Little Chute board mulls land-takeover issue: Appleton WI Post-Crescent, 9/17/07

By J. E. Espino

Peter Van Groll refuses to sell housing developers 12 acres of land [in Little Chute WI] his family has held for 62 years.

The only offer he plans to accept is one that would involve the purchase of all 160 acres, if developers want to take note.

"We're not ready to sell," Van Groll said.

The decision, however, may be out of his hands.

Erickson Construction & Development is asking the village to use its eminent domain powers to seize a strip of Van Groll's land that abuts Appleton and stretches a half-mile to Evergreen Drive.

A government body exercises eminent domain to take private property for public use.

Village trustees meet Wednesday to take action on the matter. The board meets at 6 p.m. at the Village Hall, 108 W. Main St.

"There is a greater good here," said Derek Erickson, whose offices are based in the Green Bay area.

"I know that eminent domain is not a pretty (term), but if a person takes time to understand the value to the village, it makes all the sense in the world."

Until officials annexed 26 acres of Van Groll's property into the village just over a year ago, all the land was in the Town of Vandenbroek.

Erickson says his company needs that land to access some 29 undeveloped acres directly north it proposes to buy from Northern Solutions for a housing project that could create a $27 million tax base for the village once it is fully developed.

"Appleton's all built out. There's nowhere else to go. I think it makes sense to spill over into Little Chute," Erickson said. "There's no reason why Little Chute shouldn't be able to capitalize on the fact that Appleton is a growing community."

The project, west of Holland Road, between Outagamie County JJ and Evergreen Drive, would be built in phases. The village does not have any subdivisions open for development, said Village Administrator Chuck Kell.

Persuading village trustees to use eminent domain could be difficult.

"Eminent domain is awfully extreme in this case, in that when you look at that map, there's absolutely no development there," said Trustee Janet Verstegen. "It's not like the public need is there."

Plans submitted to the village show in the first phase 18 condominiums at $130,000 to $175,000 each, three houses at $185,000, three twin duplexes at $165,000 each and five single-family lots.

Erickson also says the village should begin to recoup some of the costs of more than $500,000 for a pipeline the village installed on Evergreen Drive in 2005 to encourage development.

Van Groll, a former Vandenbroek town chairman, leases some 95 acres of land to Shade Today Nursery. The rest is used for corn and bean crops.

"If they are going to put a road in, it's got to be put in the right spot (so everyone) gets full benefit out of it, not because they want it," Van Groll said.

Appleton WI Post-Crescent: http://www.postcrescent.com

Eminent domain plans not always successful: NorthJersey.com, Hackensack NJ, 9/16/07

By John A Gavin

When a developer devised a plan in early 2006 to turn Little Ferry's drab industrial area into a 12-acre, tax-generating waterfront, the concept appeared enticing.

A hotel along with restaurants, retail shops, condos, office space and parkland would replace an abandoned pipe company and several underused commercial sites along the Hackensack River.

But the plan created an uproar among residents because it called for designating the area blighted and condemning several homes and small businesses through eminent domain.

The project was shelved within a month.

Invoking eminent domain for redevelopment, although affirmed by a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2005, is no walk in the park for towns and developers in North Jersey. Many eminent domain proposals in the region wind up like Little Ferry's, with developers making traditional offers to property owners to purchase land, or simply abandoning the project.

Over the last few years, several proposals, including ones in Ridgefield, Clifton, Fairview, Englewood and Lodi, have been made by developers to employ eminent domain, only to have the idea downsized or shelved.

Attorneys and land-use experts differ on the reasons why developers often fail to convince local towns to push through aggressive land seizures. But they agree that the region's small-town setting is a contributing factor.

"There is a better ability to communicate and organize people [in small towns than in large cities]," said Ed Trawinski, a councilman in Fair Lawn who is also a municipal land-use attorney. "Certainly, elected officials are responsible to the electorate."

When Little Ferry residents waged a campaign to stop the development, they formed a coalition that sent out letters and fliers, flooded municipal meetings and threatened a lawsuit.

"I'm not against redevelopment," said Dennis Francis, the attorney for the Little Ferry Homeowners and Tenants Association, formed two weeks after the proposal. "Something needs to be done because it's an eyesore. But we thought it was a misuse of governmental power to take property."

Opponents of eminent domain proposals have banded together with success in several other towns.

Lodi, with newly installed council members who had campaigned against the project, dropped its five-year battle in July to seize two trailer parks and 20 acres along Route 46.

In Ridgefield, public outcry two years ago against a plan to seize a 58-acre industrial tract that included homes bordering Overpeck Creek caused the borough to downsize the plan. Under the smaller proposal, the developer negotiated with several large industries willing to move. The plan is still alive but on hold, officials said.

Several communities, including Clifton and Fairview, have quashed land seizure proposals before the idea reached the Planning Board.

"We've been approached by several developers," Clifton city planner Dennis Kirwan said about the city's plan to revamp Botany Village, a neighborhood of older residential and commercial areas near the Garfield and Passaic border. "We flatly said no. We want to come up with more creative ways [for financing] on a friendly buy basis."

Other towns, including Ridgefield, Paramus, Bogota and Little Ferry, took preemptive action after the 2005 Supreme Court ruling bypassed ordinances limiting the powers of local government to condemn.

But other redevelopment projects involving eminent domain have moved forward, or may in months to come.

For example, a $40 million downtown redevelopment in Cliffside Park that includes new shops, restaurants and midrise apartments, is under construction.

"The borough followed the statutory guidelines set by the state," said Christos Diktas, the borough attorney in Cliffside Park "It will create a new economic hub for the borough."

Eight years in the making, the project took 12 properties with little opposition, he said. There is no timetable on its completion, he said.

In Emerson, a proposal that would replace as many as 40 businesses with new mixed-use buildings along Kinderkamack Road is still in the planning stage, and officials have said they will use eminent domain only as "a last resort."

In Hackensack, a Main Street renewal proposal is before the Planning Board. Eight of 14 parcels on two blocks north of the county courthouse are candidates for redevelopment through eminent domain.

Some land experts say that most land seizures are unfair.

"Developers think they can steal the land," said John H. Buonocore, a Morristown attorney who represented 16 Englewood business owners five years ago when the city tried to convert 60 acres south of Route 4. "Redevelopment law does not permit the designation merely because the town needs more money."

Buonocore, who co-authored "N.J. Condemnation Practice," a handbook for attorneys, said eminent domain developers tend to seek rock-bottom prices on land near a river, a railroad station or major highway to maximize profits.

He and several attorneys expect more towns to use restraint in approving such proposals based on a state Supreme Court decision in April. In that case, the court ruled that in order to determine the Gloucester County waterfront property blighted, the locale has to be stagnant, unproductive and negatively affect the surrounding area.

In North Arlington, a political split and bitter battle over eminent domain has escalated into a testy court case, with the developer suing the borough for not living up to its agreement by a prior administration to condemn a string of industrial businesses in order to build luxury condominiums and retail space.

Early this year, a new Borough Council took control, reversing the town's support for the project.

Borough officials say they are optimistic should the case reach a higher court.

"Courts are taking a closer look at the evidence the towns are presenting," said North Arlington Borough Attorney Anthony D'Elia. "Now the courts are forcing the towns to prove their case."

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

Gardens Injunction: Burlington County NJ Times, 9/15/07

By Jason Harris

The [New Jersey] state Appellate Court has issued a temporary injunction halting redevelopment and relocation in the Mount Holly Gardens section until the matter is reviewed by the state Supreme Court.

Residents of Mount Holly Gardens sued in 2003 to stop the long-planned redevelopment of the neighborhood. Superior Court Judge John A. Sweeney dismissed that suit last August, but the residents appealed his decision.

Kenneth Goldman, an attorney with South Jersey Legal Services, said the Appellate Court ruling issued Thursday brings redevelopment to a standstill until the state Supreme Court decides whether to hear the appeal. He called the ruling a big win for the residents he represents.

“All relocation activities are going to be stopped,” he said yesterday.

Goldman and James Maley Jr., the attorney representing the township in the redevelopment, agreed the injunction specifically forbids the township from:

  • Starting to take any homes via eminent domain.
  • Directly soliciting Gardens home owners to sell their properties.
  • Evicting any tenants for the purpose of implementing the redevelopment plan.
  • Demolishing any vacant township-owned property in the Gardens unless the township demonstrates that demolition is necessary because of an imminent threat to health and safety, and that rehabilitation would not be economically feasible.
  • Relocating any residents without first specifically informing them in writing that if they accept relocation assistance payments to move out of the Gardens, they will not be provided with any relocation assistance to move back into the neighborhood.

Maley said the township has to change three practices.

“One is we can't solicit the purchase of property,” he said. “Second, we have to give notice to people being relocated that there will not be benefits for people to move back to the Gardens. Third, we can't just demolish township-owned property just because we want to. We have to show that buildings pose a threat to health and safety before we can demolish.”

Maley said the township could still buy property, but couldn't initiate contact with a homeowner and that the township had never evicted anyone through eminent domain.

“We evict for nonpayment of rent and that will continue,” he said.

He added that relocation could continue, but that people being relocated from the Gardens would now be made aware that there is no relocation money available to help them move back.

“There was not an explicit notice being given to people,” Maley said. “We will give that notice now.”

Goldman said the portion of the injunction forbidding the township from taking houses through eminent domain would free residents from feeling pressured to leave the neighborhood.

The township has so far purchased all the houses it owns in the Gardens, but Goodman said eminent domain was almost inevitable at some point.

“Their plan calls for acquisition of units,” he said. “If (residents) don't want to sell, (the township) will have to take them. There is no way around that.”

The Gardens comprises 307 attached homes. The township has purchased 211 of those properties, 185 of which are vacant. Leases on the remaining 26 township-owned properties expire this year.

Burlington County NJ Times: http://www.phillyburbs.com

Toledo may use eminent domain to build road through Southwyck: Toledo OH Blade, 9/15/07

By Tom Troy

More than once, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has stood in front of brightly painted architectural drawings depicting an excited, transformed “Village at Southwyck,” with fountains, curving streets, greenery, and well-dressed shoppers — but with no way to make it happen.

A new plan emerging from the Finkbeiner administration this week for Southwyck provides a way — eminent domain.

A resolution introduced to Toledo City Council would allow the administration to begin eminent-domain proceedings against the owners of Southwyck Shopping Center for the purpose of building a road.

The legislation says the city needs a new road through the middle of the mall to connect Brownstone and Cheyenne boulevards on a straight line.

The proposed right-of-way would be 100 feet wide, and would require the city to take ownership of portions of the three major parcels that make up the mall.

Mr. Finkbeiner said the road fits with the Village at Southwyck concept proposed by developer Larry Dillin.

“[Mr. Dillin] feels that it’s very important that that mall be broken up, that there be a connecting road running north and south, to link the beltway road,” the mayor said, referring to Southwyck Boulevard.

Mr. Finkbeiner said plans for improving Reynolds Road and on Southwyck Boulevard “are a high priority for the administration, and part of that is a road that would bisect the village.”

Built in 1972, Southwyck Shopping Center has steadily lost tenants over the last eight years, and faces the loss of its remaining anchor — Dillard’s.

Dillard’s announced last month that its Southwyck store would close in 60 days, sometime after a new Dillard’s opens in the Shops at Fallen Timbers in Maumee, expected about Oct. 3.

Todd Davies, commissioner of economic development for Mr. Finkbeiner, said Southwyck “is pulling down the rest of the area.”

“We still want to work with the property owners. We’re at the point where if they’re not going to move, we are,” Mr. Davies said.

Dreiseszun & Morgan of Kansas City is the managing partner for the mall ownership group, which includes Bill Dillard, Sherman Dreiseszun, and his nephew and business partner Tom Morgan. Mr. Dillard is chairman and chief executive officer of Dillard’s Inc.

The Dillard’s store and its adjacent parking lot is owned by shopping-center operator M.G. “Buddy” Herring, Jr., president and chief executive of the M.G. Herring Group, Dallas. Calls to the offices of Mr. Herring and Mr. Dillard were not returned.

District 2 Councilman Rob Ludeman said he met with Mr. Dillard within the last two months.

“I believe the term eminent domain was brought up,” Mr. Ludeman said. “He didn’t seem to like that.”

Mr. Ludeman said if the land is purchased through eminent domain, the city would pay only fair market value, which is less than the amount developer Larry Dillin has offered for the property.

The Lucas County Auditor values the property at about $15 million.

“This is to move Mr. Dillard and Mr. Herring off dead-center. This is the step we need to take to bring [Southwyck revitalization] to fruition. It is blight, and it has had a residual effect on all the surrounding area, residential and commercial,” Mr. Ludeman said.

Once used solely for public projects, such as roads, eminent domain has become controversial in recent years as cities have used the power to transfer property from one private owner to another offering a more lucrative development.

The Ohio Supreme Court last year struck down as unconstitutional a portion of the state’s eminent domain law and criticized the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood for targeting buildings that were in good condition and whose owners were not property-tax delinquent.

It was not clear whether the city of Toledo would cite blight as the reason for seeking control of Southwyck.

The administration says the purpose of the proposed road is “to improve the public infrastructure.”

Don Monroe, senior development specialist under Mayor Finkbeiner, said the goal is to increase residential access through the area.

The Ohio General Assembly enacted a new law, to take effect Oct. 10, setting more restrictive limits on eminent domain, but the law would not apply in Toledo, which has home-rule powers, said state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo).

Toledo used the power of eminent domain to remove 83 homes and 15 businesses from a large swath of North Toledo centering on Stickney Avenue near I-75 in 1999 to allow construction of the $1.2 billion Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant.

The owners of one of those businesses, Kim’s Auto & Truck Service Inc., 3708 Stickney, sued to retain its property, but lost when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Attorney Terry Lodge, who represented owners Kim and Herman Blankenship, said the proposed road seems like a pretext to gain control of Southwyck for an economic-development purpose.

“It’s a fraud. You don’t call infrastructure improvements the potential razing of an entire shopping mall. This is a game. I’ll give them a few points for being clever,” he said.

Mayor Finkbeiner tried to have the legislation introduced and passed under suspension of rules on Sept. 4, but council President Michael Ashford refused to put it on the agenda for immediate consideration and set a committee hearing for Sept. 24.

Mr. Ashford said he wants to know why the money proposed to be spent on the road — $1.9 million out of the city’s capital improvements budget — is a higher priority than using it to improve the residential streets around Southwyck.

“We have a new way of conducting business, and that is we would like to see a plan as to why they would like to see eminent domain,” Mr. Ashford said.

Details he would like include a construction timetable and commitments from developers, he said.

Toledo OH Blade: http://toledoblade.com

Dacono park options up in air: Longmont CO Daily Times-Call, 9/15/07

City must resolve ownership of narrow strip of land

By Douglas Crowl

[Dacono CO] city leaders might seize 2 acres of their city park from an Erie resident who surprised officials when he quietly bought the land in February.

But no clear direction on how the city will resolve the ownership has been made.

An appraisal of the land — an old railroad spur that slices through a portion of the city’s ballfield, playground and parking lot at the local BMX track — is in hand, but the value isn’t being disclosed to the public, Dacono city administrator Karen Cumbo said.

The Dacono City Council met in a special meeting behind closed doors Thursday night to discuss the appraisal. An eminent domain option was on the agenda, in case the council chose to go in that direction.

Instead, it tabled the item and will consider it again during a Sept. 24 meeting, Cumbo said.

She added that other options to acquire the land could appear on the agenda.

The new owner of the park land, Ron Warner, was perplexed that the city would consider eminent domain when he’s a willing seller.

“Negotiating is a cheaper, better way to resolve something,” he said.

Warner said Dacono has yet to negotiate a deal with him and that eminent domain is typically reserved for unresponsive landowners.

Cumbo said that’s not always the case.

“There are a lot facets to the eminent domain approach,” she said.

Warner, through his Dacono Rails LLC, purchased the park land from Union Pacific for $93,000.

Dacono leaders assumed that they owned all of Clem Dufour Park, but Warner inspected the deed and discovered Union Pacific still owned the spur. He then contacted Union Pacific, which agreed to sell the land.

Warner initially showed the city plans to build a 200-unit, 30,000-square-foot storage complex in the parking lot of the city’s BMX track. Then he offered to sell the land to Dacono for $230,848.

The City Council declined Warner’s offer and ordered an appraisal of the land.

Since then, Warner has bought insurance for the property, in case he was liable for someone being injured while playing in the park.

He also said he’s allowing public use on his land.

Longmont CO Daily Times-Call: http://www.timescall.com

Officially 'blighted' - Designation may lead to redevelopment: Carlisle PA Sentinel, 9/14/07

By Dale Heberlig

The Shippensburg [PA] Planning Commission tagged three properties at the eastern gateway to town as a “blighted area” on Sept. 12 - the first step in creating a state redevelopment zone that officials hope will spur rebirth of two crumbling buildings that mar the area.

The declaration came in a 3-0 vote by the commission, with vice chairman Art Berman abstaining.

Berman took pains to clarify that the action is based on a blight designation pertaining to the state's 1945 redevelopment law rather than the eminent domain provisions.

Berman abstained because he was not convinced that the independent study conducted by a county consultant proved that the properties met the requirements for blight and redevelopment. However, he said he could not vote against the measure because he recognized the deteriorated condition of the sites.

The commission took no action on the county request last month - choosing to wait until planners Mike Pimental and Scott Madey were present.

Cumberland County's planning commission is to review the redevelopment proposal - forwarded by the county redevelopment authority - at its next meeting Sept. 20 at 7:30 a.m.

The former University Lodge Motel at the intersection of Orange Street and Walnut Bottom Road and the “Swidler” property along Walnut Bottom Road have been vacant for years.

The motel sustained significant damage in a fire 5 years ago and has never been restored. The Swidler property has been vacant much longer.

The development area designation and blighted status positions future developers to seek government funding, and puts the county in a position to “take” the properties through eminent domain if it becomes necessary.

Christopher Houston, the county's real estate director, says current owners of the properties will have every opportunity to develop the lots on their own.

However, he says the eminent domain alternative could be an ace in the hole for the county in sparking redevelopment where current property owners have failed.

Pimental, a planning commission member who served on Shippensburg's Borough Council in the early 1990s says the action is long-awaited.

Many complaints
“The Swidler property was the source of many complaints when I was on Council 15 years ago,” Pimental said following Wednesday's vote. “We had to do something. I think we acted properly.”

Current Council President Earl Parshall says he sought a solution to the unsightly and empty properties for five years.

“I'd like to live to see it solved,” he said.

The process could be lengthy, but there is already one potential developer interested in the motel location.

Vigilant Hose Co. President Danny Byers says the location is one the fire company is examining as a site for a new headquarters.

Byers huddled with Houston after Wednesday's vote. He said the company remains interested.

Houston said last month that the Vigilant Hose Co. made a purchase offer for the University Lodge property in a conventional real estate deal, but were rebuffed by the joint owners of the property - LeeAnn Corp of Florida and Jaydip Inc., a Harrisburg-area firm.

Houston says it could take five to seven months to complete the “redevelopment area” process.

Process will begin
If the county planning commission signs off on the plan and the area is certified as blighted, a conceptual redevelopment plan is prepared, identifying proposed land uses, necessary zoning changes, traffic impacts, road improvements and an estimated cost of acquiring the real estate.

Specific plans - from a specific developer - would then be outlined and presented to Shippensburg Borough Council and the county commissioners.

If approved that plan becomes a contract, and the county could proceed with land acquisition through eminent domain, if necessary.

Houston said Friday, “It looks like eminent domain is where the University Lodge property is headed.”

Swidler attended last month's commission meeting, but was absent Wednesday's, asking for a delay that was not granted.

In a letter, Swidler pointed to recent improvements to his building - mostly fresh paint.

However, Houston said he looked through the glass doors of the building during Mondays rain, and a “waterfall” flowing down an interior wall and a floor covered with water.

Along with the former motel and the Swidler property, a third parcel - a 1.2-acre plot with inadequate road frontage - is affected by the action.

Houston says Kenneth Bender - owner of that lot - does not oppose the blight designation.

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

Land Taken By Eminent Domain Questioned: WFSB-TV3, Hartford CT, 9/14/07

East Haddam Takes Property To Build School

Ever since the city of New London took property in its Fort Trumbull section by eminent domain, the issue has remained on the radar screen in Connecticut.

One of the latest cases of eminent domain involved land for a school in East Haddam.

East Haddam is being sued by an estate that owned 150 acres where the town's middle school is being built.

The land was taken from the landowner by eminent domain.

Wyley Peckham, of East Haddam, told Eyewitness News that he's not sure the town should be building on the site.

"My greatest concern about the project is we will be in a continuous legal battle for the next three to five years, at the end of which we may end up either not owning the property or having spent a great deal more than we should have," he said.

Peckham said the town should have put the middle school between the elementary and high schools.

First Selectman Brad Parker said building the middle school between the other schools would require a $1 million septic system. He said that he prefers to continue building while waiting out the legal dispute.

The estate said East Haddam broke the law by not condemning the property within six months of a town referendum on it.

"There is no time limit when you do a taking for a school use," Parker said. "That is what we have done here."

Parker said he believes the issue is more about the estate not getting its asking price for the land, which was double the appraisal East Haddam received.

WFSB-TV3, Hartford CT: http://www.wfsb.com