Nick Sprayregen Asks Supreme Court to Save His Business

Nick Sprayregen, owner of Tuck-It-Away Storage in Manhattanville, has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review the New York Court of Appeals’ ruling that gave New York’s Empire State Development Corporation permission to seize his business by eminent domain and hand it over to Columbia University, an elite private institution.

Columbia University plans to expand their campus onto land owned by a group of small family businesses that have been there for years.

For more background on Nick’s courageous battle to save his business and livelihood and secure property rights for all New Yorkers, please see his petition to the Supreme Court and our previous news story, New York Slams Door on Property Owners in the Empire State.

FREE Training Workshop in Montgomery This Saturday

Montgomery is the cradle of
the modern civil rights movement.

Yet today, rights are being routinely violated as homes are being condemned and demolished against the will of the owners.  It’s eminent domain through the back door – and it must stop.

Join your community, the Institute for Justice and Whom It Concerns on the 47th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech for a FREE training workshop on how to protect what you’ve worked so hard to own.

THIS SATURDAY
August 28, 11am – 2pm
St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church
3224 Woodley Road | Montgomery, AL 36116

Free lunch and materials will be provided, but PLEASE REGISTER by calling Lancee Kurcab at (703) 682-9320 or e-mailing her at LKurcab@ij.org.

Download a copy of the flyer here.

Oklahoma Community Celebrates Lifting of Blight Designation

Homeowners in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, are enjoying a satisfying victory after they joined forces to overturn the city’s bogus blight designation that had hung over their thriving community.

The specter of eminent domain began to haunt the Camino Villa mobile home community in January 2008 when the city declared the entire neighborhood of 400 people “blighted” and began talks with private developers regarding commercial redevelopment of the area.[1] Residents knew this put their homes on the chopping block.

‘“We could have sat on our laurels and let the powers that be run us over like a Mack truck,”’[2] property owner Grace Weber recalls.

But that is exactly what they did not do. To prove their beloved community was not “blighted,” home owners painted their fences, cleaned their yards, and made general improvements to their properties, even helping elderly neighbors and those without the financial means to make their own improvements. In addition, residents spoke publicly against eminent domain abuse at council meetings and hired an attorney to represent them.

Their tremendous efforts met some success in 2009 when the development authority banned eminent domain to acquire any of the mobile homes in Camino Villa. But again, residents did not “sit on their laurels.”[3]

Instead, this dynamic community protested the blight designation, knowing this label depressed their property values and discouraged private investment in Camino Villa. The City Council acknowledged their concerns by unanimously voting to remove the blight designation on August 3, 2010.[4] Relieved, property owners rejoiced that the homes they had worked so hard to own were no longer under the cloud of condemnation.

Oklahoma is one of only seven states that have yet to reform their eminent domain laws in the wake of Kelo. This community is just another example of how badly reform is needed to ensure every home and business is safe.

 

[1]Susan Hylton, “Broken Arrow mobile home park residents want blight status removed,” Tulsa World, August 1, 2010.

[2]Susan Hylton, “Mobile home park residents win fight over ‘blight,’” Tulsa World, August 4, 2010.

[3]Susan Hylton, “Broken Arrow mobile home park residents want blight status removed,” Tulsa World, August 1, 2010.

[4]Susan Hylton, “Mobile home park residents win fight over ‘blight,’” Tulsa World, August 4, 2010.

Mt. Holly Property Owners Gear Up for Fight Ahead

Mount Holly residents must gear up for the fight that is before them. Politicians and private developers are teaming together to seize perfectly fine homes to make way for newer, more expensive homes the city would prefer to have in Mount Holly Gardens redevelopment zone.

Mount Holly Gardens, a community consisting mostly of African-Americans, Hispanics, and retirees, has been pitted against developer Keating Urban Partners of Philadelphia and Mayor Jules Thiessen, who have plans to destroy the existing homes in order to build 500 new homes and a retail and commercial space.[1] Several residents have already buckled under the pressure to give up what is rightfully theirs. However, the owners of 57 homes insist their homes are not for sale.[2]

Those same homeowners received letters in June telling them the township has hired appraisers to determine property values—an indication that officials plan to seize their properties. Many residents are shocked to hear that the homes they have owned for so long are now under threat of condemnation. Lilian Burgos-DeTorres, a 71-year-old widow, is one such resident. She has no idea where else she would live since she cannot afford the $200k houses that would replace her beloved home.[3]

Santos Cruz is another distraught homeowner. ‘”It’s like stealing a property and robbing us worse than a Robin Hood,” he said. “We wanted to work with them (township officials), but they never tried to work with us,”’[4] he lamented upon receiving his letter from the township.

Greedy developers and their bureaucrat allies in New Jersey have an infamous record of eminent domain abuse. Scores of homes and businesses have been bulldozed to make way for private redevelopment across the state. Mount Holly Gardens is just one more neighborhood in their sights. The Castle Coalition is confident these residents will not go down without a fight.

 

 

 

[1] Carol Comegno, “New homes set for Mt. Holly site,” Courier-Post, May 3, 2010.

[2] Carol Comegno, “Eminent domain begins in Mt. Holly,” Courier-Post, June 12, 2010.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

Healdsburg Seeks to Renew Eminent Domain Authority

Another California city is seeking a way to line their coffers with more tax revenue. Their plan? To extend the life of the redevelopment agency for another ten years in order to “revitalize” the city.

Healdsburg City Council recently hired consultants to conduct a $221,000 “study” of Healdsburg to determine which properties are “blighted” and “under-utilized.” They will then amend the city’s redevelopment plan to reflect their findings and estimate how much tax revenue could potentially be brought in by redevelopment.[1]

This study is a prerequisite to the city renewing the redevelopment agency’s authority for another ten years. Inherent in the agency’s renewal will be their power of eminent domain to acquire homes and businesses the city wants to “revitalize.”

Despite Healdsburg’s horrific history of eminent domain abuse, City Councilman Gary Plass declared that “redevelopment agencies have been very good to our communities. We’d like to keep ours alive.”[2] Read the Castle Coalition’s response to Councilman Plass here on page 2.

 

 

[1] Clark Mason, “Healdsburg wants to renew its redevelopment agency,” The Press Democrat, July 16, 2010.

[2] Ibid.

New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: June 24, 2010

Arlington, Va.— If you own a piece of property in New York State, you won’t like today’s ruling by the state’s high court.

The New York Court of Appeals—that state’s highest court—today overturned a lower court’s ruling that had blocked the New York State Urban Development Corporation from using eminent domain to take property away from a group of small-business owners in upper Manhattan and turn it over to Columbia University for private development. Today’s decision comes on the heels of the court’s decision last year in Goldstein v. Urban Development Corporation, which allowed homes and businesses in Brooklyn to be turned over to wealthy developer Bruce Ratner to build luxury condominiums and a basketball arena.

“Once again, New York’s courts have completely ignored the abuse of power by government bureaucrats and politically connected developers,” said Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. IJ litigates nationwide against eminent domain abuse and filed a brief with the Court in favor of Harlem property owners. “The sad truth is that, in New York, the government not only can hand your property over to private developers for no better reason than that it likes them more than it likes you, but it does so on an alarmingly regular basis.” Last year, IJ catalogued the staggering rate at which properties are taken for private use in the Empire State in a report, Building Empires, Destroying Homes.

According to another report by the Institute for Justice on eminent domain abuse in New York, titled Empire State Eminent Domain: Robin Hood in Reverse, eminent domain abuse disproportionately targets those who are less well-off and less educated, as well as ethnic and racial minorities—populations least able to fight back and thus most in need of protection from abuse. In New York, more than elsewhere in the country, this means taking from the poor to give to the rich.

A lower court had previously refused to allow the condemnations to go forward, noting that the state agency’s assertion that it was taking the properties to eliminate “blight” was clearly nothing but a pretext for using government power to further Columbia’s pre-existing expansion plans. In today’s ruling, Kaur v. New York State Urban Development Corporation, Judge Carmen Ciparick wrote that the lower court should not have looked so closely at the agency’s blight findings, which should be “entitled to deference by the judiciary.”

“In other words, the court is saying that judges shouldn’t judge,” said IJ President and General Counsel Chip Mellor.

Associate Judge Robert S. Smith concurred in the result, noting that he was bound by the court’s earlier decision in the Goldstein case. “The finding of ‘blight’ in this case seems to me strained and pretextual,” Judge Smith wrote, “but it is no more so than the comparable finding in Goldstein.”

“No one taking a fair look at the state’s finding of ‘blight’—which is based on a report that was commissioned years after Columbia decided it wanted these properties—could think it is anything but a pretext for handing over these properties to another private owner,” explained Robert McNamara, an Institute for Justice staff attorney. “This isn’t judicial ‘deference.’ It’s judicial blindness.”

The New York opinion comes only one day after the fifth anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London. That opinion—which allowed the government to condemn homes in the name of “economic development”—spurred a national backlash, leading to legislative changes and court decisions providing property owners with greater protection in 43 states. Political and judicial leaders in New York, however, have refused to reform their eminent domain laws, which are among the worst in the nation. More information on the post-Kelo backlash is available at: www.ij.org/KeloAt5.

“New York remains one of only seven states that has failed to provide any legislative reform of eminent domain, and it is the only state whose highest court has allowed private property to be taken for private use since the Kelo decision,” explained Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions. “Every state high court to hear an eminent domain case since Kelo has applied greater judicial scrutiny—every state, that is, except New York. The New York Court of Appeals is the only state high court that gives complete and abject deference to the actions of condemning agencies, no matter how suspicious.”

“Today’s decision confirms what we already knew: Judicial review of eminent domain in New York is fundamentally broken,” concluded McNamara. “Unless the Legislature takes meaningful steps to protect property rights, New York property owners will find themselves out in the cold—in some cases all too literally.”

Property Owners Trained to Fight Eminent Domain Abuse and Trinity River Uptown

Over 60 property owners attended a Castle Coalition workshop last week, voicing their concerns over Ft. Worth’s plan to seize businesses to redirect the Trinity River to form a lake and bypass channel for “flood control.”  Bureaucrats plan to sell the new waterfront property and transfer it to private hands for mixed-use development projects.  Local activists see right through this scheme.

Despite their many attempts to hide this reality from the public, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—the ones who will be implementing the “flood control project”—listed redevelopment as one of the project goals.  The plan states, “The primary objective of the plan was to preserve the environmental quality of the river while enhancing the quality of life in the surrounding community.  Modifications to the floodway levees to provide enhanced public access were another objective of this plan.” [1]

Local residents explained at the workshop that the very area politicians claim to have flood problems has never flooded.  So why should they hand over their cherished properties, if the only true purpose is private development?

Christina Walsh, IJ’s director of activism and coalitions, spoke at the workshop, explaining the importance of grassroots activism.  She trained property owners how to become effective spokesmen against eminent domain, how to form coalitions, and the importance of working with the media.

Matt Miller, executive director of IJ’s Texas Chapter, educated attendees on eminent domain laws in Texas.  Texas earned a B- in the Castle Coalition’s 50 State Report Card.  Miller explained that Proposition 11, passed by voters in 2009, still leaves loopholes for politicians to abuse.

Several community leaders also attended the workshop, including Bob Lukeman.  He has been fighting the Trinity River Uptown project since its inception.  Not only has he outlined his reasons for opposition, but he has voluntarily developed maps and an alternative plan for “flood control” in Ft. Worth—a plan that does not involve eminent domain.  His website, citizenswhocare.net, details his thoughtful proposal.  

Now that local activists have the tools to fight eminent domain abuse, Ft. Worth bureaucrats should be shaking in their boots. Keep checking the Castle Coalition for updates on this exciting fight for property rights! 

 

[1]  Final Supplement No. 1 to the Final Environmental Impact Statement, http://www.swf.usace.army.mil/Pubdata/notices/CentralCity/ FSEIS_FortWorthCentralCity.pdf, at 23. 

Victory in Wisconsin

In a victory for property rights in Wisconsin, Earl Giefer will be allowed to keep the farm that he rightfully owns.  The Oak Creek City Council voted on June 1 to end the eminent domain proceedings they had begun on the property that had been in his family for 150 years.

IJ’s Jason Adkins, an attorney at the Minnesota Chapter, reached out to the Giefer family upon hearing that the city planned to bulldoze his farm to make way for private development.  Together with other concerned citizens, they held a rally against eminent domain abuse before the vote, telling the land-hungry bureaucrats that they stood behind Mr. Giefer.

The increased media coverage that ensued placed an enormous amount of public pressure on local officials, prompting the politicians to wash their hands of what one of them called a “PR nightmare” for the city.  The city attorney, clearly on the defensive, all but admitted that labeling Mr. Giefer’s farm “blighted” was bogus, and that the true intentions of the city were to line their coffers with increased tax revenues. 

Jason Adkins says that Oak Creek’s attempted land grab highlights the scary reality that Wisconsinites are not fully protected by current legislation.  Read Adkins’ op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel calling for eminent domain reform in Wisconsin here.

To read more about the victory, and to watch a video of the city attorney’s testimony, click here.

FORT WORTH: Eminent Domain Activist Workshop on June 15

The Institute for Justice, Foundation for a Free Society
and CitizensWhoCare.net invite you to a free
eminent domain activist workshop on

Tuesday, June 15
6 – 9 pm
Billy Miner’s Saloon
150 West 3rd Street • Fort Worth
Free dinner and materials will be provided.

Fort Worth officials want to redirect the Trinity River to form a lake to the north of the city for “flood control”…and to build new retail, office and residential development on the valuable waterfront land the lake would create. The project threatens dozens of business owners, whose property the government wants to lease or sell to future private developers.

Eminent domain is for public use—NOT to seize the property you’ve worked so hard to own so someone the city likes better can build something newer.

Join us on June 15th to learn about eminent domain abuse in Texas and what you can do to fight the Trinity Uptown Project and help business owners keep what is rightfully theirs.

INVITE YOUR NEIGHBORS AND FRIENDS!

PLEASE REGISTER by June 13th by contacting Lancee Kurcab at LKurcab@ij.org or (703) 682-9320.