HELP US SAVE THE GARDENS!

Homeowners in the Gardens neighborhood of Mount Holly, N.J., are fighting to keep their community and need your help.  Read the press release below for the latest, then

1) Call the Mount Holly Township Council at 609-845-1100 and tell them to let the Gardens homeowners stay in their community:

Thomas Gibson, Mayor
Ryan Donnelly, Deputy Mayor
Kimberly Kersey, Councilwoman
Dwynne Belton, Coucilman
Richard Dow, Coucilman

2) Sign our coalition letter opposing this landgrab by e-mailing cwalsh@ij.org.

3) Join the Castle Coalition to receive updates on how you can help: http://www.castletrans.wpengine.com/join.

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INSTITUTE FOR JUSTICE
901 N. GLEBE ROAD, SUITE 900    ARLINGTON, VA 22203     
(703) 682-9320     FAX (703) 682-9321
HOME PAGE:  WWW.IJ.ORG

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

Three Days Before Christmas, N.J. Town Tells Elderly Minorities:“We’re Kicking You Out”

Arlington, Va.—Just three days before Christmas, Nancy Lopez was notified that she has until January 15, 2011, to accept the offer made for her home by the Township of Mount Holly, N.J., or have it seized through eminent domain.  Merry Christmas, Nancy.

Last week, she received an appraisal for her home in the Gardens neighborhood of Mount Holly.  Township officials have been systematically dismantling her close-knit community of row houses that up until recently was home to more than 300 families.  Since 2003, the Township bought more than 200 homes under the threat of eminent domain, and if the remaining owners don’t accept the appraisals being sent to them this holiday season, their homes will be condemned against their will early in the New Year.  

The Township wants to give the land to Philadelphia developer Keating Urban Partners, which plans to build hundreds of higher-priced townhouses, apartments and a business center.  According to Pulte Home’s website, some of the new town homes will sell for in the upper $200s.

The Institute for Justice has been working with the local community group, Citizens in Action, to fight this use of eminent domain for private development.  “Eminent domain is for public use, things like roads and schools—not to condemn and uproot entire communities for the sake of private developers,” said Scott Bullock, senior attorney at the Institute for Justice.  Bullock represented Susette Kelo and her neighbors before the U.S. Supreme Court in Kelo v. City of New London, as well as homeowners in Long Branch, N.J., and others across the nation.  

“This is eminent domain abuse at its worst,” said Christina Walsh, director of activism and coalitions at the Institute for Justice.  “The Mount Holly landgrab is reminiscent of urban renewal of the 40s and 50s.  Township officials are targeting a lower-income, mostly elderly and minority community for a rich developer.  As the NAACP noted in its amicus brief on behalf of the homeowners in Kelo, the ability to use eminent domain for private development shifts the burden of economic development onto the shoulders of those least able to bear it.  That is precisely what we are seeing happen in Mount Holly.”

In Kelo, the U.S. Supreme Court infamously ruled that private property can be taken for private development based on the mere promise of increased tax revenue.  “Across the country, development projects that have relied on the use of eminent domain have failed miserably to fulfill their promises,” said Bullock.  “Just look at New London:  After years of litigation, millions in tax payer dollars and a U.S. Supreme Court case, the land is now barren, the developer balked and Pfizer—for whom the private development was designed to complement—left town.  Mount Holly officials should heed a lesson from the disastrous New London project.”

Most of the homeowners in the Gardens are in theirs 70s, 80s and 90s and African-American or Hispanic.  Many have faced serious health complications and family tragedies and deaths since the proposal for the demolition of their neighborhood was announced.  Nearly all have lived in the Gardens for more than 30 years and are first-time home buyers.

“I don’t want to leave Mount Holly.  My kids, my grandkids—everything is here,” said Nancy Lopez. “If I’m forced out of the Gardens, I won’t be able to afford to buy a house like mine.  Why should I rent when I’ve been a homeowner all my life?”

According to Victimizing the Vulnerable:  The Demographics of Eminent Domain Abuse, the poor, less educated and minorities are disproportionately targets of eminent domain abuse.  This national study examined U.S. Census data to determine the profile of people subject to eminent domain abuse in 184 projects across the country.  The study vindicates the warning offered by former-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who wrote in her dissent in Kelo that eminent domain would be used “to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.”  

“Being kicked out of one’s home is a heartbreaking experience, say people who lived through it,” said Mindy Thompson Fullilove, M.D., a professor of clinical psychiatry and public health at the New York State Psychiatric Institute at Columbia University. “The heartbreak lasts for decades, because the lost home also means a loss of a net of social relationships and friendships that are irreplaceable.  In these times of instability, forced displacement and destruction of neighborhoods should be avoided at all costs.”  Dr. Fullilove is the author of Root Shock:  How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It, as well as an Institute for Justice Perspective on Eminent Domain Abuse, “Eminent Domain & African Americans:  What is the Price of the Commons?”

To make a horrible situation worse, Mount Holly has been knocking down row homes as they have been acquired while they are still attached to inhabited homes.  The reckless demolitions have caused serious damage to privately owned homes, leading to structural damage, mold infestations and damage to utilities.

Last week, a court ruled that the demolitions may continue through the holidays, with little to no additional protections provided to the property owners.

“This abuse of eminent domain in Mount Holly is emblematic of the serious shortcoming in New Jersey’s eminent domain law,” said Walsh.  “Eminent domain has been threatened or used for private development in at least 123 municipalities across the Garden State during the past decade.  It’s time for the Legislature to intervene and finally bring a stop to this abuse of power—before it’s too late for the remaining homeowners in the Gardens.”

CA Governor Considers Eliminating Redevelopment Agencies

California Governor Jerry Brown is plotting one of the most radical changes to California redevelopment law in decades—the complete elimination of local redevelopment agencies by way of his budget proposal due January 10.

California has almost 400 redevelopment agencies.[1]  These agencies have the power to use eminent domain to seize private property for “redevelopment” But without these agencies, cities across California would no longer have the funds dedicated to bulldozing existing homes and businesses and replacing them with ritzy new hotels and mall the city prefers.

Local officials are already expressing shock and concern about the governor’s proposal. ‘“That would be a very bad deal for us,’’ complained Valerie Brown, Chairwoman of the Sonoma Country Board of Supervisors. “‘We would probably fight that tooth and nail.’”[2]

Another local official, Brynda Stranix, the Yuba-Sutter Economic Development Corporation’s chief executive officer lamented, “Losing the program would be a huge detriment to our existing businesses as well as potential businesses considering the region for location.”[3]

Wealthy developers and big-box stores cities have favored in the past are probably the only “businesses” in California that oppose the governor’s proposal. Other California property owners are overjoyed that they might one day be safe in the homes and businesses they rightfully own.

Please show your support for property rights by calling or emailing Governor Jerry Brown and telling him you support his excellent idea of eliminating redevelopment agencies.

For more information on redevelopment agencies, read this report by the Municipal Officials for Redevelopment Reform, and the Castle Coalition’s report on how these agencies abuse eminent domain.

 

[1] Rich Saskal, “California Redevelopment Faces the Chopping Block,” The Bond Buyer, January 5, 2011.

[2] Brett Wilkison and Kevin McCallum, “Hands off our redevelopment runds, Sonoma County officals say,” The Press Democrat, January 3, 2011.

[3] Ben van der Meer, “Y-S leaders fear state budget’s impact on economy,” Appeal-Democrat, January 4, 2011.

Victory for Business Owners in East Greenwich Township, N.J.

Bill and Linda Small bought 2.5 acres of property in 1999 and had grand visions of what they wanted to build.  After years of bureaucracy obstructing their plans, they decided to open an amish furniture store on the site, with dreams of one day realizing their ultimate vision for the land.  But all of their plans came to a halt late last year when the Township Committee of East Greenwich, N.J., declared their property “in need of redevelopment.”  This month, the township was considering a redevelopment plan for the properties they declared “blighted,” which would have put Bill and Linda on the chopping block should their vision for their property not match the town’s.

The township planner and mayor both insisted they had no plans to use eminent domain in the near future, but agreed that eminent domain was included in the redevelopment plan in case the Small’s did not go along with the township’s “vision” for their property.[1]  The Small’s had already spent a tremendous amount of money on architects and engineers to design plans for their property, but the township’s threat of seizure put these to a halt.

Upon hearing of their situation, the Castle Coalition reached out to the Smalls in September to offer them grassroots assistance and train them how to fight eminent domain abuse.  Bill and Linda followed the tips and strategies outlined in the Castle Coalition’s Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide, and attended every township meeting to voice their opposition to the redevelopment designation looming over their property.

The Institute for Justice sent a letter to the mayor and township council urging them to drop their plans and reject eminent domain abuse.

The township knew they could not continue to bully the Smalls any more.  On December 28th, the council voted to change the designation of their property from “redevelopment” to “rehabilitation,” which is not accompanied by the power of eminent domain.[2]

With the threat of eminent domain no longer hanging over them, Bill and Linda can now concentrate on running their business and developing the property according to their own “vision.”

 

 

[1] Rebecca Forand, “East Greenwich Township residents clash with town over redevelopment plans for property,” Gloucester County Times, September 6, 2010.

[2] Jessica Beym, “East Greenwich Township officials, property owners come to agreement on site’s redevelopment plans,” Gloucester County Times, December 30, 2010.

Help Save the Mount Holly Community: Sign Our Coalition Letter

Would you please email Christina Walsh at cwalsh@ij.org to sign on to the letter below?  The letter asks the New Jersey legislature to pass reform that will stop the abuse of eminent domain for private development in Mount Holly and across New Jersey.  We are asking activists, property owners and local officials across New Jersey as well as state and national organizations to sign in support of much-needed and long-overdue eminent domain reform in the Garden State.

As many of you already know, the Township of Mount Holly is destroying the Gardens, a close-knit community of row houses that up until recently was home to over 300 families.  The township has bought over 200 homes under the threat of eminent domain, and if the remaining owners don’t sell soon, they will be condemned.  The town claims they want everyone out by the holidays so they can hand the land over to a private developer.  As the letter below states, most of the homeowners are elderly and African American or Hispanic and nearly all are first-time home buyers who’ve lived in the Gardens for over thirty years.

This abuse is emblematic of the serious and dangerous shortcomings in New Jersey’s eminent domain law that allows the government to run roughshod over property owners’ rights.  In the wake of Kelo, 43 states have reformed their laws, but New Jersey has done nothing.  The time to act is now so that homeowners in the Gardens and across New Jersey can keep what is rightfully theirs.

Please sign onto the letter by Friday, December 17, by e-mailing me your name, hometown, and title or affiliation if you represent an organization.  Please also indicate if you have been a victim of eminent domain abuse.  We will send this letter to all state legislators and potentially run newspaper ads listing supporters of reform.

And please, share with your colleagues, friends and family as well as organizations you belong to and encourage them to sign as well.

Thank you so much for your help.

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Save the Gardens and Stop Eminent Domain Abuse in New Jersey

Dear Members of the New Jersey Legislature,

We, the undersigned, oppose the threat or use of eminent domain for private development in Mount Holly and across New Jersey.  We ask that the legislature intervene immediately through eminent domain reform that will prohibit the township of Mount Holly and municipalities across New Jersey from seizing homes and businesses in order to transfer them to private developers.

The Township of Mount Holly is destroying the Gardens, a close-knit community of row houses that up until recently was home to over 300 families.  Since 2003, the township has bought out over 200 homes under the threat of eminent domain, and if the remaining owners don’t sell soon, they will be condemned against their will through eminent domain.  The town claims they want everyone out by the holidays, so they can give the land to Keating Urban Partners, who will build hundreds of higher-priced town houses, apartments and a business center.

Most of the homeowners are elderly and African American or Hispanic.  Nearly all have lived in the Gardens for over thirty years.  They are first-time home buyers.  They are best friends, have deep connections with the community and rely on each other on a daily basis.

The abuse of eminent domain in Mount Holly is emblematic of the serious shortcoming in New Jersey’s eminent domain law.  Eminent domain has been threatened or used for private development in at least 123 municipalities across the Garden State over the past decade.  

Eminent domain is for public use, things like roads and schools—not to condemn and uproot entire communities for purely private profit.  In the wake of Kelo v. City of New London, the universally-reviled U.S. Supreme Court decision that permits the use of eminent domain for projects that merely promise increased tax revenue or jobs, 43 state legislatures nationwide have passed reforms restricting their ability to use eminent domain for private development.  New Jersey has yet to act and her residents remain vulnerable to the threat of eminent domain for private development, as demonstrated by the thousands of residents across the state who have been or continue to be on the chopping block.

We ask that the legislature intervene immediately to ensure the Gardens homeowners get to keep what they have worked so hard to own.  We ask that the legislature act swiftly to pass eminent domain reform that will ensure no other Garden State property owners meet the same fate as so many before who have been kicked out of house and home simply for someone wealthier and more politically-connected through the outrageous abuse of eminent domain.

The legislature should enact reform immediately that prohibits the use of eminent domain to transfer private property to private parties and redefines “blight” to mean individual properties that pose immediate threats to public health and safety.

Thank you in advance for your attention to our concerns.

Spring Lake Heights Passes Eminent Domain Reform

The Borough Council of Spring Lake Heights took a step towards protecting the property rights of their citizens a few weeks ago in the absence of statewide eminent domain reform.  Council members passed an ordinance prohibiting the use of eminent domain for private economic development in any future redevelopment zones.  Unfortunately, Mayor Frances Enright did not appreciate their efforts, and vetoed the ordinance, deeming it “unnecessary.”  (You can see how “unnecessary” eminent domain reform is in New Jersey here and here.)

Council members did not let the mayor’s veto discourage them, resolving instead to override the veto at the next opportunity.

At the council’s meeting this past Monday, property owners from across New Jersey came to show their support for the ordinance, as well as share their own stories of fighting eminent domain abuse.  At the end of the meeting, the council voted 5-1 to override the Mayor Enright’s veto.

This simple ordinance will ensure property owners in Spring Lake Heights keep the homes and businesses they rightfully own.  Moreover, such legislation only serves to bolster the local economy by encouraging private investment, because residents know they will not be forced to sell their property to a developer the government prefers.

For the full story, visit here.

Nevadans Vote to Uphold Eminent Domain Reforms

On November 2, Nevadans voted to uphold the constitutional amendment that reformed the state’s eminent domain law in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Kelo decision. The constitutional amendment provides strong protection for home and business owners by prohibiting the use of eminent domain for private economic development.

Politicians wanted to roll back some of these reforms, and needed voter approval to do so. Ballot Question 4 asked Nevadans if they wanted to expand the definition of  “public use,” making it easier for greedy bureaucrats to seize land for redevelopment projects. The citizens of Nevadans answered with a resounding “no.”  More than 67 percent voted to keep these critical protections in place.

Oakland City Council Authorizes Eminent Domain Power

Kroger wants to buy Sang Hahn’s shopping center in Oakland, California, to make way for a big-box grocery store, but Mr. Hahn has told Kroger he does not want to sell.  

But not to worry, city officials are to the rescue! The Oakland City Council voted this week to authorize their power of eminent domain over Sang Hahn’s shopping center. If Kroger cannot pressure Mr. Hahn to accept their lowball offer, Kroger will just ask the politicians to forcefully acquire Mr. Hahn’s property for them.

Read the full story here.

Report Exposes 120 Failed Redevelopment Projects in California

The Los Angeles Times reported this weekend that over a hundred “affordable housing” projects promised by California politicians have failed to come to fruition.  On the heels of Bruce Ratner’s announcement last week that he is reneging on his promise to build affordable housing in Atlantic Yards, this report should come as no surprise to Castle Coalition members.  

Visit here for the Time’s full, in-depth story of redevelopment wrecks across California.  Also, don’t forget to check out the Castle Coalition’s own documentation of twenty failed redevelopment projects across the country, available here.

Not-so-shocking: Ratner admits he has no plans for affordable housing in Atlantic Yards

Billionaire mega-developer Bruce Ratner has admitted he has no plans to build an affordable housing tower in Atlantic Yards. In fact, Ratner admitted today in a press conference that he has no plans to build 15 of the 16 residential and office towers he promised New York politicians.

Shocked? Neither are we. And neither is Daniel Goldstein, who was forced out of his home for Ratner’s arena for the worst team in the NBA.  Read the full story here, at Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn.