $197,000. It had been sharing lawyers and legal fees with G&S Investors, the developer of the massive shopping and entertainment complex that swallowed Brody's downtown property.

But in the wake of a federal judge's ruling that the village violated Brody's constitutional rights when it condemned and then seized his property, those lawyers are recommending that the village seek separate representation.

Mark Weingarten, the White Plains attorney for G&S, declined to discuss the reasons for the recommendation, saying, "I'm not going to get into discussions (about) the two clients that we're representing."

Mayor Dennis Pilla said the new firm would focus on the damages phase of the trial. The board is not putting a cap on what it will spend for the new firm's services, but will ask the new attorneys to bill the village monthly and also to project each following month's expenses, Pilla said.

"Since the judge has ruled, the village and G&S have different interests to protect," Pilla said. "This is a very, very important and really marquee case that is proceeding as we speak."

Brody's four South Main Street buildings were seized by the village in 2001 and knocked down as part of the downtown redevelopment. A shopping mall and parking lot rose up in their place.

Brody's fight centered on whether the village had properly informed him of its intent to seize his properties. The village announced its intention in a legal ad in The Journal News in July 1999 following a public hearing on the matter. Brody then had 30 days to challenge the village's "determination and findings" regarding the project.

But Brody said he didn't find out until 2000 that the village was going to seize his properties. By that time, his 30-day window had long since expired.

In July, U.S. District Judge Harold Baer Jr. ruled that village officials did not give Brody proper notice of their intention, depriving him of the right to fight the seizure. The decision came four months after a trial in federal court in Manhattan.

Another trial is scheduled for December to determine damages owed to Brody. A state court has already ruled the village must pay Brody $1.2 million plus attorneys' fees.

"The unusual thing about this case is that although Bill's property was taken away unconstitutionally, they've now knocked it down and put a parking garage on it," said Bob McNamara, a lawyer for the the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Va., that represents Brody.

McNamara said Brody still wants to get back his property. The village transferred the land to G&S, which conveyed it to the village's Industrial Development Agency. The IDA then leases the land back to G&S, which, in turn, leases it to retailers.

McNamara said he had received a letter from G&S asking for the company to be dismissed from the lawsuit, but a dismissal is unlikely unless the developer concedes that Brody is entitled to reclaim his property and relinquishes its lease agreements.

"This has always been a lawsuit about Bill's ability to keep his property," McNamara said. "He was a property owner in Port Chester and he believes he deserves to be a property owner in Port Chester once again."

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

Council looks to use eminent domain to resolve flooding problems: Somerset PA Daily American, 8/8/07

By Jennifer Garlesky

Rockwood Borough [PA] Council members explained why they want to take a borough man's home through eminent domain at a court hearing Tuesday afternoon.

A culvert along Somerset Avenue has flooded Jack Benford's home several times since 1996. As a result, the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board ordered the borough to replace the 48-inch culvert that bisects Benford's property line.
Based on a report by The EADS Group of Somerset, council members came to the decision to purchase the property.

The two most cost-effective options are flood proofing or purchasing the property, Scott Rugh, borough engineer, told Judge David Klementik.

“Based upon the report the borough did pick the most cost-effective way,” he said.

According to testimony, the engineering report said council has five alternatives to fix the problem: replacing the culvert with a larger culvert; building an off-site retention pond; building an on-site retention pond; flood proofing Benford's home and building an 60-foot earthen embankment; and purchasing the property.

Flood proofing Benford's home would cost the borough about $60,000. If they choose to purchase the property, it would cost approximately $85,000. The cost estimates are based upon the EADS report, which was released in 2005.

Flood proofing Benford's property may be the most cost-effective way but it would limit access to his property, Rugh said. Plans calls for the closing of all windows and doors in his basement and the removal of the berm in front of his driveway, leaving him with little or no accessibility to his driveway and garage, he explained.

“We looked at it financially and the cheapest way was to take Mr. Benford's property,” councilman Todd Berkey said.

If council does not receive permission to take the property, they would have to develop a flood control or storm water management plan.

Until a decision is made on eminent domain, it is not economically feasible for the borough to invest in future planning for the property, Berkey said.

Benford has made an effort to settle with council by offering a purchase price for his home. However, council members could not agree on the amount proposed, council President Don Warrick said.

Benford was present at the hearing but did not testify. Klementik took the case under advisement.

Somerset PA Daily American: http://www.dailyamerican.com

Protecting rights of homeowners: Cincinnati OH Community Press, 8/7/07


By Jim Raussen

For most Americans, part of the American dream is owning a home, having a place you can raise a family and create memories that last a lifetime.

A home is part of what makes a family so strong - as the saying goes, "home is where the heart is." However, recent court rulings and undefined specifics of eminent domain threaten individual property rights.

Eminent domain is the power of a government to take an individual's private property in order to fill a legitimate public need such as building an interstate highway. In response to the growing problem presented by eminent domain, the legislature created the Eminent Domain Task Force to study the impact of eminent domain laws on local governments, economic development and residents in Ohio.

Members of the House and Senate, along with many other interested parties and property rights experts participated in the task force and worked to find solutions to recent problems.

As a result of the task force's hard work, members of the House and Senate worked to compromise on Senate Bill 7. This legislation aims to take the recommendations of the task force, along with ideas brought forth by the Legislature, and create legislation that would protect both Ohio property owners and the communities seeking to further economic development.

Senate Bill 7 prohibits communities and local governments from using the power of eminent domain to acquire property unless when absolutely necessary for public use. If the need for the property exists, the local government must provide a development plan detailing the public need.

The bill also more clearly defines what constitutes blight and a "blighted area" and protects farmland from being declared blighted. This is an especially important part of the legislation due to the difficult nature of determining what is considered property in bad condition. Such determinations can be hard to make and therefore clarifying what is considered blighted was just as difficult.

S.B. 7 requires entities wishing to exercise the power of eminent domain to provide property owners with written notice of their intent to take property at least 30 days before filing an appropriation petition, and make a good faith offer in writing. If the landowner objects, he can appeal to the elected officials who oversee the agency, and those officials can veto the taking.

Under the bill, property owners would have the right to repurchase their property if it has not been used for its stated purpose within five years. These provisions represent the legislature's efforts to ensure property owners are properly compensated when a legitimate "taking" occurs.

The legislation passed by the House this week represents our commitment to homeowners and property owners across the state. We continue to work to ensure that the rights of property owners are not overlooked.

Cincinnati OH Community Press: http://news.communitypress.com

Jim Raussen is a State Rep in Ohio: 77 S High St. Columbus OH 43215, 614-466-8120


Rosemount to use eminent domain to acquire downtown property: Minnesota This Week, Burnsville MN, 8/7/07

By Tad Johnson

The city of Rosemount’s attempt to purchase a single property to clear the way for a downtown redevelopment project took some more twists and turns Monday night.

After a motion to table an item to authorize using eminent domain to acquire the Ratzlaff Service Station property failed, the 6 p.m. Rosemount Port Authority meeting adjourned and was continued after the 7:30 p.m. regular City Council meeting.

During the second part of the Port Authority meeting, commissioners voted 5-2 to initiate eminent domain action for the property owned by Rosemount resident and veterinarian Dr. Kurt Walter-Hansen.

“I can go home and make a decision that you think is wrong, but I can’t go home to make a decision that I think is wrong,” Port Authority Chairman Mike Baxter said right before the vote was taken.

Port Authority members Phillip Sterner and Bill Droste voted against using eminent domain.

During the first part of the meeting, Droste motioned to table the item until the Port Authority’s next meeting on Aug. 21.

“I think we should be the patient ones,” Droste said.

Baxter made a “friendly amendment” to Droste’s motion that the authority table the action to the Sept. 4 meeting with the additional goal to create a “fair process” to forge an option for purchasing the property.

A motion to table consideration of eminent domain until Sept. 4 failed by a 4-3 vote.

Commissioners Mark DeBettignies, Jay Tentinger, Mary Riley and Bruno DiNella voted against tabling the item.

Some commissioners made several remarks toward Hansen as he sat in the front row with his wife, Patricia Walter.

DiNella said he could predict what would happen if there was a continuation.

“Come Tuesday there will be no communication,” he said. “Then we will find two or three pieces of paper (at our places) with a new proposal. … I think we are just procrastinating and beating a dead horse.”

“I would be opposed to continuing this,” Tentinger said. “We are going to be used one more time. I don’t think that is what we want to do here.”

About 70 people attended the first part of the meeting and about 30 remained for the second portion of the meeting, which adjourned about 8:40 p.m.

The city reported that the next step will be that the authority’s attorney will file a condemnation petition with Dakota County District Court and arrange a court hearing.

The city plans to issue a “quick-take” notice, which means the authority intends to acquire title and possession of the property before the commissioners render a final award.

The court must hold a hearing on the petition and the use of quick-take, and the owners will have the opportunity to challenge the petition at the hearing.

The redevelopment project includes a single building with approximately 13,000 square feet of commercial space and approximately 103 apartment units as proposed by Stonebridge Companies of Apple Valley.

It would be situated on the north and east sides of Core Block East, which is bounded by Highway 3 and Burma Avenue and 146th Street and Lower 147th Street.

The redevelopment does not alter the three houses/business properties owned by Hansen at the southwest corner of the block.

Minnesota This Week, Burnsville MN: http://www.thisweek-online.com

Death of a neighborhood: Los Angeles CA Times, 8/7/07

The dark side of “good” eminent domain

Opinion, by Matt Welch

With a lack of fanfare that could only be described as typical, the Los Angeles Unified School District last week finally details 50 Echo Park homes that had the bad manners to be standing where LAUSD planners want to build a perhaps-unnecessary elementary school.

Though a judge stayed the execution temporarily, it's all over but the flattening. The little houses and bungalow courtyards — affordable housing in an area where sales prices have doubled over the last four years — are already empty, with the largely immigrant and elderly population scattered to the wind. Before reading any further, go look at the photos of the abandoned properties here; to see what the well-kept little lots looked like when people still thought they might fend off the heavy hand of the LAUSD's eminent domain authority, click here: http://emmanuelle-journalism.buzznet.com/user/photos/?id=1922706.

According to 2-year-old information from the Right Site Coalition, the anti-destruction activist group that fought to save the neighborhood, stories of the residents who were eventually displaced included:
Margarita Reyes came to the U.S. in 1949, from Managua, Nicaragua, and saved to buy her home in Echo Park five years later. She was 23 years old.

Gilbert Joves' grandmother came from the Philippines in 1976 and bought two tiny cottages in Echo Park that now house two generations of her family.

The Villanuevas have 12 family members, three generations, living in their four-unit house on Mohawk Street, a cherished family home that was purchased with sacrifice and patience.

There's a reason to linger at some length at this human scale of eminent domain's effects. As City Council President Eric Garcetti (in whose district the school will sit) once told the L.A. Times' Editorial Board in another context, eminent domain is like J.R.R. Tolkien's "ring of power" — awesomely powerful and tempting, indispensable in a pinch but ultimately corrupting and to be avoided when possible.

Most of the brouhaha about local eminent domain usage in recent years has centered on fallout from the Supreme Court's 2005 Kelo vs. New London decision, which expanded government power to seize non-blighted private property merely for the purpose of flipping it to a new private owner who promised to generate more tax revenue. The wave of subsequent anti-Kelo legislation, and surrounding media coverage, has focused on private-to-private transfers.

But as Southern Californians know better than most, the perfectly "legitimate" uses of eminent domain can be frequently outrageous and always painful in their application too, falling disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor. The Century Freeway ripped a gash through southern Los Angeles County that still has largely not healed, and the homeowners displaced by the Chavez Ravine outrage of the 1950s (which, if you recall, was justified by a never-fulfilled promise of new public housing stock) were hardly what you would describe as rich.

What makes Echo Park's School Site 9A different from the more than 100 other new facilities being built as part of the LAUSD's $19-billion construction spree (often described as the largest ongoing public works project in the country)? The fact that we've heard anything about it. Echo Park and adjacent Silver Lake (where I live) are filled with writers, so they write about their neighbors' losses. (Especially LAObserved's Jenny Burman, the Daily News' Mariel Garza, and the Echo Park Historical Society.)

But take a tour of Bernard Parks' District 8 in South L.A. and you'll see a handful of wiped-out neighborhoods you've never heard of, as well as some that were spared by timely intervention from the councilman. (Among the many frustrations for civic activists is that the notoriously imperious and non-responsive LAUSD does a poor job of coordination with the relevant council members.) Indeed, when you move up from the scale of individual suffering and take a satellite view, the school district's property seizures seem to be a sensible pile of bland statistics. As was the case in the April edition of School Planning and Management magazine:
As a public entity, the school district has the power to use eminent domain to seize private property to build the school. Wanting to be good neighbors, the district uses this only as a last resort. Land acquisition means more than the purchase of the site; it also means the relocation of the occupants. So far, more than 1,200 parcels of land have been acquired, and approximately 2,200 households and businesses have been relocated.

I can only look on at such faith in government with envy. It would be odd indeed for a district that in so many other areas is infamous for its miraculous powers of mismanagement to achieve the civic ideal of good neighborliness and a "last resort" ethic in this specific instance. In fact, a look at Echo Park itself tells a different story.

What would you say if I told you there was a site of largely vacant office buildings, many with "for sale" signs, just a couple hundred yards away from the bulldozed neighborhood? See for yourself: http://emmanuelle-journalism.buzznet.com/user/photos/?id=1922751. More damning still are these free-falling LAUSD enrollment numbers from nearby schools. (As this last detail indicates, there's a practical as well as a moral argument against eminent domain: By the time megaplans like this one come to fruition, circumstances have often changed to the point where the original plan no longer applies — at which point it's too late for the evicted homeowners.)

But worst of all is that this is a conversation L.A. just hasn't had. The most celebrated LAUSD eminent domain controversies involved buildings, not homeowners — the Ambassador Hotel and Hollywood Star Lanes (the fine local East Hollywood bowling alley where The Big Lebowski was shot). It's almost as if activists are more in tune with architecture and cultural history than with the plight of individuals punished for buying into neighborhoods long before they became fashionable.

This is a conversation the city needs to have, if belatedly. The school building boom continues apace, despite declining enrollment and families fleeing from the public school system. Before we decide to raze another neighborhood in order to educate it, we need to ask whether the ring of power was really necessary this time, or if it's turning us toward the dark side.

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

Fight seems imminent: Tracy CA Press, 8/7/07

Tracy is prepared to use eminent domain to take land from so-far unwilling homeowners so Grant Line Road can be expanded

By Rob L. Wagner

Tracy is considering starting eminent domain proceedings against a couple that balked at a $50,000 offer for a portion of their property.

Stephen Lum and Margarita Ruiz own a small home at 81 E. Grant Line Road. The city considers East Grant Line Road between Parker Avenue and MacArthur Drive a major arterial street that requires two lanes in each direction, according to a city report.

A portion of Grant Line Road in front of the Lum and Ruiz home narrows to a single lane in each direction with no curb, gutters or sidewalk. The area creates a traffic bottleneck, according to the report.

The city is seeking a 1,750-square-foot right-of-way and a 210-square-foot temporary construction easement on the 8,750-square-foot parcel.

The City Council at 7 tonight will consider whether to start with eminent domain proceedings to buy the property via court action. The council meets in the council chambers at 333 Civic Center Plaza.

Lum and Ruiz were out of town Monday and unavailable for comment.

Zabih Zaca, senior civil engineer for the city, said the gravel portion at the front of the property and "about half the front lawn" will be taken via eminent domain. The construction easement will be returned to the owners once the widening of the street is completed.

The city is finishing or has reached agreements with property owners to purchase 13 other parcels along Grant Line, Zaca said.

Negotiations with Lum and Ruiz started a year ago. The city offered Lum and Ruiz $50,000 for the property and offered to pay up to $5,000 for the couple to hire an independent appraiser.

The city sent several notices to Lum and Ruiz regarding the property and received one letter Feb. 22. According to the letter, the couple wanted the city to accept their independent appraiser as the fair market value of the property. The city responded that it would consider the couple’s appraisal in conjunction with the city’s own independent appraisal. The city hired an independent appraiser to examine the property.

"We are spending public funds, and the appraisal must be in the best use of those funds," Zaca said.

The couple was notified in a June 29 letter from the city attorney that the city could begin eminent domain proceedings.

Zaca said the $50,000 offer is good "up until the last minute" before eminent domain is effective.

Tracy CA Press: http://tracypress.com

Property Rights Protection Campaign Reaches Fundraising Goal: Californians for Property Rights Protection, 8/8/07

Eminent Domain Reform Within Reach

News release

Today, Californians for Property Rights Protection announced they have reached a major milestone by securing the financing required to qualify the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act: a property rights, eminent domain reform ballot measure slated to appear on the June 2008 ballot.

In order to qualify the eminent domain reform measure, 694,354 valid signatures must be submitted by November 26, 2007. Signature gathering that began last month generated more than 100,000 signatures. Having secured financial backing to collect 1 million signatures, the campaign has expanded its signature drive statewide. The campaign also has a strong coalition consisting of victims of eminent domain abuse, homeowners, small businesses, family farms and faith based groups to collect signatures.

“Having reached our financial goal, there is no question that our eminent domain reform measure will appear on the June ballot,” said former Congressman Doug Ose, the campaign’s State Finance Chair. “Californians should take great comfort in knowing that we are one step closer to protecting their homes and private property from eminent domain abuse.”

After honoring his term limit pledge, Congressman Doug Ose of Sacramento, retired from the U.S. House of Representatives in 2004. He represented California’s 3rd Congressional District on the House Agriculture, Finance and Government Reform Committees.

The California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act is sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, California Farm Bureau Federation and California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. The CPOFPA is a landmark constitutional amendment that will restore true property rights protections to all Californians. The measure prohibits government from seizing private property from unwilling sellers and giving it to another private entity, while maintaining government’s use of eminent domain for legitimate public projects.

Californians for Property Rights Protection: http://www.yesonpropertyrights.com

Arcuri’s anti-NYRI amendment fails: Norwich NY Evening Sun, 8/6/07

Legislation that would have stopped power line companies from using federal authority to take private property died Saturday on the [New York State] Assembly floor.

The amendment, introduced by Congressmen Michael Arcuri (D-Utica), John Hall (D- Dover Plains) and Maurice Hinchey (D-Hurley) within the New Direction for Energy Independence, National Security and Consumer Protection Act, would have denied Washington-approved power line projects access to federal eminent domain authority.

“We understand that there are serious energy needs facing this country that must be addressed swiftly and judiciously. All this amendment does is prevent an already approved company from using federal eminent domain to drag a property owner into federal court and take his land,” Arcuri said Saturday. “That is a supreme power of the federal government, and one which I believe a majority of the members would agree should not be delegated to a private company.”

New York Regional Interconnect Inc., a private subsidiary of Canadian energy developers, is seeking to build a 190-mile-long high voltage power line from Utica to Orange County. The facility would transfer power from the Marcy substation to downstate, NYRI officials say, and relieve energy constraints in metropolitan New York. The project, which could undergo a federal review even if it is denied at the state level, would impact roughly a thousand property owners in Chenango County.

“We’ll still try to do everything we can to stop this power line from going through,” said Norwich resident Perry Owen in response to learning Arcuri’s amendment was defeated.

Norwich NY Evening Sun: http://www.evesun.com

Eminent domain weighed in Kent Council considers seizure of property owned by Right Dimensions: Ravenna OH Record-Courier, 8/6/07

By Matt Fredmonsky

The phrase "eminent domain" can stir feelings of both hope and anger.

Municipalities declare it is necessary for doing the public good. In Cleveland, council members there approved the use of eminent domain in April 2006 to push through the Flats redevelopment project much to the chagrin of some east bank land owners.

Despite the issue's often controversial reputation, an official vote on the use of eminent domain will be cast by Kent City Council this month. City officials are looking at property owned by La Mirada, Calif., real estate development firm Right Dimensions. The land is located in a downtown block previously targeted by the firm for a large-scale redevelopment project.

Council will hold a community development committee meeting after its regular council meeting Aug. 15 at which time city administrators will present a resolution of necessity for implementing eminent domain to seize the firm's College Street property.

Right Dimensions President Andrew Lombardo approached city officials in 2004 and proposed a multi-million dollar reinvestment project in the block bordered by Haymaker Parkway, Depeyster and South Water streets. The $13 million proposal included a three-story, mixed-use development. After spending approximately 18 months on the project, city officials declined in June 2006 to renew an agreement that would have continued a partnership with Right Dimensions.

The project failed largely due to property acquisition. However, Right Dimensions was able to purchase property at 129 and 131 E. College St. for $230,000.

City officials discussed the idea of using eminent domain to seize the firm's property as early as August 2006, when Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said Kent would consider eminent domain to continue moving forward with the project.

In June 2007, Kent officials began watching a debate at the state house in Columbus about criteria for implementing the land-grab practice. Last month, Councilman William Schultz asked city administrators for an informational presentation on the process.

Councilman Garrett Ferrara said he believes council will likely vote to implement eminent domain on the Right Dimensions property.

"Unless the city comes to an agreement with Right Dimensions," Ferrara said.

When council members allowed the agreement with Right Dimensions to expire, a series of events unfolded to keep the project moving. Houses on city-owned land next door to the property were demolished. The city obtained options on the remaining parcels in the block.

The firm filed a lawsuit in March 2007 seeking more than $25,000 in damages claiming city employees damaged the structures owned by Right Dimensions.

Lombardo had no comment on the lawsuit, which is pending in court, but said his firm will fight any eminent domain action. He contends city officials have taken unlawful steps in the past to damage the property in an attempt to force a sale.

"There's something behind the scenes, and I don't know what it is," Lombardo said.

Ruller said the city has no motive for seizing the land other than to remove blighted structures and spur a development project that could include Kent State University.

The city could look to create a project similar to the original proposed downtown village in combination with a hotel and conference center.

"Whereas Right Dimensions was not building that into their project, we felt there was an opportunity to combine those things," Ruller said. "It's premature to say that's the final product."

Ravenna OH Record-Courier: http://www.recordpub.com

Eminent domain to be used in condo acquisition: Maui News, Wailuku HI, 8/4/07

The Maui County Council on Friday approved actions to acquire the Montana Beach condominium site with resolutions to initiate eminent domain proceedings and to authorize special counsel to assist in the acquisition.

The county previously acquired two units in the three-lot condominium project planned for a 5.5-acre site along the shoreline next to Baldwin Beach Park. The site formerly was used for a limekiln, roasting sand to provide a soil amendment for the sugar plantations.

The condominium project had been granted exemptions from county special management area permit requirements for three residential units in late 2000. When construction began, a community protest erupted, followed by then-Planning Director John Min rescinding the exemptions in 2001.

A flurry of lawsuits by the affected condominium owners against the county ensued, with the county in 2005 settling with two of the buyers to acquire their interests in the condominium. Those settlements cost $6.5 million.

The remaining unit owner, Asghar Sadri, has declined to sell his interest and has filed multiple lawsuits against the county alleging civil rights violations and claiming damages because he has been blocked from building his house for the past six years.

A resolution to proceed with eminent domain was approved on second reading.

The action will require the county to place sufficient funds in escrow to cover the estimated cost of the property. The second resolution approved by the council Friday authorizes up to $250,000 for a private attorney specializing in property litigation to assist in the proceedings.

Maui News, Wailuku HI: http://www.mauinews.com


Appeal Filed in Federal Case Against Atlantic Yards: Brooklyn NY Eagle, 8/3/07

The plaintiffs in a federal case challenging the use of eminent domain to build Forest City Ratner Companies’ planned Atlantic Yards Project have filed an appeal in the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

The plaintiffs are property owners and rent-subsidized tenants located in the footprint of the planned 22-acre development project. They challenged the state’s right to forcibly take their property by eminent domain, saying it violates the Constitution. Both cases, Daniel Goldstein et. al v. George E. Pataki and Aaron Piller et. al v. George Pataki, et. al, named several state and city defendants along with the project developer.

Under the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation.” Therefore, when eminent domain is used to take private property, it must be for a public use and just compensation must be paid to the owner.

In this case, the plaintiffs argued that the public use requirement was not met because the project’s primary purpose is to benefit FCRC — not to provide any public benefit.

Brooklyn District Judge Nicholus Garaufis rejected these arguments and dismissed the case earlier this summer, after finding that the project would have a public use.

Arguments in the appellate court are scheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 9.

Brooklyn NY Eagle: http://www.brooklyneagle.com

Sutton Creek eminent domain action going to jury trial: Norman OK Transcript, 8/3/07

By Carol L. Cole

The City of Norman and Sutton Creek Development LLC are expected to go to a jury trial early next year to determine what the city will pay in its eminent domain action to purchase the 53-acre Sutton Creek Addition.

The next step will be a hearing Oct. 16 in Cleveland County District Court to determine the legality of the condemnation taking.

Assistant City Attorney Blaine Nice said the defendants are challenging the city’s ability to condemn the property because the property would not be used for public benefit such as a park, street or bridge.

Wildlife experts have said building Sutton Creek would degrade the habitat and reduce wildlife populations in the Sutton Urban Wilderness Park. The 53 acres would be used as a buffer for the park.

“They have challenged the necessity of taking,” Nice said. “It has to be for a public purpose.”

Norman city councilmembers voted Jan. 23 to file an eminent domain action in district court after more than 800 citizens protested the proposed development.

Three court-appointed commissioners charged with putting a value on the development determined in June that the property is worth $800,000.

The developers originally purchased the undeveloped land east of the IOOF Cemetery and west of Sutton Urban Wilderness Park for $500,000. Their price to the City of Norman to purchase it was $1.95 million.

An attorney for developers Doug Greeson and John Mertens said Thursday that they continue to try to find a compromise.

“I believe that Doug Greeson and John Mertens are working with the city in trying to come up with some creative solution that benefits the entire city,” said attorney Mark Stonecipher of Fellers, Snider, Blankenship, Bailey and Tippens in Oklahoma City. “But if we have to go to trial, we have to go to trial.”

Nice said if the judge determines the condemnation is legal, it likely will go to jury trial early next year.

Norman OK Transcript: http://www.normantranscript.com

City action coins perilous phrase 'eminent disaster': Salem OR Capitol Press, 8/2/07


There was a typographic error in a recent edition of the Capital Press. The article was about a farm in southwest Washington state that had been the victim of a neighboring city's legal proceedings aimed at obtaining its water rights.

The term used in the story was eminent domain. The correct term for that farmer - and potentially for others - is eminent disaster.

Farmers are used to the taking of their land. Developers and city fathers around the West get itchy whenever they see a tract of land that could be converted into tract housing, strip malls, factories and the other accouterments of modern urban expansion. With property tax dollars dancing in their heads, the politicians look for ways to take farmland and make it their land so it can be flipped and developed into a moneymaker.

The issue of eminent domain came to a head in a recent U.S. Supreme Court case in which a Connecticut city made a grab for property so a developer could put it to a "higher use." In other words, the developer makes a bundle, the city gets a cut in the form of higher property taxes and the landowners get a check and the boot.

The court's justices blew the call in that case, agreeing that city-sanctioned greed takes legal precedence over property rights. As a result, landowners everywhere - especially in the West - were put on notice that their land could become another gleam in the eye of the next politician or developer.

Comes now the case in which Mickelsen Dairy faces the prospect of neighboring Winlock, Wash., that is trying to use eminent domain not on its land, which would be bad enough, but on its water rights.

In the West, the value of land is tied directly to the availability of water. Without water, the ability to grow a cash crop is greatly diminished. That a farmer could have his water rights taken through eminent domain not only threatens those rights but the value of his or her land.

The result is a two-fer. The city gets the water for its development and potentially cheaper land for further expansion.

In the Mickelsen Dairy case, the judge agreed that the city's plans do not trump farming as a land use.

So far, so good. But the city has asked the judge reconsider his decision because the dairy has plans to do something else with its land. It has since moved its dairy operations to central Washington state.

"I'm not exaggerating when I say this is a huge issue - that it's a lot bigger than any of us," owner Clinton Mickelsen told the Capital Press. "If we lose, it will affect farms and businesses across the state that have water rights, especially those near urban growth areas. Any growing city will think that all it needs to do is condemn the water rights of a nearby farm."

Though Winlock's mayor says he has no intention of going outside the city's urban growth area to obtain water rights, that may not be the case for every city in Washington state. By proceeding with this case, the Mickelsens and others fear that Winlock would set a precedent, opening the door for other cities to condemn waters rights elsewhere.

If that fear does become a reality, it truly would be a case of eminent disaster.

Salem OR Capitol Press: http://www.capitalpress.info

Council considering eminent domain for downtown property : Bedford OH Record Courier, 8/2/07

By Matthew Fredmonsky

Eminent domain is a topic on the minds of some Kent City Council members for redeveloping a block of downtown despite some difficulties the land-seizure process might create.

Kent City Councilman William Schultz asked the city administration for a presentation on eminent domain regarding properties owned by the California-based real estate firm Right Dimensions.

James Satola, a senior attorney with the firm Squire, Sanders and Dempsey, which has been working with City Law Director Jim Silver on the issue, addressed council on the process of eminent domain and three key requirements for implementing private land seizure for public purposes.

City administrators requested a "resolution of necessity" from council to proceed with the eminent domain process, however, a council decision on the matter was not available by press time.

Satola said there are three primary requirements when initiating eminent domain.

"The first is that a public body ... engage in what are considered good-faith negotiations with the property owner to purchase the property or acquire the property through some other mechanism," Satola said.

The city must also show the public purpose for which the land is being seized and satisfy a legislative process which includes passing a resolution of necessity.

Satola said removal of blight is a condition of public purpose if it is part of a proper urban redevelopment plan.

"First you must exhaust good faith negotiations," Satola said.

Andrew Lombardo, the president of Right Dimensions, said prior to the meeting there has been little talk between the city of Kent and his firm for purchasing the properties.

"We've been trying to confront (city administrators) for some time," Lombardo said prior to the meeting. "And they don't want to, or have neglected to, have any conversations with us."

Lombardo said he intends to fight any action the city might take regarding the use of eminent domain to seize the firm's property.

Bedford OH Record Courier: http://www.recordpub.com

City Amends Eminent Domain Law: Sierra Madre CA Weekly, 8/2/07

The City Council has presented an ordinance bringing Pasadena law on the use of eminent domain for redevelopment purposes in line with new state regulations.

SB 53 requires cities using the right to acquire property through eminent domain for redevelopment areas to hold a public hearing after mailing notices to all affected property owners in the area.

The city currently has nine redevelopment areas, and the eminent domain power has lapsed in each of them. To reactivate it, the city would need to amend the redevelopment plans.

The areas in the city include Fair Oaks (original and amended), downtown, Villa Parke, Orange Grove, Lake/Washington, Old Pasadena, Lincoln Avenue and Halstead-Sycamore.

The ordinance does not affect the city's power to use eminent domain for other than redevelopment purposes.

Sierra Madre CA Weekly: http://www.coremg.net

Carteret couple fears loss: New Brunswick NJ Home News Tribune, 8/25/07

By Ritu Jha

Parvista Kumar works as a cashier at the local Shop-Rite, and her husband is a cook at Kentucky Fried Chicken.

The couple worked hard to accumulate enough money to realize the American dream.

They bought a house in the borough for $169,000 in 2003. But for the past two years the Kumars have lost their peace of mind, fearing that the borough will take their home through the eminent domain.

The house they bought is located in the Chrome section of the borough and is in the redevelopment zone.

"I can't sleep at night," said Parvista Kumar, who lives at 53 Essex St.

Her worries began in 2005 when the family received the first letter from the borough telling them that their house would be taken for redevelopement. The borough offered them $159,000, which the Kumars said was not enough.

"We wanted them to pay us more," said Parvista Kumar, adding there was no place she could go, no house she could buy with that money.

She said she received no more correspondence until last month when she received a notice that she'd have to appear in court on Oct. 9.

"I knew they would ask us to leave someday," Kumar said.

Kumar, who moved to the borough from Corona, Queens, N.Y., has four children: Yogesh, 12, Priya, 10, and twins Tarun and Tarish, 9.

She agrees that her house needs work. She said she has spent $10,000 on maintenance but has refrained from doing more because she thought the money would be wasted if her house was taken.

But Robert J. Bergen, borough law director, said the borough is working on a lower Roosevelt redevelopment project. "We are not proceeding in that (Kumar's) property."

Bergen said the couple does not have to appear in court. He said they received the letter because of an administrative error, and they will be notified of that.

"She does not want to voluntarily sell the property, so we do not need her property. Also her property lies in the outskirts of the area selected for redevelopment, so we were able to redesign the project," Bergen said.

But Kumar remains uncertain.

"I do not believe they have changed their mind," she said. "I have yet received no letter from them."

She still fears that the borough officials will reach out to her again, after completing the current redevelopment project.

"I know for a time being they have said no," Kumar said. "If not today, tommorrow they will ask us to vacate."

New Brunswick NJ Home News Tribune: http://www.thnt.com