Town to pay $6M for land: Charleston SC Post and Courier, 12/6/07

Mount Pleasant planned to condemn a 1-acre tract near Shem Creek known as the OK Tire property
By Prentiss Findlay

[The Mt Pleasant SC] Town Council voted Wednesday to spend $6 million to acquire 43 acres of Shem Creek property, thus settling its condemnation lawsuit against the owners of about an acre of the land known as the OK Tire property.

"We're glad it's behind us," said Town Administrator Mac Burdette.

After an executive session, council voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Harry Hallman to sign the agreement with property owners Mark Mason and Phillip Smith.

The town and the property owners will meet to close the deal Dec. 18, said Town Attorney Allen Young.

Under the agreement, the town will acquire a section of creekfront known as the Bailey Docks.

"Getting the docks is very important," Burdette said. It means the town could build a public creekfront that goes from a park at the OK Tire property near Coleman Boulevard down to the Bailey Docks just past Vickery's all the way to the harbor, Burdette said.

"It's a great day. It will allow us to have true water access for the general public," he said. Funds for the purchase will come from the town Tax Increment Financing District. He said the town would likely want to talk to other creek property owners about acquiring more property for public use.

If the town and the property owners had not reached agreement, a circuit judge was scheduled to hear arguments Dec. 19 on the property owners' motion to dismiss the town condemnation suit.

Young said that Hallman will sign the documents agreeing to the purchase today. "It ends the lawsuit completely," Young said.

On Oct. 10, Young issued a statement that under the authority council had delegated to him, he would file a $2,285,000 condemnation action for the OK Tire property. Mason and Smith countered that the property was worth $4.6 million. Earlier, council made a $6 million offer for the OK Tire property and the Bailey Docks. Mason and Smith wanted more than $7.6 million. Council did not specify how much the town will pay for the OK Tire property.

OK Tire Documents: Click here to download PDF documents pertaining to the condemnation and purchase of the disputed OK Tire property. The acrimonious negotiations were marked by Mason's threats to obtain the hard drives of council members' computers to reconstruct e-mails he said had been purposely deleted because they concerned town business. He alleged that town business was being done under the radar by e-mail. Mason, an attorney, also alleged other violations of the state Freedom of Information Act. He was not immediately available for comment late Wednesday night.

Mason planned to put 24 condominiums on the OK Tire land and 24 floating boat slips on Shem Creek. In 2005, the town offered $2 million for the OK Tire property and the Bailey Docks on Shem Creek, which are small docks shrimpers use.

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

Baldwin Park Residents Figh Eminent Domain Abuse: Californians for Property Rights Protection, 12/6/07

Hundreds of Homes and Businesses at Stake

Last night, a hundred of Baldwin Park homeowners and property owners attended a standing room only city council hearing to express their opposition to the city’s plan to seize around 600 properties to benefit the Bisno Development Company. As reported by KTLA News and other media sources, the developer has demanded that the city seize local properties before voters consider an eminent domain measure slated to appear on the June 2008 ballot.

Find out what this diverse community is doing to fight back! Visit KTLA News’ website (news section) for its live coverage of the contentious public hearing -- http://ktla.trb.com/. The video can be found within the “News” tab/section, scroll down to 12/5.

As illustrated in a letter from the developer to the city (see links below), Baldwin Park is proving to be a classic case of how a public agency works with a wealthy and politically connected developer to use eminent domain to seize homes and small businesses from unwilling sellers. Should the city continue its course, our campaign to reform eminent domain abuse will certainly highlight Baldwin Park as one of the worst cases of eminent domain abuse in the state. It is not everyday that a city will consider a project that displaces hundreds of homeowners and small businesses!

The Alliance is one of the proponents of the “California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act,” an eminent domain reform ballot measure slated for the June ballot, as referenced in the developer’s letter. The ballot measure prohibits the use of eminent domain for private to private takings, while allowing the use for public projects. In short, if our measure passes in June, local property owners will be safe from the reach of the Bisno Development Company and its allies on the Baldwin Park City Council.

Referenced Letters
See www.calpropertyrights.com for the Alliance’s letter to the city council and the developer letter urging the city to expedite eminent domain proceedings.

Property Owners from three LA cities, all just several miles apart, are fighting cities and developers wishing to seize their property – a geographic “Triangle of Eminent Domain Abuse”!

City of Baldwin Park: http://www.sgvtribune.com/rds_search/ci_7613475?IADID=Search-www.sgvtribune.com-www.sgvtribune.com

City of Duarte: http://www.sgvtribune.com/ci_7642839

City of Azuza: http://www.calpropertyrights.com/pdf/11-3-07_SGVN.pdf

Californians for Private Property Rights Protection: www.yesonpropertyrights.com

On Exchange Street, eminent domain becoming imminent: Akron OH Buchtelite, 10/25/07

By Brandon Welk

The University of Akron has had plans for a new stadium in the works for a while now: The $55 million contract was approved several months ago. Groundbreaking and excavation for the InfoCision Stadium is expected to begin in January. It will replace the decrepit Rubber Bowl and will include rooms for classes and more parking spaces. Completion of the stadium is scheduled for the 2009 Zips' football season, when they will have a new place to lose to the Buckeyes.

There are several issues regarding the construction of the new stadium, including the campus community's acceptance of increased traffic, estimated costs incurred and whether it is justifiable to replace the Rubber Bowl and most notable, the biggest issue: eminent domain.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, eminent domain refers to the power of the state to assume ownership of private property for public use, with compensation to the owner. To build a stadium, the university needs to buy much of the property surrounding campus to make room.

There have already been students displaced from the residence halls next to the Rec Center to the new Exchange Street dorm because the property will be needed for the stadium. Though the university owned that property already, move a little farther out from campus and there's plenty of property they didn't.

The job of buying property isn't over yet, but plans for demolishing buildings on the property aren't expected to be delayed. Though there are multiple businesses located on Exchange Street that will be affected by eminent domain, none is more noticeable or popular than Manny's Pub across from Europe Gyro and Campus Book and Supply.

And no business owner dislikes the prospect of being forced to move more than Manny does. He doesn't want to have to move the business he's worked so hard to maintain, and when asked about how he felt about eminent domain and the new stadium, he replied, "I'm still here, aren't I?"

Why would he want to move? He's got the perfect location: accessible by students and those living walking distance of the university, a loyal customer base and features that keep people coming back.

Featuring nightly drink specials, a $2 shot of the night, three pool tables, a dart board and an Internet jukebox, Manny's has plenty to offer. It also offers a touchscreen game machine, plenty of bar space, tables, and booths, an outdoor patio that welcomes smokers, friendly employees and Friday night's legendary Power Hour.

Manny's Pub has more to offer than the bars downtown with a more personal atmosphere and the advantage of being close enough to campus to not worry about needing a cab.

Not to mention, if Manny is forced to leave, he's not only losing one business, he's losing three, as he owns the neighboring Aroma Coffee & Tea and leases the Chopstix Chinese restaurant next to that.

But it seems that, sadly, eminent domain is becoming more imminent. The university wants that property.

Ted Curtis, the vice president of capital planning and facility management, has recently stated that the first phase of the drawing for the new stadium isn't completed yet, it hasn't delayed groundbreaking.

Here's a solution: If the architectural designs aren't done yet, why not include Manny's in the design? If the land is needed anyway, why not keep Manny's there, but incorporate the physical structure into the new stadium somehow? Have Manny's be a part of the same building as the stadium, but with a separate entranceway facing Exchange Street.

That way, the building isn't moving far. It can retain the same customers and features that make it one of the best bars in Akron, and even more people can enjoy Manny's because of its direct proximity to the stadium. Having a bar like that built into a stadium isn't unheard of, so why can't we make it work?

One of the goals of eminent domain is to compensate the owner of the private property for the fair value of the property taken. But who can place a fair value on all of the hard work that Manny has put into building the business he loves so much or on all the countless nights of fun had there?

That sum might be difficult for the university to muster.

Akron OH Buchtelite: http://media.www.buchtelite.com

Settlement OK'd in eminent domain case: Boston MA Globe, 10/25/07

Family to receive $2.8m for farm

By Melissa Beecher

A seven-year battle is over after the Groton-Dunstable Regional School Committee approved a $2.8 million settlement and agreed to drop any further appeals on an eminent domain case that took a former family farm for the site of the new regional high school.

The payment is in addition to a $1.8 million purchase price the board made for the 177-acre Casella family property in 2001.

"The Casellas were paid an unfair price for the land by the School Department, and when a jury agreed, they filed an appeal," said George McLaughlin III, the attorney from Boston-based McLaughlin Brothers who specializes in eminent domain and represents the three Casella families.

"After the school district lost two times, they have wisely decided to stop the bleeding," McLaughlin said. "It has been a long time coming."

Cindy Barrett, chairwoman of School Committee, said the decision was ultimately a financial one.

"It took two years for our first appeal to be heard," said Barrett. "Even though we still believe there is a valid reason to clarify the expert testimony, we had to take into account how much per month would be accrued due to interest."

Superintendent Alan Genovese concurred with the board's vote.

"Even if we won the appeal, all it meant is that . . . we would start over from scratch. This could have gone on for another 20 years," said Genovese.

"We've reached the point where we need to put this behind us," he said.

The vote to drop the case was 6 to 0, with School Committee member Charles McKinney abstaining. McKinney has abstained from all votes regarding the Casellas because he was a friend and neighbor of theirs.

The vote means the district will issue a $2.5 million bond, which was approved by Groton and Dunstable's Town Meetings in 2005. The remainder of the balance will be found in the High School Land Acquisition Fund, where $198,000 will be drawn, and High School Building Fund, where $135,000 will be used.

Genovese said the borrowing would not have a financial impact on taxpayers until fiscal 2009. No money will come from the district's operating budgets.

The settlement concludes a saga that began in 2000, when the school district voted to take the Casella land on Chicopee Row for $1.8 million. The schools had been reviewing several parcels, but after topography testing, determined the Casella farm was the only property of its size in either community that could accommodate a new high school.

The Casellas sued, claiming the district significantly undervalued the land, which they believed should have been sold for $4.8 million. While the case was in the courts, the high school was built. It opened in 2003. The $36 million project took advantage of the School Building Assistance Funding, receiving 67 percent state aid reimbursements, school officials said.

The eminent domain case went to trial in June 2005 and a jury determined the value of the property was $4.1 million. The district was instructed to pay the difference.

The school district appealed that decision, saying that the expert testimony of two law firms - one of which gave a high valuation of the land - should not have been admissible in court. The appeals court rejected this argument in August.

At that time, the district was ordered to pay the original $2.5 million plus accrued interest, which is approximately $250,000.

In a prepared statement, school district leaders said that the director of business and finance, Timothy Sheehan, would be working to expedite the bonding process so the settlement could be paid "as quickly as possible."

Genovese said he believes that it worked out for the district in the end. Given escalating construction costs over the last five years and the moratorium of state aid for school building projects, the high school project continues to make financial sense, he said.

"It's unfortunate that this had to go through the eminent domain taking, but the fact remains that we have a beautiful new school in a great location," said Genovese. "If you go back to that point in time, it was the right thing to do."

Boston MA Globe: http://www.boston.com

Eminent domain discussions raise questions over land owner rights: Amador County CA Ledger-Dispatch, 10/23/07

By Kelly Enos

Recent eminent domain proceedings flying around Amador County - and a particularly controversial case in Plymouth - have some property owners concerned that they could lose what they have worked to keep for years.

"I wasn't really sure what it meant when I first heard the term," said Shenandoah Valley resident Jose Villa, "but with all this going on in Plymouth I started wondering if any city could obtain any property because they wanted to."

Eminent domain, also referred to as "condemnation," is the power of local, state or federal government agencies to take private property for public use as long as the government pays a just compensation. The government can exercise this power even if the property owner does not wish to sell, as outlined in the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution and in article 19, section one of the California Constitution, which uses examples such as schools, roads, libraries, police and fire stations as a guideline for public use.

According to Arthur J. Hazarabedian, an attorney with the California Eminent Domain Law Group, the term "public use" is interpreted very broadly by the courts.

"The project need not be actually open to the public to constitute public use," he said. "Instead, generally only a public benefit is required to the courts and satisfies the public use requirement of federal and state constitutions."

Hazarabedian adds that although government agencies have the power of eminent domain, successful challenges to the government are occasionally made.

"Such challenges, however, are the exception, not the rule. Most usually result in a delay rather than an outright prevention of the governments right to take," he said.

The city of Plymouth has jostled the eminent domain issue from agenda to agenda regarding an easement that is needed to complete a pipeline project that will allow treated water to be brought into the city via the Tanner reservoir.

The properties in question are owned by Ron and Linda Matulich and Russell and Doris Evitt. Although the Matulich family had agreed to the terms of the easement contract, according to the city's legal counsel Shasta Greene, the contract cannot be completed since part of the Evitt property is located on the Matulich side. The matter of the easement and eminent domain proceedings will once again be heard during the city council meeting tomorrow.

Proposition 90 that ran on the 2006 ballot would have banned the use of eminent domain seizures for private developers but was rejected by voters. According to Brian Heaton, a communications specialist with the League of California Cities, an adoption of statutory and constitutional reforms are the strategic focus for the board this year.

"The board voted unanimously to continue supporting its strategy of pursuing eminent domain reform," he said, "both legislatively and in an initiative processes."

The League of California Cities intends to ensure that federal legislation addressing the issue of eminent domain does not impact states such as California.

"California has strong laws that limit the use of eminent domain and have protection for property owners," Heaton said. "We will oppose the federal private property rights implementation act that is being promoted as a response to a recent supreme court ruling since it does not address condemnations, eminent domain or economic development projects in any way."

An June 2008 ballot initiative that will be known as the California Property Owners and Farmland Protection Act would prohibit public agencies from taking private property from one owner to give to another, while preserving the government's right to utilize eminent domain under specified conditions.

In an attempt to contact those who are immediately involved with the proceedings in Plymouth, the Ledger Dispatch was unsuccessful.

Villa plans to attend the meeting in Plymouth to better understand how the city can control property owners in that manner.

"This is of interest to me since I know that the county is planning to develop all around Plymouth and I'm not sure if that will include my land," he said.

He added that if future development begins to infringe on his area, he and his family will relocate.

"We moved here from the Bay Area 13 years go," he said. "We wanted to see open spaces and trees instead of malls and concrete. What a shame that the government can use something like this to turn tables in their favor."

Amador County CA Ledger-Dispatch: http://www.ledger-dispatch.com

Activist homeowner ready to negotiate: Asbury Park NJ Press, 12/16/07

Eminent domain foe in Long Branch

By Carol Gorga Williams

A key member of a citizens' group lobbying to stay in their ocean-view homes here is dangling an olive branch.

Lori Ann Vendetti - moved by the holiday season, concerned over the impact the long fight is having on her own mother and dealing with grief following the death of a beloved member of their tightknit group - said she is tired and would like to find a way to end the fight.

Vendetti is a member of the Marine Terrace, Ocean Terrace, Seaview Avenue Alliance [MTOTSA], the group of residents that many credit with turning the city's reputation for successful oceanfront redevelopment into an examination of the morality behind the use of eminent domain.

The group lost its right to keep the city's redevelopment from its enclave in trial court; attracted the help of the Institute for Justice, a national public interest law firm taking the case for free; and now is waiting for a date in appellate court.

Since the group began its fight in 2003, it has attracted widespread media attention and has helped tarnish the image of longtime Mayor Adam Schneider, who by his own admission has become the poster child for the national movement against eminent domain abuse.

Schneider says the neighborhood needs to be taken to make way for the second phase of Beachfront North, a redevelopment project that could bring another 185 high-priced homes into the area. But opponents say the MTOTSA enclave is one of the last surviving Shore cottage communities, and that many of its residents did not learn about the potential for redevelopment until it was too late to stop the bulldozers.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Vendetti came forward and said maybe it is time to find a way for everyone to get along. She would like to stay in her seasonal home in the enclave, her parents would like to stay in their year-round one, and other residents feel the same way.

But maybe there is a way for the developer to go forward with some plan, even if it is not the original one, Vendetti said, suggesting a limited compromise. This is the first time a MTOTSA member has publicly considered settlement, which Schneider tried to pursue last year, only to be accused of politicking in the wake of an upcoming municipal election. (Schneider won re-election.)

"Maybe one of you can look into your hearts and see how we can stop this," Vendetti told the mayor and council Tuesday.

Vendetti believes market forces ultimately will see the oceanfront redevelopment to fruition, but she also noted the market clearly is changing and perhaps there is no longer such a demand for high-density housing. She still holds on to the concept that the developer, Applied Development of Hoboken, can make a tidy profit by building on the property of willing sellers without forcing others from their homes.

Currently, Applied owns nearly half the 38 properties in the community.

The concept she is referring to is known as "infill" by some, even though Schneider has a different definition. He believes "infill," as it was discussed for Beachfront North, always meant taking all the homes, and just building smaller projects than Applied initially proposed.

Vendetti also appealed to the council to consider an ordinance to stop the use of eminent domain in the city. "I think this is the time," she said.

Councilman Brian A. Unger said he was working on some form of legislation, but acknowledged getting another council member to second his motion would be difficult. "I'm sorry it has taken so long," said Unger, adding he is having trouble finding a lawyer in Monmouth County to review his work because so many make their living on condemnation cases. "I"d like to do something credible that has some" teeth, he said.

The other four council members have said that while they do not like the use of eminent domain, it is a necessary tool for urban areas that need to assemble properties for large redevelopment projects.

"We've been stagnant for three or four years," said Vendetti. "It is not going to end," she said, noting each side faces potentially years of further legal appeals.

"I think it is time to look at other alternatives where we can stay and other people can build, and let's get on with our lives," Vendetti said.

Schneider said he did not respond Tuesday to her appeal because he did not want to infringe on her time at the microphone. (The city enforces a strict five-minute rule for public comments, and that includes any give-and-take with officials.)

But he expressed a willingness to try to find a solution to the emotional issue. And just as Vendetti said any compromise would have to include the right to stay for those who wish it, Schneider said any settlement would have to include the provision to build more than on just isolated lots.

In the earlier settlement meeting, Schneider offered a plan that would relocate the homes of long-time, full-time MTOTSA residents to another location within the same area. By grouping them together, more property for development would become available.

Schneider said the city has never gotten a response to some of the ideas it put on the table at that meeting.

"If they want to sit down and talk about it, let's talk," Schneider said later in the week. "You want to talk about it in a public meeting, I'll talk; you want to talk about it in a private meeting, I'll do that. With attorneys there or without, I'm willing."

Contacted later in the week to see if she still felt the same way, Vendetti said she did. A number of MTOTSA residents who were elderly have passed away since the dispute began, the most recent of whom was Anna DeFaria, and Vendetti said she is having trouble just looking at DeFaria's empty, dark cottage.

"It's been long enough," said Vendetti of the dispute. "It's in litigation but that doesn't mean we can't work something out. . . . It is not right to have this hanging over their heads," she said of the community's elderly residents.

Asbury Park NJ Press: www.app.com


Proposition 7 - Eminent Domain Amendment: About.com, Austin TX, 10/21/07

By Jacci Howard Bear

Summary prepared by Eminent Domain Watch

HJR 30, aka Proposition 7, (click here for full text: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/80R/billtext/html/HJ00030F.htm) is an amendment to the Texas State Consitution that requires government entities to sell property acquired through eminent domain back to the previous owners at the original price paid, if it is not put to the prescribed use within 10 years. Under previous law, the original owner could repurchase the property for fair market value at the time the public use is cancelled.

The proposition was approved by voters in the November 2007 election.

The amendment was necessary because selling the property back to the previous owner at the original price, were it below market value, could be considered a grant of public money and would be in violation of current law.

Conditions under which the new law applies are:

  • the public use for which the property was acquired by the entity is canceled,
  • no actual progress is made toward the public use during a “prescribed” period of time
  • the property is unnecessary for the public use for which it was acquired.

Arguments favoring the law were that it treats property owners more fairly and discourages indiscriminate use of eminent domain. Arguments against it were that it gave previous owners an unfair financial windfall, and was unnecessary legislation
because 10th anniverary cancellation for property acquired through eminent domain is extremely rare.

About.com, Austin TX: http://austin.about.com

Seaside protesters say no to eminent domain: Monterey County CA Herald, 12/16/07

Seaside petition precedes City Hall vote

By Andre Briscoe

Nearly a dozen protesters met early Saturday in Seaside to gather signatures on a petition expressing opposition to the extension of the use of eminent domain in that city.

Property owner Tim Cunha organized the meeting at the rear of Acme Coffee & Roasting Company just days before an election at City Hall to form a committee to advise the City Council on whether to extend its authority to impose eminent domain.

For the past week, Cunha has been distributing a flyer about the Dec. 18 election and what he believes it will mean to the community.

"I just want the general public, who are going to be impacted by this, to be aware of what's going on. I don't think the majority of them know what is happening," he said. "So really, we are encouraging them to participate in the process."

The first petition signers arrived at 10 a.m. Several grabbed clipboards and copies of the petition and made their way through the neighborhood that would make up the project area affected.

The city got the authority to use eminent domain to acquire land for development in 1996, when it adopted a redevelopment plan by merging several redevelopment projects. A 2006 state law puts a 12-year limit on the use of eminent domain by city redevelopment agencies, meaning the authority will expire in April 2008 unless an extension is approved by the City Council.

David Henderson, an associate professor of economics at the Naval Postgraduate School, was one of several signers who canvassed the neighborhood with petitions.

"When you look around here you see a community. You see all kinds of mixed uses. They can call it blighted, but they are destroying a community," he said.

Land grabbed by force is usually taken for less than market value, Henderson said.

"There is no market test. The neat thing about when (a person buys property) is that there is a market test," he said. "Do you really value the land? Then prove it. Buy it. Persuade the person to sell it to you."

Local businessman Joe Vierra called the threat to use eminent domain an attack on small businesses.

"This is just another example of big government pushing out people who are trying to grow their own small businesses, do their own redevelopment and improve the neighborhood," he said.

Property owner Lawrence Samuels and his wife Jan Heider said City Hall should let property owners improve their own properties as part of a redevelopment program.

"You see new houses here in Seaside. It seems to be improving really well by letting people do what they want to do with their own property. I don't see that the government has to get involved," said Heider.

"Redevelopment is fine," said Samuels. "Just don't use the gun to get what you want."

Eugene Lee, chairman of the Seaside Taxpayers Association, agreed with Samuels.

"I'm not against redevelopment, I'm against eminent domain. This is private property and they are robbing the poor to give to the rich. I thought it was supposed to be the other way around."

City officials have maintained that using eminent domain would be a "last-resort scenario."

"It is in (the city's) best interest that we create a win-win proposition for all concerned, something that would be satisfying financially, emotionally and otherwise for everyone," Assistant City Manager Jill Anderson said in August.

In October, the council approved the election to form the 15-member project area committee to represent the Laguna Grande, Gateway and City Center redevelopment areas, portions of which make up the West Broadway Urban Village project.

That project would encompass 40 acres of primarily privately owned land stretching from Canyon Del Rey and Del Monte boulevards past Fremont Boulevard to the upper Broadway Avenue area.

Cunha will present the petitions to the City Council at its next meeting in January, regardless of the outcome of the election, he said.

"This local government has to be accountable to its people," he said.

If the authority is extended, the advisory committee will remain active for up to three years and will review the progress of proposed developments.

Monterey County CA Herald: http://www.montereyherald.com