11/24/2007

California Black Chamber of Commerce Endorses Eminent Domain Ballot Measure: Californians for Property Rights Protection, 11/6/07

News release

Study finds ethnic and racial minority owned properties at greatest risk

Californians for Property Rights Protection announced that the largest African American business organization in California has endorsed the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act (CPOFPA), an eminent domain ballot measure slated to appear on the June 2008 ballot.

“African American owned businesses serve a critical role in protecting jobs and keeping California’s economy strong,” said chamber President and CEO Aubrey Stone. “While small business owners continue to create 90% of all new jobs in our state, they are also the most frequent victims of eminent domain abuse. The Jarvis measure is the only measure appearing before voters that provides all property owners substantive private property protections.”

In June of this year, the Institute for Justice (IJ), the non-profit organization that litigated the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo vs. New London case, released a study entitled “Victimizing the Vulnerable” that found that ethnic and racial minorities were disproportionately impacted by eminent domain abuse. Among the American cities studied, more than a dozen are located in California.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo decision, California is not among the more than 40 states that have reformed their eminent domain laws. IJ considers California “one of the biggest abusers of eminent domain in the country,” and small business owners to be among its most frequent victims.

In addition to prohibiting government from profiting by seizing private property from unwilling sellers for private projects that benefit wealthy and politically connected developers, the measure also requires public agencies to fully compensate property owners for all expenses and loss of business when their property is taken for legitimate public projects such as roads, schools and water supply projects. Today, reimbursements for loss of business are legally capped at a mere $10,000.

Other prominent business and farm organization endorsements include the California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council and the California Farm Bureau Federation.

The California Black Chamber of Commerce represents over 65,000 small business owners and affiliates within the State of California. Since its inception in 1994, the organization has experienced considerable growth and has formed partnership alliances that encompass more than 55,000 civil politicians and faith based leaders throughout the state and country.

The California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act is sponsored by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights. Having secured the financing required to qualify the measure, the Act will appear on the June 2008 ballot.


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

California Black Chamber of Commerce: http://www.calbcc.org

Small business owners fear losing their property to Pinnacle redevelopment: Press of Atlantic City NJ, 10/31/07

By Derek Harper

When Paul Steel's dad opened Steel's Fudge on the Boardwalk, Woodrow Wilson was president.

Now 88 years later, he and his son George Steel are worried that a glitzy new casino construction project would mean their small business is taken away from them.

Like other small business owners on the 1600 block of the Boardwalk, they recently received notice the city was contemplating designating 24 acres around the former Sands Hotel & Casino as "in need of redevelopment."

And like the others, they worried that this notice, coupled with what they considered unacceptably low offers for their business, could lead to eminent domain.

"Are you going to sell?" Steel, imagined being asked, "or are we going to hit you over the head with eminent domain?"

At its Oct. 3 meeting, City Council passed a resolution as new business asking the Planning Board to investigate and decide if three blocks around the proposed Pinnacle Atlantic City casino needed redevelopment.

The designation will be considered at the Dec. 19 Planning Board meeting, city Planning Director William Crane said. The board typically approves the designation.

The 24-acre tract is massive. On the beach block, it includes all the land between Indiana and Kentucky avenues. The next block in it includes land bordered by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Pacific, Indiana and Atlantic avenues.

The glitzy casino project zone could uproot a sampling of the resort's typical low-end tourist attractions. It includes five cash-for-gold stores, four T-shirt shops and "Peanut World," advertising $0.75 hot dogs.

Crane said the designation would allow the city to tailor zoning and planning legislation to the site. The city similarly drafted an ordinance this spring allowing the Revel Entertainment project in the South Inlet to soar above previous height restrictions.

The redevelopment designation also opens the door to possible eminent domain. Crane said this would give Pinnacle additional leverage as it negotiates for surrounding properties.

Casinos are ineligible for tax incentives tied to redevelopment, said City Councilman Bruce Ward, who helped draft the ordinance.

It is unclear what Pinnacle's intentions are.

Kim Townsend, chief executive officer of Pinnacle Atlantic City, was unable to respond by deadline Tuesday.

Dan Lee, Pinnacle's chairman and chief executive officer, has repeatedly said in public forums that Pinnacle already has enough land to build its proposed megaresort.

Acting Mayor William Marsh said casino officials had told him they were not interested in acquiring the businesses that front on Atlantic Avenue. And Crane said he understood that Pinnacle was not interested in either Indiana Avenue's La Renaissance condominium complex nor City Councilman John J. Schultz's 1616 Pacific Ave. building.

Furthermore, none of the land across Pacific Avenue is zoned for casinos.

City Councilmembers said they generally oppose using eminent domain except with speculators who own vacant land.

Pinnacle owns almost all of the land on the former Sand's block through Ace Gaming LLC, its local corporate name. Public records also indicate it has made recent purchases elsewhere in the zone under two Pinnacle subsidiaries.

In 2006, AREP Boardwalk Properties LLC spent $61.3 million on land owned by Caesars Atlantic City's subsidiaries, according to deeds registered with Atlantic County. Another Pinnacle entity, PSW Properties LLC, spent $6.585 million last year on a shuttered restaurant and a disused apartment complex.

City tax records also indicate the AREP also owns two Boardwalk stores on the 1600 block and a small tract off of Mt. Vernon Place. PSW owns other land on Mt. Vernon. It is not clear how much was paid for these properties.

The potentially affected properties on the Boardwalk's 1600 block stand out and look worn partially because they were not part of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority's recent multimillion-dollar fa├žade makeover. City tax records indicate Boardwalk barons Schiff Enterprises own eight of the 16 properties.

The privately owned companies complained that Pinnacle offered far too little. Vasilios Kakoulides said he paid $800,000 for Bill's Gyros when he bought the restaurant for 20 years ago. Pinnacle offered him $780,000.

He does not want to sell regardless. "There is no price," he said. "If I lose this, the next day I drop dead."

The Steels said they could sell, but $900,000 was far too little.

"Why wasn't the Sand's considered a blighted area" when it was open, Pier 21 Gifts owner Todd Lovitz asked. "It was a run-down hotel."

"Someone should take City Hall," he added, leaning against a rack of $3.99 tourist T-shirts. "It's an ugly building and it's definitely in a blighted area."


Press of Atlantic City NJ: http://www.pressofatlanticcity.com

Reaction varies in OK Tire land fight: Charleston SC Post and Courier, 10/13/07

By Prentiss Findlay

Anthony Noury's business, Sea Tow, works out of Shem Creek [in Mt Pleasant SC]. He supports public access to the waterway but thinks the town needs to reconsider condemning a nearby 1.05-acre tract known as the OK Tire property.

The town decided this week to use eminent domain to acquire the tract to provide increased public access to the marsh and water area and to develop a park for leisure pursuits and open space. How that would happen has not been spelled out.

"They (the town) went to the most aggressive level, condemnation, without putting out a public plan for the property," Noury said.

The owner, Mark Mason, plans 24 condominiums on the tract, which is about 100 yards from creek.

"I think access is critical," Noury said. But much of the creek can't be seen from the OK Tire tract, he said.

The tract, located on a frontage road off Coleman Boulevard, has a view of marsh and the backside of creek restaurants, bars and inns. It is between Mason's Tidewater office complex and sprawling parking lots for creek business patrons.

Planning Commission member Phil Siegrist addressed the situation Friday in an e-mail. "Should the landowners not want to negotiate in good faith a reasonable price for this property, then it should be condemned and brought into the town by eminent domain. Real estate greed is at work here," Siegrist said. "Preserving open space at Shem Creek is necessary and I'm glad

that the town is taking a strong position to preserve it," he said.

The options for public sightseeing at the creek are limited. The Shem Creek Bridge is scenic, but there's not much room for pedestrians. Creekside restaurant and inn patrons have a good view of the picturesque waters. And a boat ride is a way to get a close-up. But there's no designated public place to enjoy the historic spot, one of the most photographed in the Lowcountry.

Mason plans to remedy that situation with a public boardwalk on the north side of the creek. "He (Mason) was about to provide 1,200 feet of dock and boardwalk," Noury said. Mason would run a public marsh walk to the creek boardwalk.

A petition presented to Town Council bears the names of more than 700 people opposed to Mason's project. The petition states that the development "would not only clog and further pollute an already overburdened area, but spells the certain end of this historic center of Mount Pleasant."

Mason rejected the town's offer of $2.28 million for the OK Tire property, Town Attorney Allen Young said. Two years ago, Mason and partner Phillip Smith purchased the tract for $1.35 million. The town's offer was "fair and reasonable," Young said.

Mason received the town's condemnation notice on Wednesday, Young said. How much the town will pay for the property will be determined by the courts.

Mason, who could not be reached Friday, said by e-mail Thursday that before the town expressed interest in purchasing the OK Tire tract, Suntrust Bank obtained a property appraisal of $4.5 million in connection with a mortgage loan Suntrust made on the property. The town has named the project lender, Suntrust Bank, in the condemnation notice, he said.

Mason and Philip Smith plan to build a private 24-slip marina for boats up to 50 feet long. Those who own a condo at the OK Tire tract also would have a boat slip. Mason has a marina permit so construction can begin on that project.

On Sept. 12, Young, on behalf of the town, offered $6 million for the OK Tire property and the Bailey docks, Mason said. He said the properties are valued at $7.8 million. At the last minute, the town offered $2.2 million for the OK Tire property, a move he has described as "dirty tricks." Mason has said that he will fight the condemnation, which he described as illegal and unfair. He said he also will sue the town for damages.

In June 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public, even if the property is not blighted and the new project's success is not guaranteed.

In the wake of that ruling, South Carolina voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2006 that allows private property to be condemned for public use only.

On Tuesday, Town Council voted to make a final offer for Mason's land and, if it was rejected, to exercise its power of eminent domain to acquire the property for public use. After an Aug. 14 closed-door session, council voted unanimously to enter into talks with Mason and Smith to acquire the property.


Charleston SC Post and Courier: http://www.charleston.net

Court Hears Arguments In Brooklyn Eminent Domain Case: NY1, New York NY, 10/8/07

After losing their eminent domain case in June, opponents of the Atlantic Yards Project returned to court Tuesday to argue their appeal.

The lawyer for the 11 plaintiffs – who stand to lose their properties because of the project – argued their case before a three-judge panel. The plaintiffs say the project doesn't serve a public purpose, which is a requirement for seizing property under eminent domain.

They also claim the project was rubber-stamped by state officials who have a long-time relationship with the developer, Bruce Ratner.

The Empire State Development Corporation, which oversees the site, argued the $4 billion housing development and arena for the Nets serves multiple public purposes, including improving transportation and getting rid of blight in the area.

"The question is: what motivated the government officials who ultimately rubber-stamped this decision? Were they motivated by a desire to benefit the public? Is that what really is driving it,” said the plaintiffs attorney Matthew Brinckerhoff. “Or was it because somebody that they know and they have business relations with came to them with a good idea and they thought, ‘Why not? Let's do it, and we don't care whether or not it's really beneficial to the community.’"

The ESDC says it will not comment on the case until the court reaches a decision, which could take weeks. The plaintiffs say if they lose this appeal, they'll take their fight to the U.S. Supreme Court.


NY1, New York NY: http://www.ny1.com

Eminent domain law complicates disaster recovery in Kansas: KBSD-TV6, Dodge City KS, 10/8/07

Associated Press

A new eminent domain law has complicated the recovery process for Kansas towns hit by disasters.

The law bars local governments from seizing land and using it for private development without permission from the Kansas Legislature. Its impact was felt this year when Greensburg was hit by a tornado and flooding immersed Coffeyville and Osawatomie.

Lawmakers passed the law to prohibit instances in which private property was seized to build a commercial enterprise.

But the law applies to private housing as well. That makes it a problem because some residents walked away from their properties after the July floods and May tornadoes.

With no guarantee that legislators will approve a seizure, communities could be left with prime residential property that stays abandoned. Towns may not get back the housing they need.


KBSD-TV6, Dodge City KS: http://www.kbsd6.com

Property-rights advocates give ballot a new try: Redding CA Searchlight, 11/24/07

Editorial

Partisanship and overreach have stymied a post-Kelo reform of eminent-domain laws in California, but voters will have another chance next year

In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a decision that the public greeted with close to unanimous revulsion. Kelo v. City of New London allowed cities to seize property by eminent domain for the sole purpose of reselling it to private developers whose projects would boost tax revenue.

Since then, 42 states have put new restrictions on eminent domain to curb abuses. California, sad to say, is not one of them. The Legislature has deadlocked two years running, and an overreaching ballot initiative, Proposition 90, narrowly failed in 2006.

But the voters will have their say on another attempt to shore up property rights next summer with the "California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act." Proponents - including Assemblyman Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale - filed more than 1 million signatures this week to put the initiative on the June ballot.

On its face, the new measure should stand a better chance of passage. Proposition 90 included a controversial section that would require government compensation for "regulatory takings" - i.e., any law that reduced anyone's property value. Even some avid property-rights supporters thought that opened a door to paralyzing litigation about almost any government decision.

The new initiative is simpler, largely focused on eminent domain.

Unfortunately, it looks like it won't be the only eminent-domain measure on the ballot. The California League of Cities is promoting a separate initiative that would protect owner-occupied homes, but otherwise is a pretty weak brew. Critics call it a false reform that tries to go just far enough to ease the clamor for change, without seriously stalling aggressive redevelopment.

With dueling measures on the ballot, the one that wins the most votes will take effect. That means the political smoke will blow twice as thick, but for anyone wary of eroding property rights, the June election will hold a clear favorite.


Redding CA Searchlight: http://www.redding.com

11/23/2007

Landowners to challenge Willets Point redevelopment proposal, 11/20/07

Land and business owners will challenge the Economic Development Corporation's plan for Willets Point at NY City Council hearing

Group will question validity of the city's proposal to use eminent domain to force sale to developer

A group of land/business owners from the Willets Point section of Queens NY are gearing up for a battle with the Economic Development Corporation (EDC) at the final City Council oversight hearing on November 29, 2007, before the city files a Uniformed Land Use Review Procedure (ULURP) that would allow the use of eminent domain to condemn and take private properties in Willets Point and sell the land to a developer for a sizeable profit. The commercial and residential redevelopment project in Willets Point and is projected to cost upwards of $3 billion. This will be the City's first Urban Renewal plan in close to 40 years.

Representatives from the Willets Point Industry and Realty Association (WPIRA), a group of the 10 largest land/business owners in Willets Point will testify before the New York City Council's Land Use and Economic Development Committees on November 29, 2007 at 1 p.m. in the Committee Room, City Hall.

The City Council is expected to examine the economic and technical viability of the city's redevelopment plan for Willets Point and seek answers to questions that were posed during the first oversight hearing in June 2007. The city issued an RFP in November 2004 but has not released results of their environmental impact analysis of the area in question nor has it presented a viable plan for the development of the area and/or identified a developer. "Unlike all other major rezonings during the Bloomberg administration, the EDC is asking the City Council to vote on a condemnation and rezoning of an area before a developer has even been selected and a plan has been presented. It's outrageous and it's undemocratic," said Daniel Feinstein of Feinstein Iron Works Inc.

In May 2007, Mayor Bloomberg announced the city's redevelopment plan for the area that includes building 1.7 million square feet of retail space, 500,000 square feet of office space, a hotel, 5,500 residential housing units and a convention center in the 60-acre neighborhood that is currently zoned for heavy industry. To execute this plan, it would require the condemnation and taking of approximately 45 acres of privately owned land.

Willets Point employs an estimated 3,000 highly-skilled workers in ironworking, construction, sewer parts production, auto repair and service businesses, and the manufacture of bakery and food ingredients that includes the largest distributor of Indian foods in the U.S. The area is mostly blue-collar and has provided a valuable opportunity for local residents to start up their own businesses and live the American dream. Willets Point business owners provide billions of dollars of economic activity and millions of dollars of tax revenue to the City of New York. In spite of this longstanding tax revenue, the city has blatantly neglected the area and withheld municipal services for decades.

"The city wants to redevelop land that has been in my family for three generations without giving us the option of expanding our profitable business that has thrived despite the fact that we've been operating without basic services. We don't have paved streets, sanitation services, street lights, sanitary or storm sewers," says Anthony Fodera, Senior Partner of Fodera Foods Inc. "We've pleaded with the city for the past 30 years and they just say no – we're not giving you these services. The city intentionally created blight in Willets Point, so they can steal our land from us. And to top it off, as soon as they kick us out they will provide the infrastructure and services that they have denied us to the developers."

"Former Queens Borough President Claire Shulman said that she wasn't going to invest in the area because we're not worth it," said Anthony Fodera, "If we're not worth it, then the city shouldn't take our tax dollars."

WPIRA representatives insist that if the city were to provide basic services, the current land owners would invest and expand their businesses and re-develop the area themselves. "The owners would develop the land and the junkyards that are eyesores couldn't afford to be here anymore," said Jerry Antonacci of Crown Container Co. Inc. "Give us a chance to develop the land where our grandfathers built these businesses over 70 years ago."

In April 2006, Dr. Tom Angotti of the Hunter College Center for Community Planning and Development conducted a land use study of Willets Point that described the area as a "unique business incubator that provides jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities to diverse new immigrant populations." The study recommended that the city establish a public-private planning partnership in which Willets Point businesses, workers and city agencies would be equal partners in a process that would develop plans that could accommodate existing businesses and promote new commercial and industrial development. "It's a disgrace the city didn't come to us first to discuss redeveloping this area—we could have worked together. We want it to change as well, nobody wants the status quo," said Dan Scully of Tully Construction Co. Inc.

At the November 29th hearing, WPIRA will question why the city has not considered the creation of an industrial business zone to accommodate the already profitable businesses in the area. While the city promises assistance with relocation, moving is simply not a viable option for most businesses that require M3-1 manufacturing zoning, which is quite scarce in all five boroughs. And for many of these businesses, their current location in Willets Point is essential for the daily operation of their business and the distribution and transportation of their products. Preliminary discussions have taken place, but the city has very little to offer the landowners.

WPIRA has produced a 15-minute videotape profiling the business/landowners whose livelihoods would be placed in serious jeopardy if eminent domain was to be instituted by the city. Moreover, it would have a major adverse impact on the employees who work at these corporations. WPIRA seeks to enter the video as testimony during the November 29th hearing.

To view the video, click here:
http://wpira.com/Behind%20the%20Curbline.htm




WPIRA: http://wpira.com

email: willetspoint@gmail.com

Eminent Domain in Denver: A first-person account, 11/21/07

By Steve Fesch

I own a property [in Denver CO] south of Invesco Field at Mile High. I was born in this town and have always been a loyal Broncos fan. In fact the Broncos fans voted my group www.orangeforceone.com tailgaters of the year in 2004 something that I am proud of.

A few years ago, I purchased [some] property. At the time I didn’t even know the property was near a proposed light rail line. I found out about the LightRail station as I did more research and with that information, I decided to buy the property and pursue my dream of building a life and a business. I was told by the city of Denver that they had a vision of a LoDo [Lower Downtown] atmoshpere similar to what you see surrounding Coors Field.

I purchased the property and signed a long tern lease with a very reputable and solid national company which now faces being removed from the property by the Denver regional Transportation District [RTD]. The company that leases my place has spent thousands of dollars in preparing in upgrading the site to suit their needs and they are now in danger of being forced out.

I went to many of the public transit oriented development meetings over the last few years and never once was I told my property was in danger of being taken via eminent domain by RTD.

It wasn’t until sept 24th that I received their notice of intent to purchase my property. I bought it first and foremost because I’m a Broncos fan and I had plans to have a Broncos Themed sports bar, an office for my business, and a place to live.

It’s been almost 60 days since the initial notice and RTD has yet to provide me with clear information as to why they need to take all of my land. They are telling me they need to widen the road and approximately 40 sq.ft. of my property is in their path. I own 12,000 sq.ft. yet they tell me the rest of my land will be “uneconomically viable” to me even though the city of Denver has agreed to work with me on my development plans with the remaining land which is over 11,960 sq ft. I am willing to work with RTD to give them what is needed for the project, but as of recently I have been unable to get any response from them other than “we are pursuing the aquisition of your entire parcel.”

I’m in favor of the light rail project as I believe it is good for the community of Denver. However I believe that the power of eminent domain is being abused by RTD for their own interests and not the greater good of community. RTD could easily purchase the land they need from me and save the tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars in extra land acquisitions and legal fees, but it appears they have their own agenda for my land which is a very prime piece of real estate surrounded by city, stadium, and RTD land. I’m the only private land owner losing land at the Decatur Station (to my knowledge), but there are a lot more parcels in danger of being condemned. Anyone who lives or works in the path of development is in danger of being effected. There are people losing their homes and business because RTD needs places to store construction materials!

The citizens of Denver need to know the truth about what is happening. I’m reaching out to the pubic to seek out others who are concerned about the property rights we have as Coloradans. I want Coloradans and Americans to know that our property rights are in danger. The way the current laws are written leaves a lot of room for governments to abuse the power of eminent domain and we need to speak-out about this.

Please take a moment to review the information I have at EminentDomainSucks.com, and leave a message. I will be updating the site with new developments.


EminentDomainSucks.com: http://eminentdomainsucks.wordpress.com

Property Owners Deserve Better: American Homeowners Resource Center, 10/7/07

California Property Owners & Farmland Protection Act - genuine eminent domain reform

By Jon Coupal

For decades, California local elected officials have enjoyed a delicious privilege.

Under existing California law, they can use eminent domain to seize private property and turn it over to other private interests like shopping mall developers. This is why these officials were rocked back on their heels when legislation that would have enshrined this privilege in the state constitution was defeated in the legislative session just ended. This defeat by those who seize property for illegitimate purposes has thankfully opened the door for a citizens' initiative that would give California real property rights reform.

Officials had thought they were home free in 2005 when the United States Supreme Court concluded government could take private property, not just for traditional government uses like roads and schools, but to turn over to private interests. The only limitation, said the Court, is that officials must show there is "public purpose."

The Court went on to conclude that "public purpose" could be almost anything that a government declares, including increasing tax revenues. In California, the only additional requirement is that the property be declared "blighted," but this presents no significant obstacle - in one community a golf course was declared blighted for the purpose of redevelopment.

Needless to say, local elected officials jealously guard their perquisite. After all, when soliciting campaign funds, having power over property can be very advantageous. What better way to show gratitude to a major contributor than by rewarding them with the opportunity to develop a piece of prime real estate?

So when last spring, property rights advocates began a serious effort to reform California law to prevent eminent domain abuse, the politicians saw this as a serious threat. When those defending property rights began collecting signatures to qualify the California Property Owners & Farmland Protection Act (CPOFPA) for the ballot, officials countered by using their membership in the League of California Cities to rally behind a bill, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 8, that would have provided cosmetic reform but in reality preserved most of their existing ability to take property. A major newspaper editorialized that the League of Cities' bill was actually "worse than doing nothing."

The property takers pulled out all the stops, including flooding the Capitol with arm-twisting lobbyists to gain passage of the Leagues' bill. If they could convince the Legislature to pass their pet legislation, which would place their version of eminent domain "reform" before voters, they hoped to confuse the issue and defeat the CPOFPA. And if they could muddy the waters to the extent that both measures failed, so much the better, because their property taking privileges would continue unabated.

When the League's legislation was defeated, the property grabbers moved on to plan "B." They have begun to collect signatures to place their own proposition on the ballot that would pose as eminent domain reform, but would exempt homes occupied for less than one year, businesses, churches and farmland. These properties would all be protected by the CPOFPA.

For those who believe that eminent domain should be reserved for legitimate government purposes like roads, schools and fire stations, and limiting the taking of property for private use, then the California Property Owners & Farmland Protection Act is the real deal.

A coalition led by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the California Farm Bureau Federation, and the California Alliance to Protect Private Property Rights is over half way to collecting the signatures necessary to put genuine eminent domain reform, including iron clad protections for homeowners, on the June ballot.

The greatest challenge for those who would protect their homes and property from seizure will be to blunt efforts by those who are trying to deceive the public, lest voters become so confused they end up rejecting real reform.


Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization -- which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers' rights.


American Homeowners Resource Center: http://www.ahrc.com

Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association: http://www.hjta.org

Builders Lose N.J. Eminent Domain Fight: Builders Magazine, 10/7/07

U.S. Supreme Court chooses not to hear MiPro case

By Steve Zurier

Builders were dealt a blow this week when the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to hear a case in which New Jersey builder MiPro Homes claimed the township of Mt. Laurel, N.J., unlawfully seized a 16-acre parcel that was under site development and had been legally zoned and approved for construction.

The case, which dates back to 2002, pitted the township, which claimed that exercising eminent domain to protect open space was perfectly legal, against the builders, who said the township's real goal was to halt residential development.

Home builder MiPro won the case in trial court, which agreed with the builder that Mt. Laurel sought to stop development that it determined would be a drain on municipal services. That decision was reversed on appeal and upheld late last year by the New Jersey State Supreme Court.

"The message to all future [site plan] applicants is that you can't rely on New Jersey's policies when it comes to residential development," said Patrick O'Keefe, CEO of the New Jersey Builders Association, which worked closely with the Builders League of South Jersey and the NAHB on the MiPro case.

"The mere mention of the word open space is sufficient justification to grab a parcel of land, irrespective of what the state or local government had planned," O'Keefe continued.

Of course, getting the U.S. Supreme court to hear the case was a real longshot, especially since the court accepts less than 1 percent of the cases petitioned.

O'Keefe said the builders hoped the court would view the MiPro case as a chance to clarify the opinion of Justice John Paul Stevens in the Kelo case, in which Justice Stevens said New London, Conn., was justified in condemning the Kelo property because it had conducted a rigorous planning process prior to the taking, and that redevelopment was an acceptable public use.

"Preserving open space is a proper public use, but in this case it was not part of a well-thought out plan," said Mary Lynn Huett, director of legal services for the NAHB. "The builders contend that it was an ad hoc reaction to residential development," she explained.

Michael Mouber, township attorney for Mt. Laurel said the notion that the township condemned the property in a vacuum is not accurate. He said at least seven months before the condemnation the township notified MiPro in writing that it intended to preserve the land as open space. He said the town council also stated its intentions publicly at a town meeting several months before the condemnation.

Mouber said the combination of a series of recent state laws that let municipalities hold referendums to raise tax money to preserve open space plus the state Supreme Court decision have put municipalities on a more even footing with developers.

"Up until the laws were passed and we won this case, municipalities were powerless to compete with developers for land because they didn't have the money," Mouber said, adding that by and large many taxpayers are willing to pay to preserve open space.

Bill Dressel, executive director of the New Jersey League of Municipalities, said the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled on eminent domain for economic and redevelopment projects and now the state Supreme Court in New Jersey has ruled that eminent domain can be used to preserve open space.

"The courts have ruled on this so let's put it to bed," Dressel said. "The builders need to move on," he said, adding that "I'd rather see them redirect their energies to developing our urban areas," he concluded.


Builders Magazine: http://www.builderonline.com

Falls Council plans to begin eminent domain proceedings against State Road complex : Akron OH Beacon Journal, 10/1/07

By Betty Lin-Fisher

One way or another, the current State Road Shopping Center has to go, Cuyahoga Falls Mayor Don Robart said today.

To that end, the Cuyahoga Falls City Council voted tonight to begin eminent domain proceedings to force Beachwood-based owner GMS Management to sell the property to the city for redevelopment.

The vote by council was unanimous, with at-large Councilwoman Carol Klinger abstaining because she works for Goodyear, which operates an automotive tire shop at the plaza.

The city has been trying for years to persuade the owners of the plaza at State Road and Portage Trail to invest in the center or sell.

Several developers have expressed interest in the 30-acre parcel, but until the owners agree, nothing can be done, Robart said.

In the meantime, the plaza remains an eyesore and continues to decline, the mayor said. Discussions with the owners have been hot and cold, sometimes giving city officials hope.

But lately, discussions have been ''lip service,'' Robart said.

Time was of the essence for the vote at the specially called council meeting. On Oct. 10, a new state law will require cities to prove a property is 70 percent vacant in order to take it by eminent domain.

State Sen. Kevin Coughlin, R-Cuyahoga Falls, is pushing to take a stricter eminent domain issue to voters next year in an amendment to the Ohio Constitution.

The plaza has ''to be bulldozed,'' Robart said. ''People come back and say, 'Why can't we use Montgomery Ward for fill-in-the-blank? There's no hope for State Road Shopping Center, both north and south. It's gotta go. It's just a question of what does it become.''

Robart said he would like to see the plaza torn down by next year.

Falls officials believe the plaza could make the 70 percent vacancy threshold, but to be sure, the council last year passed its own definition of ''blight,'' requiring that 75 percent of any commercial property be vacant for at least six months or 50 percent be vacant for at least one year.

City officials estimate the State Road Shopping Center is at least 60 percent vacant and has been for some time.

The city plans to file its lawsuit on Oct. 9, the day before the state law takes effect. That would mean the city's eminent domain proceedings would not have to meet the new law's numbers.

The city made an offer last Thursday to GMS to purchase the plaza for $12.9 million, based on an appraisal the city received for the land and property. The city needed to make an offer before it could proceed with an eminent domain suit. The city said GMS indicated it needed an extension of time but got no other response.

''They've got to make a decision if they're going to fight this thing, or legitimately come to the table or sell it,'' Robart said.

Calls made today to GMS Management, the plaza's leasing agent and GMS' attorney for comment were not returned. Built in 1952, the State Road Shopping Center opened in 1953 and was touted as one of the ''most modern, up-to-date shopping centers in the state.'' Early tenants included W.E. Wright Co. hardware, Woolworth Co. and a Western Auto Store.

The center thrived for years. But in 2001, anchor Montgomery Ward was shuttered when the national retailer went bankrupt. City officials said that was the beginning of the plaza's decline, when current management seemed to stop investing and retailers began leaving.

Steve Meyer is the third-generation owner of the small DolenOre Keysmiths kiosk right outside the old Montgomery Ward. The business started in 1962.

Meyer took over in 1996 from his father, Gus.

Then, Steve Meyer said, the plaza around him was pretty well occupied.

''It was hard to find parking spaces. It's hard to find a car now,'' Meyer said.

Meyer hopes that the city is successful in either getting GMS to sell or taking the property. But Meyer said he's not sure the city will succeed. He doesn't fault the mayor, saying Robart has been trying for years to get GMS to improve the plaza, ''but he's been talking to a brick wall.''

Meyer said he has no contact with the plaza owners, other than mailing his monthly rent and when he's renegotiating his lease.

Jim and Karen Lucas, owners of Pro-Tec Electronics, which repairs small electronics, said something must be done.

''I think any kind of improvement is needed,'' said Karen Lucas. ''I would love to have this place full of people, like we used to.''

The Lucases have been in the plaza for about 10 years and are considering renewing their lease for another three years while moving a few doors down to a larger space.

Even though occupancy is low, Jim Lucas said his customers know where he is. But there's virtually no walk-in traffic anymore.

Robart said he envisions a mix of retail and housing in place of the plaza, but that will depend upon the developer. In the past, Robart had said he envisioned a lifestyle center, with mixed retail, restaurants and possibly upscale residential units, like Crocker Park in Westlake.

Today, Robart said he still envisions retail and housing, but added the lifestyle center would probably be more appropriate for downtown Cuyahoga Falls. Robart said an anticipated master plan would be unveiled in about 60 days and would lay out more State Road and downtown plans. A balance needs to be struck to develop retail at both sites, he said.

''When we get all done, State Road will be highly desirous and the place to be,'' Robart said.

The city has to do something to get GMS to act, said Councilman Ken Barnhart, R-3. Half of the plaza is in his ward.

''I can't see that we can do anything to salvage (the plaza),'' he said. ''Obviously, we've given them more than adequate time to make their move.''

Barnhart said he'd be more in favor of finding retailers for State Road that would appeal to middle-class residents of the area. He worries that an upscale lifestyle center wouldn't be supported economically.

There appears to be the potential for area residents to spend their money in the State Road corridor. A study last year showed that only 29 percent of area residents shop along the corridor. But a fully developed center could bring 626 new employees to the area and generate $1.2 million in annual municipal taxes, $871,500 in county sales tax and $6.4 million in state sales tax.

Robart said there could be room for some, but not all, of the retailers now in the plaza. Both Meyer, the locksmith, and Lucas, the electronic repairer, said they'd like to stay. But both also said they're worried that they'd be priced out if rent escalates.


Akron OH Beacon Journal: http://www.ohio.com

Urbanist Celebrated, Expansion Criticized in Tour: Columbia University Spectator, 10/1/07

By Juliana Richard

What began as a tour of Manhattanville for [a] celebration of renowned urbanist Jane Jacobs, quickly shifted into a discussion of the possible negative ramifications of Columbia’s proposed expansion plan.

“This is not an issue of whether or not Columbia University expands, but how they expand,” said Ron Shiffman, an urban planner from the Pratt Institute, an organization which helped Community Board 9 design a set of alternative guidelines for development in the area.

Following Jacobs’ philosophy about urban planning, the tour highlighted the destructive nature of eminent domain and the necessity of low-income housing and old buildings in maintaining a vibrant community.

Tour guide and author of Manhattanville: Old Heart of West Harlem, Eric K. Washington cautioned against Columbia’s possible use of eminent domain. “Eminent domain has in the past been used for good public projects such as creating Central Park,” he said. Shiffman added, “but when we chose one private owner like Columbia over all other private owners, it becomes dangerous.”

Shiffman questioned Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s decision to support Columbia’s expansion plan after the University committed to a $20 million affordable housing fund and $11.25 million to the upkeep of a public park. “His bottom line is fundamentally wrong and his report skirted the main issues,” Shiffman said. “The $20 million promised for housing will not create more than 60 apartments for low income housing.”

Kathy Andio, a social worker in the area who was on the tour, said she was worried about the real estate limitations for young people. “Lots of landlords are opting not to rent to new people, instead they are holding out to sell to Columbia.”

More than half of the tour group had never been to the Manhattanville area before. There were no undergraduate students on the tour.

“This is an immigrant community,” said Tom Kappner, a local resident and member of the Coalition to Preserve Community. Kappner, who originally came to the Harlem area as a Columbia College student, has continued to reside there because he said he felt immediately at home in its diversity.

Shiffman said he hopes that in the future, “the student body and faculty will come out and discuss why they chose this community, considering diversity is such an appealing factor of the area and the University.”


Columbia University Spectator: http://www.columbiaspectator.com

Ann Arbor not likely to take Tios property, officials say: Ann Arbor MI News, 9/30/07

By Tom Gantert

Ann Arbor won't likely seize a parcel of property east of city hall that houses Tios Restaurant under eminent domain to secure it for a parking structure, city officials say.

The restaurant owners don't want to move - but they don't own the property. And the property owners aren't saying much.

Eminent domain allows government units to seize private property against the land owner's consent for public use. It usually involves taking land for highways or railroads.

City Council members Stephen Kunselman and Chris Easthope said they won't support seizing the property. Easthope said e-mails some residents have received indicating the city is considering such an action are "ridiculous."

"That's a heavy hand for a parking structure," Kunselman said. "That's not a bona fide reason to be using eminent domain."

Mike Zahn, one of the owners of the Tios parcel, said he didn't have an opinion on the possibility of selling the land to the city.

Tios owner Tim Seaver has started a petition and said Friday that he had about 200 signatures supporting his fight to keep his restaurant there. He said he doesn't want to move his popular Mexican restaurant.

"I would have to start over completely," Seaver said. "Once you start a business, you are known for your location."

City Administrator Roger Fraser said exercising eminent domain authority would "be a hard sell."

"We don't have it in our toolbag of tricks to use," Fraser said.

City Council Member Wendy Woods said seizing the property would be the "ultimate last resort."

"I don't know anyone on council at this point who would be willing to do that," she said. "We'd like to look at a lot more options before doing eminent domain."

Woods said one possibility would be moving the parking structure to the city-owned lot near the Ann Arbor District Library's downtown location.

The city directed the Downtown Development Authority to explore the feasibility of adding a parking structure east of city hall.


Ann Arbor MI News: http://blog.mlive.com/annarbornews

City poised to go ahead with water plant: Indianapolis IN Star, 9/29/07

Site to be atop mining operation; land's price unclear as 2nd legal fight goes on

By Francesca Jarosz

The city cleared the way this week to build a water treatment facility on land owned by materials supplier Martin Marietta.

After a yearlong legal battle over the property on the southeast corner of 106th Street and Gray Road, city and company officials agreed to let Carmel build the facility, while the sand and gravel mining operation continues underneath.

In September 2006, Carmel's Board of Public Works and Safety made an offer to Martin Marietta to buy 30 acres to build a treatment facility that would help serve the Carmel-Clay area.

But a Martin Marietta spokesman said the firm didn't want to give up the land or the mine operation underneath it.

Last October, when a deal hadn't been struck, Carmel sued to acquire the land by eminent domain, which lets municipalities condemn land for a public use.

This week, the parties approved a partial agreement. The price of the property remains unsettled, though. The city's initial offer was $960,000 for the 30 acres. Its current offer for 20 acres is $640,000.

If there is no price agreement in eminent domain cases, three independent appraisers are hired to estimate the value of the property. The average of those appraisals is the final price.

While what the city ultimately pays could be determined in court, it is moving ahead with plans for the facility.

As a next step, the city will inspect the property before advancing with plans for the facility.

"It's an ongoing process," said John Duffy, Carmel's utilities director. "This is one step in the process."

Pending inspections, Duffy said the treatment facility, which would cost an estimated $25 million, would be under way in about two years.

Duffy said the purpose of the eminent domain lawsuit was to set a timetable for acquiring the property.

The site, he said, was ideal for the treatment plant because of its proximity to a groundwater source and easy access to utilities.

But Wayne Phears, a spokesman for Martin Marietta, said the company never wanted to sell the property.

One of its major concerns, Phears said, was letting the city inspect the property while the company is engaged in another legal battle against the city's regulations of its mining operation.

"They said, 'We want to buy your property, but we need to go into your mine to see if it's suitable,' " Phears said. "It's like having your opponent come in and get all your information."

The company has pending litigation against the city in U.S. District Court for Southern Indiana and Hamilton Superior Court related to the city's denial of the company's request to expand its mining.

The lawsuits filed by Martin Marietta claim the denial by the city's zoning board was illegal and accuse Mayor Jim Brainard of playing politics to stop the company from expanding.

As part of this week's deal, both parties agreed that neither would use information they obtained for other purposes.


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

11/18/2007

St. Louis Attacking Free Speech, Property Rights: North Country Gazette, Chestertown NY, 11/16/07

In a double blow to free speech and property rights, the city of St. Louis is not only threatening to take an entire neighborhood for private development — it wants to censor a powerful and highly visible mural protesting the city’s eminent domain abuse and building support for reform.

The Institute for Justice [IJ] filed papers in federal court this week defending the First Amendment right to protest government abuse on behalf of Jim Roos, whose striking mural—painted on a building threatened by eminent domain abuse and visible from the heavily traveled Interstates 44 and 55 — brought out the government censors. IJ, a public interest law firm that defends First Amendment freedoms and property rights nationwide, also defended homeowners in the infamous Kelo eminent domain case.

Fed up with seeing the affordable housing he owns and manages through Neighborhood Enterprises, Inc., and the non-profit Sanctuary in the Ordinary face condemnation for private development, Jim fought back. He helped found the Missouri Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition and has been an advocate for reform of Missouri’s eminent domain laws.

And he had a large mural painted on his building at 1806-08 S. 13th Street, in the Bohemian Hill neighborhood, target of a redevelopment ordinance authorizing eminent domain to make way for private development. Earlier this year, the city’s Land Clearing for Redevelopment Authority started the process of acquiring property in the neighborhood.

After the mural appeared in March, St. Louis bureaucrats told Jim he must apply for a permit. Then they denied his application. St. Louis insists the mural must be taken down as a violation of local “sign codes.”

“St. Louis’ censorship is a case study in how so-called ‘sign codes’ give local bureaucrats across the country license to stifle speech,” said Bill Maurer, executive director of the IJ Washington Chapter. “When the government has the ability to regulate speech, it also has the power to censor speech it does not like.”

Indeed, one of the two city agencies involved in denying Jim a permit for his mural is the LCRA — the same agency with eminent domain power over Bohemian Hill and the agency whose actions he is protesting.

Sign codes nationwide give overreaching local bureaucrats license to censor speech. Glendale, Ohio, threatened Chris Pagan with fines and jail time for putting a “for sale” sign on his car while it was parked on the street in front of his home. Redmond, Wash., clamped down on bagel shop owner Dennis Ballen because he hired someone to carry a sign pointing customers to his out-of-the way location.

“Jim’s mural is a powerful, unique and low-cost protest to the city of St. Louis’ repeated abuse of eminent domain,” said Nick Dranias, staff attorney at the Institute for Justice Minnesota Chapter. “The city wants to take away the most effective means he has of protesting the city’s own abuse and raising awareness of the need for statewide eminent domain reform.”

“The mural speaks volumes about peoples’ anger over eminent domain abuse,” said Jim Roos. “People are delighted that someone has stood up to the abuse. One supporter said we could chain him to the building, if necessary, to block the city from removing the mural. Another supporter insisted on donating his time and materials to light the mural at night.”

For Jim and other Missourians, the ability to protect their property is directly linked to their freedom to speak. Even before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London gave the green light to eminent domain for private development, Missouri was one of the worst states for eminent domain abuse. Indeed, this is the third time property Jim owns or manages has faced the wrecking ball for private development. Relatively toothless reform after Kelo has left Missouri property owners without much protection from the courts or the Legislature.

As a result, the best avenue left for property owners to protect what is rightfully theirs is protest: rallying support to convince their local government to stop the abuse. Or they must take the issue of eminent domain abuse directly to the voters, as MEDAC and other reform advocates are doing by gathering signatures to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot that will provide real protection for home and small business owners.

Jim’s sign is a call to action for fellow citizens. But St. Louis wants to shut that down, too.

“We are fighting to vindicate the First Amendment right to protest government abuse and to stop petty censorship through sign codes,” concluded Maurer. “If the First Amendment means anything, it must mean that citizens like Jim Roos have the right to effectively protest government abuse and build support for meaningful reform—without having to get government approval.”

Jim and attorney John Randall of University Park, Mo., first challenged the city’s censorship in August in state court, and the case was then moved to federal court. On Nov. 14, IJ filed an amended complaint with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in Neighborhood Enterprises, Inc. v. City of St. Louis. John Randall serves as IJ’s local counsel in the case.


North Country Gazette, Chestertown NY: http://www.northcountrygazette.org

Complex Running Horse Deal Brings Mixed Reactions: KFSN-TV30, Fresno CA, 11/16/07

By Gene Haagenson

Fresno's mayor believes a new deal with Donald Trump will take the risk out of Running Horse.

Mayor Alan Autry says Trump has agreed to buy most of the land if the city picks up the remaining parcels and sells them to him.

Fresno's mayor and city manger feel this offer by Trump gets the city off the hook financially if the deal falls apart, but not everyone's convinced.

Mayor Alan Autry believes Trump's offer to put options, in effect his own money, on most of the Running Horse property makes it a deal worth doing.

"What we're dealing with now is absolutely the framework for a deal to be made that puts the city at a minimal risk," said Alan Autry.

Trump would put 90 day options to buy on the land held by the lenders who took 436 acres back in a bankruptcy auction.

The city would then have to secure another 50 acres owned by a few individuals and sell it to Trump.

20 of those are held by a Mr. Ho who has so far refused to sell. Trump wants the city to deal with him because the city can force a sale.

"That's why we retain the power of eminent domain, if it gets to the absurd. If somebody's property is worth say $3 million and they want to hold out for $20 million, it's clear the law was written for the greater good of the city," said Alan Autry.

City Council Member Brian Calhoun says he thinks the deal sounds good, except for the possible use of eminent domain.

"We're going to be the poster child for bad use of eminent domain because we'll be on national news. Your national networks will pick it up that Fresno California is using eminent domain to throw somebody off their land to buy Trump a golf course," said Brian Calhoun.

"I kind of resent it because it's silly and it's really denigrating to people who live in southwest Fresno to frame this as giving something to a billionaire developer," said Alan Autry.

Autry says the development would mean jobs and prosperity. Council Member Jerry Duncan thinks it all sounds promising.

"The bulk of risk has now been shifted to the Trump organization which has been my big concern. I was not going to put the taxpayers at risk," said Duncan.

But Council Member Mike Dages feels there are too many unanswered questions.

"You're just putting everything in place to maybe buy something. I don't do maybe transactions," said Mike Dages.

The memorandum of understanding between the city and Trump to make this deal will go before the city council on Tuesday. It needs five votes to pass.

If approved, the city expects to sign a contract with Trump next month and work on the Running Horse development, which will be renamed Trump National Fresno.


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

Roots mean little in path of progress: St Louis MO Post-Dispatch, 11/18/07

Opinion

By Bill McClellan

Roland Young was born in 1898. His mother died in childbirth. His father remarried, but the new wife and Roland did not bond. So when Roland was 3 years old, he was sent to live with his grandmother in Valley Park.

Mary Duff was born in Valley Park in 1904. Her family had come from Pennsylvania with a promise of a job for her father in the glass factory in Valley Park. The factory got washed away in the flood of 1915, but the family stayed.

Mary and Roland got married. Mary worked in a cotton factory in Valley Park. Roland worked at the Copper Clad Stove Company in Valley Park. All nine of their children were born in their home in Valley Park. Their third child and first son, Roland "Bud" Young Jr., was born 76 years ago. He attended Sacred Heart Grade School in Valley Park and graduated from Valley Park High School in 1948.

So Bud Young has roots in Valley Park.

After high school, he worked for a couple of years, and then joined the Marine Corps. He saw combat in Korea. After he got home from Korea, he married his sweetheart, Marilyn von Gruben. She was from a farm just outside of Valley Park. Young went to St. Louis University and got a degree in history with minors in mathematics and philosophy. He got a job teaching math in Eureka.

In 1969, he learned that an ice cream stand in Valley Park — Brondino's Dairy Mart — was for sale. Young got a loan and bought it. By this time, the Youngs had two sons. The whole family worked at the dairy mart. In 1980, they opened a restaurant across the street from the dairy mart. Young quit teaching and became a businessman.

In 1987, the state decided to expand Highway 141, and those plans required the land on which the dairy mart stood. The state was required to pay for the land. Young thought the state's offer was too low. He took the state to court and lost.

He built a new building three blocks north. He put the restaurant and the dairy mart in the new building. In 2000, the state decided to expand Highway 141 again. The new plans called for the land on which the new building stood. This time, Young took the state's offer. "After that first time, I just kind of backed away," he told me.

He built a new building not far from where the first dairy mart had been, but this time, well off the road. He put his restaurant and dairy mart in the new building. It is near the southwest corner of Vance Road and Highway 141.

Earlier this summer, rumors began circulating that the city was interested in developing that corner. The subject came up at an aldermanic meeting in October. The local Press Journal quoted city attorney Eric Martin at the meeting: "The area right now is a hodgepodge screaming out for investment."

At an aldermanic meeting earlier this month, the aldermen gave preliminary approval to a bill authorizing a Valley Park Redevelopment Corporation. Actually, the aldermen split four to four. Mayor Jeffery Whitteaker cast the deciding vote in favor of the proposal.

"They're going to take my land again," said Young. He put out a sign Thursday. "Eminent Domain for Private Gain Alive and Well in Valley Park."

I visited his restaurant Friday. The corner is a hodgepodge of small businesses. The area includes an exotic bird store, a taxidermist, a shoe repair shop, a car wash, an auto repair shop, a restaurant and lounge, a tattoo shop and a convenience store. And the restaurant and dairy mart. Young told me about his long history with Valley Park.

I went to City Hall. A clerk told me the city attorney was out of town, and the mayor was out of his office. I called later and the clerk said the mayor had suggested I talk with attorney Tom Cunningham, the special redevelopment counsel. I called Cunningham and said I wanted to talk about the eminent domain issue in Valley Park.

"For starters, you're misinformed. There is no issue of eminent domain in Valley Park," Cunningham said. Well, there are people who think there is an issue of eminent domain in Valley Park, I said. "Then they're misinformed. Number one, the redevelopment corporation cannot exercise eminent domain. More importantly, what the city is trying to do through the device of the corporation is provide a clearinghouse for potential development proposals."

Can I write that Young does not face the prospect of eminent domain?

"First of all, there is no particular parcel of land that the redevelopment corporation is focusing on at this time. The city is trying to establish a vehicle for the orderly consideration and processing of redevelopment proposals. More transparency and, if you will, a public interest component in that process."

Can I write that Young does not face the prospect of eminent domain?

"It sounds like you have a preconceived idea, an agenda," said Cunningham. "I'm not going to argue with you. All the redevelopment corporation can do is review and recommend a development proposal to the city."

If it recommends a development proposal, does the developer have the power to use eminent domain?

"That's a lot of ifs, but yes."

So much for roots.


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

Dems oppose city's police station plan; Stewart blasts Wyskiewicz's finances: New Britain CT Herald, 9/28/07

By Rick Guinness

During Wednesday's [New Britain CT] Common Council meeting, Democratic mayoral challenger James Wyskiewicz voiced his opposition to the city's downtown revitalization strategy, which hinges on downtown housing, and a new downtown police station on the corner of Main and Chestnut streets.

At the meeting, Mayor Timothy Stewart said anyone who would oppose the police station project is opposed to downtown revitalization.

The plan, which was endorsed by the Common Council in May, is to let New York-based Arete Group, a developer and master planner for the city, surround the new police station with retail, residential buldings and an event center - once the city acquires the existing 121-131 Main St. buildings, which now house a check-cashing service and a Subway sandwich store.

"We are trying to recreate what happened in Middletown," Stewart said Thursday in reference to the new police station in downtown Middletown, nestled right in the heart of a host of new restaurants, stores, theaters and other attractions.

Wyskiewiscz had previously voted with the majority of the council to take over the property through eminent domain when the city was willing to pay more than $700,000. But he voted against the council's motion to set a $1.02 million price tag with the court, which is based on fair market value, saying it was too much.

"On top of that," Wyskiewicz said, "the mayor is talking about selling to Arete Group. Arete is supposed to look at all downtown. Why didn't the mayor tell Arete to talk to the owners of 121-131 Main St.?"

Stewart said the answer is simple: "Arete is not a party to the eminent domain proceedings."

He scoffed at Wyskiewicz's accusation and called it just another attack from the Democrats. Then it got personal.

Stewart said the company holding Wyskiewicz's mortgage has filed foreclosure proceedings.

"He wants to run the city and he can't even take care of his own finances," Stewart said. "It's a difficult issue. I don't wish that on anybody. But it is created by the individual. The guy can't pay his bills."

Wyskiewicz would not comment on the court action that had previously been filed against him and his wife by Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems Inc. in 2005 in New Britain Superior Court.

"It's not an issue," Wyskiewicz said. "We renegotiated it. It was not in foreclosure."

Wyskiewicz was joined by fellow Democratic aldermen Adam Platosz, Paul Catanzaro and Lawrence Hermanowski Wednesday, who have called themselves, fiscally conservative Demcorats.

Hermanowski is on the police building committee, which has studied a number of potential sites for a new police station. He said he thinks instead of the Main Street site that the mayor wants to acquire, the city should put it by the railroad tracks across from NewBrite Plaza.

He said the minutes to the meeting was wrong when it said the council voted unanimously in favor of taking the case to eminent domain.

"I have always opposed eminent domain of the Main Streeet property," he said, adding that instead of taking land through eminent domain, the city should take it for the $60,000 in back taxes that is owed on the property.

"Put a lien on it for back taxes," Hermanowski added. "Why should we end up having to pay for this building?"

Stewart said the building owner owes $57,258.

He said when $200,000 was owed by a previous owner, a bank sold it off to Garden Main Street LLC.

Neverless, "We should not be in the real estate byusiness," Hermanowski said. "Take it and get rid of it."


New Britain CT Herald: http://www.newbritainherald.com

Pipeline may sue for land: Sioux Falls SD Argus Leader, 9/28/07

Condemnation proceedings surprise owners

By Terry Woster and Melanie Brandert

The company proposing to pipe crude oil across eastern South Dakota from Canada to Illinois is beginning condemnation proceedings on some property, a rural water system official says.

TransCanada, the company proposing the Keystone Pipeline from Hardisty, Alberta, to Wood River and Patoka, Ill., filed a notice of condemnation on property on which BDM Rural Water System has its own easement, BDM Manager David Wade of Britton said Thursday.

If negotiations with landowners fail to get an easement, right of eminent domain gives TransCanada the ability to take landowners to court. In court, a fair price would be set for the easement or to take the property.

"It's a surprise. I didn't know we (rural water) could get a condemnation against us," Wade said. He said the rural water system received "a sort of complementary filing," because it held an easement on property the oil pipeline wants to cross.

Wade said the legal action means his organization must work with a lawyer to respond to the petition for condemnation filed in Marshall County Circuit Court. He said other landowners have received condemnation notices recently, even though TransCanada hasn't received a permit from the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission for the proposed route through the state.

"It's a foreign company trying to condemn" property, Wade said.

The petition gives BDM 30 days to respond or the pipeline company will "apply to the court for an order to empanel a jury and ascertain the just compensation for the property proposed to be taken or damaged," the summons says.

TransCanada is scheduled to make its case before the PUC beginning Dec. 3. That's when evidentiary hearings are scheduled on its request for a permit. It isn't clear whether the state commission has any authority to question condemnation actions in the matter, even though the PUC is charged with deciding whether to issue a permit.

Lillian Anderson and her husband, Raymond, who live five miles west of Langford, also received a condemnation notice in early September. She said she thought TransCanada was jumping the gun with the notice because it doesn't have a permit yet from the PUC.

"You don't know what to think," she said about the notice. "You think you have some rights. You hope you have some rights."

Anderson said she and her husband weren't sure how to handle the notice yet. She didn't want to discuss whether they would consult a lawyer like the rural water system has.

Earlier this month, PUC Chairman Dusty Johnson said statutes related to the PUC process don't mention eminent domain or condemnation.

Johnson referred the question to John Smith, the PUC's general counsel. He responded with a list of several state laws dealing with eminent domain and pipelines, then added, "As of this time, no one involved in the proceeding has pointed to any statute that gives the PUC authority to determine the right to take under the South Dakota condemnation statute."

One section of state law, Smith said, "Seems to state that the 'right to take' decision is made by the court."

Whether or not the pipeline company has authority to condemn property for its project, it should try harder to negotiate agreements without legal action, says Curt Hohn, WEB Water Systems general manager and a vocal critic of TransCanada's plan for a South Dakota route.

"It can take a long, long time to negotiate a pipeline route, but if you take the time, you don't leave a sour taste in people's mouths when you're finished," Hohn said in a recent interview. "It isn't easy or quick that way, but you don't make as many enemies."

Keystone intends to be moving crude oil in 2009, said Jeff Rauh, pipeline project spokesman. That means construction must start next year.

"We continue to try to work with landowners to try to negotiate easements," he said. "In cases where negotiations are not processing, we still have a need to meet commitments to deliver oil to refineries in the Midwest."

Rauh called the filings of petitions for condemnation a legal step that's necessary if negotiations aren't successful.

Rauh also noted that the condemnation being contemplated in the Keystone project affects land in a different way than does condemnation for highways or reservoirs. In those instances, the land is forever taken from the landowner, he said. The easements the pipeline company wants in South Dakota generally will mean temporary loss of a portion of property while construction is under way. In most cases, because the pipe is to be buried 4 feet under the surface, the land may be used again, Rauh said.

A witness for Keystone filed written testimony with the PUC earlier this week that touched on eminent domain.

Michael Koski, vice president of energy services for TROW Engineering Consultants of Tallahassee, Fla., prepared the testimony as project director of the technical team for the Keystone Pipeline.

His testimony suggested it would be nearly impossible to complete the pipeline route without some condemnations.

Koski was asked: "Can you tell us to what extent the reliance on eminent domain power could be reduced by use of an alternative site?"

"Yes, I can," he said. "All practical route alternatives for the Keystone project involve crossing privately owned lands. Accordingly, there is no known viable alternative route which would reduce the possibility for reliance on eminent domain powers. As a 220-mile linear facility, Keystone requires easements from a large group of landowners. Keystone is endeavoring to negotiate easements with all landowners on a voluntary basis. It is not possible, however, to site the project on a route where the project will impact only landowners who are willing to grant easements on a voluntary basis."


Sioux Falls SD Argus Leader: http://www.argusleader.com

City reaches deal on transit center site: Santa Maria CA Times, 9/28/07

By Malia Spencer

After years of discussion - which even included the threat of eminent domain - the city of Santa Maria and owners of a downtown property appear to have reached a sale agreement for a site that is slated to be the home of the city's new transit center.

The City Council is scheduled to decide on the roughly $3.5-million purchase agreement at its regular meeting Tuesday. The council meets at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 110 E. Cook St.

The property in question is 3.8 acres on the southeast corner of East Boone and South Miller streets, and is owned by La Brea Land Co. and G.A. Hancock Properties.

“It's been a long process,” said Michael Parry, president of La Brea Land Co., “We are looking forward to a successful conclusion to our negotiations. City staff have been good to deal with.

“Although our original desire was not to sell that property, now that we have gone down this road, we are looking forward to wrapping things up.”

Parry noted there are no development plans at this time for the remaining land in the area owned by the two corporations.

City officials see the site as a perfect location for a transit center because it is in the city's downtown and within walking distance of various municipal buildings and retail centers. It is also near the existing transit center, which is along East Cook St.

“We looked at a lot of different possibilities,” said David Whitehead, public works director and city engineer. “This location is very convenient for transit customers.”

The city has already hired an architect to design the facility, and that work is expected to last for about nine months, Whitehead said. Officials hope to begin construction by summer 2008, he added.

The budget for the entire project, including the land purchase, is more than $9 million, and is slated to come from the city's share of state Transportation Development Act funds, Whitehead said.

The center is meant to be a hub for Santa Maria Area Transit, which has outgrown its transfer stop in front of Santa Maria Town Center. The current facility is designed for six buses to stop and about nine vehicles are scheduled to stop there.

The center may also be able to better connect the city's buses with regional buses, but that hasn't been finalized, Whitehead said.

This site became the focus of the city's efforts in November 2004, when the council agreed with the findings of a citizen committee that was established to select a location for the proposed transit center.

City staff and the landowner then began negotiations on a lease agreement, since the owners were unwilling to sell.

However, in September 2005 the council looked at a 30-year lease agreement, deemed it too costly for the city, and directed staff to work toward purchasing the property. According to city staff, the proposed lease terms could have cost the city between $5.7 million to $5.9 million.

At that meeting, the majority of the council also mentioned the possibility of initiating eminent-domain proceedings.

That idea was taken further a year later when city staff began preparing a “resolution of necessity,” which is the first step in the eminent-domain process. However, further discussion between both sides averted the need to proceed with that possibility.

Eminent domain is the power of government agencies to take private land for a public use as long as the land owner is compensated.

With an improved transit center, SMAT should be able to continue its growth. Without it, “the city's system would really be limited in ability to service the needs of the community,” Whitehead said.

Last fiscal year, SMAT saw more than one million riders, which was a 10-percent increase over the previous year, said Michael Seden-Hansen, transit coordinator. He added that officials expect to see a bigger increase this year, as the service has expanded and more outreach has occurred.


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