Delaware City Plans to Condemn Properties for Condos

In 1993, Ed Osborne re-opened Osborne’s Auto at a new location on Wilmington’s A Street so he could have a permanent place for his then 10-year-old business.  Fourteen years later, Osborne’s property, as well as his livelihood, is no longer secure due to the threat of eminent domain abuse from the City of Wilmington and its plan to redevelop the industrial neighborhood along the Christina River.

When Osborne bought the property, he thought he was doing the city a favor, providing area residents a consistent and sure place to have their cars maintained. “I rented for five years in one place and five years in another,” said Osborne. “I got tired of being moved around, so I bought this place in an area no one wanted to be in.”[1]

To Osborne, it is absurd that a healthy business like his is now being targeted—for a second time, no less—as part of an effort to “improve” a neighborhood he thought he had already helped improve by attracting other businesses.

In 2005, the Delaware Department of Transportation attempted to take his current property for a road along the townhouses at the Christina Landing development, which is across the street from Osborne’s Auto.  One day, Osborne went over to the developer’s office to get some questions answered.

“I walked in and above the fireplace was an artist’s rendering of the development,” said Osborne. “It looked like condos were planned for my property.”

Six other people took a look, agreed and sent a letter to the Department of Transportation objecting to the fact that the plans called for condos, not a road.  At that point, the Department backed down, but Osborne had not won the war, just the initial battle.

“I knew they were going to come back one way or another, and they did,” said Osborne.

Last month, after tearful pleading from property owners, the City Council voted 11-1 to approve a plan to condemn Osborne’s Auto as well as 61 other properties if the owners do not consent to the city’s negotiating tactics.  City officials justified the move under the state’s Slum Clearance and Redevelopment Act.[2]

For Osborne, though, there is no such thing as negotiation as long as city insists on retaining its most powerful weapon:  eminent domain.  According to Osborne, “negotiating” under threat of condemnation is a sham, and he plans on dealing with city only if they take away the threat of condemnation.  Otherwise, he said, he will see them in court.

“I’m going to court with 11 other businesses,” said Osborne. “If we’re going to negotiate, we’re going to negotiate with the same rights that every one else who sells property has.”

Osborne has already secured some support on the state level.  His story has attracted the attention of two Delaware state legislators, one Republican and one Democrat, who say they will propose legislation once the General Assembly convenes in January 2008.  Between now and then they hope to work with the Institute for Justice and others to craft legislation to protect all Delaware property owners from eminent domain abuse.[3]

In the meantime, however, Wilmington’s plan to have the desired properties by the end of fall 2007 is still in place, and Osborne plans to keep up the fight.

“We’re going to every city council meeting,” said Osborne. “We’re going to stand up for our 30 minutes and tell them, ‘We’re not going away.’”  

[1] All quotes from a telephone interview with Ed Osborne conducted by Chris Grodecki on August 29, 2007.

[2] Adam Taylor, “Wilmington Council votes to take land; properties could be condemned,” The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), August 24, 2007. 

[3] Adam Taylor, “Eminent domain changes sought; Legislators’ push is response to Wilmington property plan,” The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware), August 28, 2007.