For those who think Kelo v. City of New London doesn’t affect them, think again.

There’s a good bit of misinformation out there, most of it claiming that the Supreme Court’s now infamous decision in Kelo should not cause home and small business owners any concern, and that there is no need to reform state laws in order to curb the abuse of eminent domain. It’s a completely bogus argument, but one that’s not unexpected given the large amounts of land and cash to be obtained by the proponents of the virtually unlimited exercise of eminent domain.

The story of Reba June Thompson and her son Howard provides a perfect illustration of how Kelo endangered home and business owners around the country. The family, which hopes to remain in their home despite the appetite of local developer, DESCO Group, lost its first round to stay put when a St. Louis Circuit Court judge issued a condemnation order requiring the Howards to vacate their home for a shopping center. The Howards’ home is one of twenty the developer desires so that it can build a mail, which will include a Lowe’s and Schnucks.

In his opinion, however, Judge Timothy J. Wilson expressed his frustration with the Kelo case and the general status of the law in the Show-Me State. He noted: “The United States Supreme Court has denied the Alamo reinforcements. Perhaps the people will clip the wings of eminent domain in Missouri, but today in Missouri it soars and devours.”

Judge Wilson’s frustration is no doubt shared by home and small business owners around the country, as every poll on the issue shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans disagree with the majority’s ruling in Kelo. Everyone, except those with an interest in the power, acknowledges that the decision constituted a major shift in the basic protections America provides to home and business owners. The time has come to restore those protections. Please become a member of the Castle Coalition today and join the fight against eminent domain abuse.

When Public Use Means Private Gain

In a recent article in the Village Voice, writer Paul Moses reviews the details of the lease at The New York Times‘ new headquarters, which is currently under construction. The lease prohibits a whole host of tenants—including schools, medical facilities and discount stores—on land that was obtained by eminent domain, but allows luxury uses like an auction house.

Offices, a dormitory and other shops were razed in order to prepare the lot for the newspaper’s building based on the state’s claim that bulldozing the properties would serve a public use by removing blight in Times Square. Hardly. The Times case illustrates the fallacy of blight removal and highlights the real reason behind the abuse of eminent domain—private profit.

Historically, urban renewal statutes were used to rid neighborhoods of dilapidated and vermin-infested houses. Now, however, they are used to take perfectly fine homes and small businesses that just happen to be in good locations—like Times Square. What was once designed to help communities has morphed into a tool to serve big business.

Even in those states that say they don’t allow eminent domain for economic development, there’s still a very real danger of eminent domain abuse. That’s because all states have urban renewal laws that give condemnation powers to cities to control blight, and these are used everywhere to increase private profits and fatten government coffers. The criteria to designate neighborhoods as blighted can be so vague that they literally apply to any property anywhere. As a result, everyone’s at risk. In fact, properties that aren’t blighted at all can even be taken if they happen to be next door to one that is. This makes legislative reform of eminent domain laws so essential.

Thankfully, in response the outcry of the American people, more than 30 states and the U.S. Congress plan some eminent domain reform. Let’s hope the changes are significant and not superficial. Join us to make sure every legislature hears the call to restore our property rights.

Speaking Out About Eminent Domain Abuse

Jim McCaffrey / Photo courtesy The Evening Bulletin

Ardmore residents and business owners testify before Pennsylvania House Committee.

Traveling down the Main Line to the Philadelphia Convention Center, several members of the Save Ardmore Coalition recently testified before the Legislative Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Threatened business owners Scott Mahan and Dr. Eni and Betty Foo and concerned resident Sharon Eckstein told the story of Historic Ardmore, which is slated to be demolished for a mixed-use residential and retail development, and urged the legislature to make changes to the state’s eminent domain laws. As part of the recently launched Hands Off My Home campaign, members of SAC attended the Castle Coalition’s Eminent Domain Activist Conference in July.

Despite the fact that the Historic District is full of thriving family businesses like Suburban Office Equipment and Hunan Restaurant, as well as the hall for local posts of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and American Legion, the area has been designated blighted by Lower Merion Township—a clear abuse of the power of eminent domain and simply a way to grab properties for a well-heeled developer. And this story is being repeated across the country.

That’s why dozens of state and local governments, along with the U.S. Congress, are taking a look at their laws related to eminent domain—the abuse is real and widespread. They need to hear from people, like those in Ardmore, whose experience demonstrates the devastating effects of eminent domain abuse on individuals and communities. Apologists for eminent domain—especially politically connected private developers and tax-hungry politicians—make the incredible claim that there is no such thing as eminent domain abuse. The Castle Coalition and groups like SAC are making sure the truth is heard.

Eminent Domain Victims Testify

Susette Kelo, lead plaintiff in the now-infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision Kelo v. City of New London and icon for private property rights everywhere, and Pastor Fred Jenkins of St. Luke's Pentecostal Church in New York, testified before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on September 20, 2005. They told their personal stories of heartache and pain, all caused by the government's abuse of eminent domain to fatten their tax coffers and line the pockets of well-connected developers. Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner also submitted testimony for the record. Read more about what they told the Committee here:

Testimony of Susette Kelo

Testimony of Pastor Fred Jenkins

Testimony of Dana Berliner

Watch the Hearing (Requires Real Media Player)
Courtesy of C-SPAN

Michael Cristofaro, a neighbor of Susette Kelo who is also fighting to keep his home, testified before the House Agriculture Committee on September 22, 2005, telling his family's personal experience with the heavy-handed use of eminent domain.

Tesimony of Michael Cristofaro (forthcoming)

These hearings are just two examples of the debate about eminent domain abuse going on around around the country and is an important part of the Castle Coalition's Hands Off My Home campaign to effect real eminent domain reform across the nation.

Kelo Isnt Going Anywhere

More than three months after the U.S. Supreme Court’s dreadful decision in Kelo v. City of New London, the issue of eminent domain abuse remains a hot topic across the country.

Legislatures at every level of government are taking a close look at eminent domain laws in order to make sure what happened in New London doesn’t happen anywhere else. Just last week, both the U.S. Senate and House held hearings on proposed federal responses to the situation. Congress heard testimony from New London property owners Susette Kelo and Michael Cristofaro, as well as Pastor Fred Jenkins, whose congregation’s property was taken for private development, and Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner.

In addition, IJ staff members have been busy in the individual states—criss-crossing the nation to provide insight and information to policy groups, citizens and state legislatures, calling for real reform of state eminent domain laws, which are most often the method for abuse. Taking Justice John Paul Steven’s comment about state action to heart, legislators in over thirty states have or will introduce bills limiting the power of eminent domain to its more historic uses. Alabama and Texas have passed more restrictive laws, though some large loopholes remain to be fixed. And, not to be outdone, an even larger number of local governments are responding to the Kelo decision, ensuring that the power of eminent domain be used only for true public uses.

Castle Coalition members have been a large part in the debate, providing human faces and the real-life stories of sorrow so often associated with the abuse of eminent domain. Together, we’re striving to protect the homes, small businesses and churches targeted by greedy governments and developers. It’s a battle we’ll no doubt win.

To join in and learn more about the battle to save your property and hear all about the latest activities around the country, sign up to become a member of the Castle Coalition.

'Nine Months of Hell'

Bowing to increasing pressure from local activists, New York’s historic town of Cheektowaga, a suburb of Buffalo, backed down last week from a controversial redevelopment plan. If passed, Developer Dominic Piestrak’s proposal would have demolished 300 homes and 700 apartments, wiping out the entire residential community of Cedargrove Heights against the will of its landowners and tenants. The idea was to replace the entire 154-acre privately owned neighborhood with a wealthier one—single-family homes, brownstones, row houses, shops, parks, restaurants and offices. Practically all of the land seized by eminent domain would have ended up in the hands of more affluent home and business owners.

Thanks in large part to a grassroots community group called the Cedargrove Heights Neighborhood Action Committee, the Town Board dropped consideration of the proposal. Wearing red shirts announcing their opposition to the use of eminent domain, this core group of residents appeared at almost every town meeting since February. They utilized the Castle Coalition’s Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide and enhanced their strategies at the group’s Washington, D.C., conference in July.

Amidst some cautious celebration, many residents of Cedargrove Heights voiced their anger and frustration with the town’s actions in this matter.

“You put this community through nine months of hell,” activist Janine Szretter voiced to the Town Board. “What are we, a dumping ground? We’re not scum. How dare you let this go on? How would you like to go to sleep not knowing if you’re going to have a house?”

For almost a year, that is exactly what many residents of this neighborhood did. Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London that governments can use eminent domain to take homes and businesses for higher tax uses, landowners throughout the nation have led similar struggles to keep their homes and businesses. While a few neighborhoods have been saved with the help of successful grassroots organizing, it is an unfair and unjust uphill battle every step of the way. Property owners shouldn’t have to vindicate rights that shouldn’t be threatened in the first place.

For the time being, Cedargrove Heights appears to be safe from eminent domain abuse. However, some members of the citizen activist group worry that the proposal could resurface. As Joan Adams, President of the Neighborhood Action Committee, told the Buffalo News, “If it does, you’re in for another fight, because we’re going to be saving our community.” And—until the law is changed so that the fate of Americans’ homes and businesses doesn’t lie in the hands of tax-hungry bureaucrats and land-hungry developers—the Castle Coalition will be there too.

Think Successful Redevelopment Necessitates Eminent Domain?

When the city of Seattle redeveloped part of its downtown in 1996, it did so the old-fashioned way—through private negotiation instead of public force. City officials and developers worked together to create more than one million square feet of new retail space, generating a 15.8% increase in taxable sales and a 4.4% increase in retail jobs. This was a classic case of targeted urban revitalization, and Seattle accomplished its goals while simultaneously respecting private property rights.[1]

Defenders of eminent domain for private commercial development all too often argue that eminent domain is absolutely necessary for private commercial development. Bart Peterson, testifying before Congress on behalf of the National League of Cities, asserted: “If cities did not have the tool of eminent domain, it would be impractical to undertake large economic development projects.”[2] Georgetown Law Professor John D. Echeverria, an outspoken supporter of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo v. City of New London, argued, “Without the eminent domain power, we would not have…many of our most successful downtown redevelopment projects, like the Baltimore waterfront.”[3] They could not be more mistaken.

Many of the most successful economic redevelopment projects throughout history stayed clear of eminent domain. Walt Disney constructed the magic of Disney World without condemning or threatening to condemn a single piece of property. He and his subsidiaries purchased 100% of the land for the Florida amusement park through voluntary negotiation.[4] The Rouse Company created an entirely new city from scratch in Howard County, Maryland, purchasing more than 15,000 acres from 140 different owners in 1963.[5] The Commonwealth Development Group assembled 21 separate parcels of land in Providence, Rhode Island, and built an enormous shopping center—now a vibrant commercial hotspot that’s created jobs and tax revenue, attracted hotels to the area, and become a cornerstone of growth and revitalization.[6]

Economic development happens every day without eminent domain. There are countless ways in which cities and commercial developers can improve the aesthetics of a given area, attract private enterprise and even facilitate infrastructure improvements to generate increased tax-revenue and job-growth, none of which require forcibly transferring land deeds from one person to another.

Since the 1970s, Main Street Programs, sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, have offered grants and loans for façade improvements, facilitated comprehensive grassroots-based economic development and revitalized entire neighborhood commercial districts.[7] The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Dollar Home Program allows local government to purchase abandoned, foreclosed homes that have been on the market for more than six months; the properties are then renovated and often sold to low-to-moderate income families, benefiting the city as well as the new owners.[8] On a much smaller scale, Frank Cassidy, a building inspector in Bonita Springs, Florida, has worked with homeowners to restore the appearance of the exteriors of their homes. Once a property is named for aid under the “Beautify Bonita” project, Cassidy solicits tax-deductible donations and recruits volunteers to do the repairs.[9]

Projects involving land assembly and the transfer of property ownership can and do succeed without threatening eminent domain or initiating condemnation proceedings. In Las Vegas, Nevada, Focus Property Group created a 3,000-acre community called Mountain’s Edge. This project, undertaken without eminent domain, has been an exemplary success in developing residential and commercial real estate. Perhaps more significantly, city officials chose not to resort to abusing their eminent domain powers while still accomplishing a major economic development venture that is often touted by development professionals.[10]

This kind of success is not unique to the Nevada desert. In the mid-1980s, two developers in West Palm Beach, Florida, discreetly assembled 26 contiguous blocks of a run-down inner city area by buying over 300 separate parcels of land from 240 different owners. Only nine months later, they broke ground on a major shopping center now known as CityPlace. It is still a vibrant urban district, bustling with retail, dining and entertainment establishments—and certainly a model from which cities and developers can learn.[11]

In contrast, Scottsdale, Arizona, stonewalled $2 billion of successful redevelopment for years by threatening eminent domain. In 1993, Scottsdale designated four redevelopment areas, setting the groundwork for government to seize the homes and small businesses of hardworking Arizonans. When the city removed two of these designations, it reported an influx of billions of dollars. Areas that at one time were thought to need governmental interference have seen unprecedented prosperity and revitalization. Money poured in only after Scottsdale removed the threat of eminent domain.[12]

As these examples indicate, accumulating large parcels of land is clearly possible without condemning homes and small businesses against the will of their owners. Just as George Washington acquired land for the nation’s capital by involving landowners in the process and making them partners in economic reward,[13] West Palm Beach, Florida, initiated shared-equity partnerships. And, in the same way that the Disney brothers quietly purchased enough land for one of the nation’s most visited tourist attractions, Howard County carefully amassed thousands of acres for an entirely new city. John Norquist, former mayor of Milwaukee and president of the Congress for the New Urbanism, said it best: “The economy of this country was built by the private sector… Today, the same economic incentives which have always attracted private investment and spawned sustainable development continue to draw private real estate developers all over America.”[14]

The private sector has the expertise and experience to effectively evaluate risk, to weigh the complexities of real estate development with the likelihood of success, and to ultimately generate the sustainable job and revenue growth that cities and municipalities seek. The remaining defenders of eminent domain abuse scare Americans into believing they must choose between private property rights and economic growth. Fortunately, the evidence is clear and compelling—Americans can have both.

[1] Mark Brnovich, “Condemning Condemnation: Alternatives to Eminent Domain,” Goldwater Institute Policy Report, June 14, 2004, 6-8.

[2] Bart Peterson, “Written Testimony of the Honorable Bart Peterson, Mayor, Indianapolis, Indiana,” United States House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary, Sept. 22, 2005.

[3] John D. Echeverria, “Some Thoughts on Kelo and the Public Debate Over Eminent Domain,” Policy Paper, July 22, 2005.

[4] Roger Pilon, “Kelo v. City of New London and U.S. Supreme Court Decision and Strengthening the Ownership of Private Property Act of 2005” Testimony before the US House Committee on Agriculture, Sept. 7, 2005.

[5] Howard Gillette Jr., “Assessing James Rouse’s role in American city planning; real estate developer,” Journal of the American Planning Association, Mar. 22, 1999.

[6] See Brief Amicus Curiae of John Norquist on behalf of Petitioners in Kelo v. City of New London (2005), available at

[7] “About the National Trust Main Street Center,” National Trust for Historic Preservation, available at

[8] “City Provides Affordable Housing Under HUD’s Dollar Home Program,” Associated Press State and Local Wire, Nov. 9, 2001.

[9] Mark Krzos, “Beautification Help Approved,” The News-Press, Dec. 19, 2002, at 1H.

[10] “Mountain’s Edge Outpaces Sales of All Other Master Planned Communities in Southern Nevada; Mountain’s Edge Reports 1,230 New Home Sales,” PR Newswire US, June 30,2005. Also, see Norquist Brief Amicus Curiae.

[11] Jonathon Marmon, “Urban Renewal-West Palm Beach,” South Florida CEO, May 2002. Also, see Norquist Brief Amicus Curiae.

[12] Casey Newton, “Scottsdale plans to end redevelopment designation,” The Arizona Republic, Oct. 4, 2005; Ryan Gabrielson, “Council ends ‘bad idea’ unanimously: City to cease aggressive style of redevelopment downtown,” East Valley Tribune, Oct. 5, 2005.

[13] See Norquist Brief Amicus Curiae.

[14] Ibid.

Economic Development in the OC

The city that is home to Disneyland, the Angels and the Mighty Ducks is also the latest to approve a major downtown economic development project that stays clear of eminent domain. “A-Town,” Lennar Corp.’s revitalization plan unanimously approved in October by the Anaheim city council, is expected to energize the city’s downtown area with townhouses, lofts, a shopping center and up to 11 residential towers soaring as high as 35 stories. Experts estimate the project will generate up to $22 million a year in property taxes alone.[1]

A-Town is slated to become the centerpiece of Platinum Triangle, an urban neighborhood that will mix coffee shops with day-care centers, bars with grocery stores, and retail establishments with mixed-income residences. The basic idea is to bring renewed energy to the district surrounding Angel Stadium—and to do so without condemning or threatening to condemn a single piece of land for the project.

Last year, Anaheim loosened its zoning restrictions as part of a comprehensive effort to initiate its revitalization goals. This helped to encourage private companies to bring development proposals to the table. In a matter of months, city officials received a number of plans and ultimately decided on Lennar’s by a unanimous vote.[2]

All too often, municipalities conjure up a plan, seek out developers, and use eminent domain to accumulate land for a project. Victimizing countless hardworking Americans by taking their homes and small businesses against their will, the government-based approach carries with it tremendous social and economic costs, which often go unreported. Adding insult to injury, the development projects that rely on eminent domain often result in abysmal failures; the American landscape is dotted with eminent domain projects that didn’t live up to the high-blown expectations and promises of their backers.

Anaheim’s current city administration has pursued a market-based approach to redevelopment. The city council has frequently overturned restrictive planning commission policies, it has created a “Home Improvement Holiday” to waive permitting fees for home renovation, and it has stayed away from micromanaging private business decisions.[3] And last year, the city passed policy directive 220, which forbids the use of eminent domain for private economic development.[4]

The city’s approach to A-Town simultaneously protects private property rights and pursues large-scale economic redevelopment. The Castle Coalition urges other cities and municipalities throughout the nation to look to Anaheim’s A-Town when pursuing redevelopment efforts.

[1] “The fast track to A-Town; By using free-market approach, Anaheim takes quick step toward developing Platinum Triangle,” Orange County Register, Oct. 31, 2005, at Editorials; “Anaheim’s Revolution is Freedom-Friendly,” Orange County Register, May 30, 2004, at Editorials; Dave McKibben, “The Urban Afterthought,” Los Angeles Times: Orange County Edition, Oct. 31, 2005, at B1.

[2] “The fast track to A-Town; By using free-market approach, Anaheim takes quick step toward developing Platinum Triangle,” Orange County Register, Oct. 31, 2005, at Editorials.

[3] Lomi Kriel, “Businesses in Anaheim Get a Break; the city is waiving fees for new owners, hoping to boost its economy in the long-run by bringing in jobs and investment,” Los Angeles Times, June 18, 2005, at B3; Chris Norby, “Eminent Domain Uproar,” Orange County Register, July 18, 2005, at Commentary; “Anaheim’s Revolution is Freedom-Friendly,” Orange County Register, May 30, 2004, at Editorials.

[4] “Putting freedom into words; Anaheim City Council bans the use of eminent domain for improper purposes,” Orange County Register, Nov. 22, 2004.

Thousands Uprooted?

There’s good reason the Washington Times called Riviera Beach’s proposed redevelopment plan “one of the biggest eminent domain actions ever.”[1] That’s because Mayor Michael Brown and other city officials plan to condemn 2,200 homes by eminent domain, bulldoze them, and replace the predominantly black, blue-collar community on Florida’s beautiful coastline with a wealthier one. If passed, the 400-acre “revitalization” project will displace more than 6,000 people—kicking the less wealthy working-class out for a new neighborhood of luxury houses, high-end condominiums, a boat basin for mega yachts, a man-made lagoon, and a multilevel garage for boats.[2]

“What they mean is that the view I have is too good for me, and should go to some millionaire,”[3] said Martha Babson, a painter and longtime resident whose house is slated to be among those taken by eminent domain.

The story began in May 2001, when the city commissioned a study that declared approximately one-third of Riviera Beach “blighted.” Under Florida law, and many other states, the local government can seize private property for economic development if the land meets the overly broad “blight” criteria claimed by the state.

To debunk the blight findings, one resident took it upon herself to conduct her own analysis. After walking the streets camera-in-hand, Babson—a Castle Coalition activist who attended the 2002 Eminent Domain Conference—discovered considerable errors in the official study.

Among them, Babson found that lots inventoried as “vacant” had single-family homes built on them, that a “dilapidated” house was merely two years old, and that the city’s standards include taking any property that is “in the best interest of public health, safety, morals and welfare”—in other words, practically any property at all. [4]

Riviera Beach is one of the few remaining waterfront neighborhoods that is still affordable to working-class families. It epitomizes the fact that one need not be exceptionally wealthy to own a home with an ocean view. Rene and David Corie bought their two-bedroom American Dream in 1997 at a price of $70,000 precisely because Riviera Beach is so affordable. They are well aware that so-called just compensation just isn’t enough to buy a comparable piece of property on the Florida coast and that’s exactly why they’re doing everything possible to keep their beloved castle.[5]

Unfortunately, a few months after the U.S. Supreme Court opened the floodgates for eminent domain abuse by affirming Kelo, Riviera Beach began moving forward with its proposed redevelopment plan. Mayor Brown, echoing the same words spouted by defenders of eminent domain for private development nationwide, continues to claim that his project aims to increase tax revenue and create jobs. With his support, the City Council agreed in September 2005 to pursue a joint venture between an American yacht company and an Australian condominium developer, Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, which will serve as master developer once a final contract is crafted.[6]

As Riviera Beach pushes its abusive plan forth, nearly one-fifth of the city’s population faces threats of eminent domain. These hardworking Floridians live under a cloud of condemnation that, if implemented, will uproot thousands of families and destroy hundreds of small businesses. These are the properties that characterize the coastal neighborhood, ranging from small boating operations to locally owned restaurants.

The City has shown its willingness to shatter the dreams and livelihoods of 6,000 citizens, trampling their fundamental right to keep what they rightfully own. Homeowners have responded by staging a number of rallies and protests. They have written their elected officials and submitted letters to their neighborhood papers, all in the hope of saving a community they only want to continue calling home.

In her dissenting opinion to Kelo v. City of New London, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “The fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process. As for the victims, the government now has license to transfer property from those with fewer resources to those with more.”[7]

That’s exactly what’s happening in Riviera Beach—and Americans deserve better.

[1] Joyce Howard Price, “Florida city considers eminent domain,” Washington Times, Oct. 3, 2005.

[2] John-Thor Dahlburg, “An Eminent Domain High Tide,” Los Angeles Times – Miami Bureau, Nov. 29, 2005, at A12.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Dennis Cauchon, “Pushing the limits of ‘public use,’” USA Today, Mar. 31, 2004.

[6] John-Thor Dahlburg, “An Eminent Domain High Tide,” Los Angeles Times – Miami Bureau, Nov. 29, 2005, at A12.

[7] Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 2005 (Justice O’Connor’s Dissent).

Scrapped Redevelopment Plans

Responding to overwhelming popular outcry, city officials throughout the nation have begun to pull the plug on plans involving eminent domain for private development. Cities and towns in New Jersey, Illinois and California are the latest to abandon development plans threatening the homes and small businesses of hardworking Americans—simply because it’s wrong.

Thanks in large part to local activists who fought long and hard for what is rightfully theirs, city officials in Jersey City (NJ), Collinsville (IL) and Oakland (CA) have heard the message loud and clear: Americans will not stand silent when government threatens their fundamental right to keep what’s theirs.

In early November, Jersey City Mayor Jerremiah Healy dropped a highly controversial plan that would have transferred the home and small business of a modest businessman to a Roman Catholic high school. If passed, the city’s redevelopment agency planned to condemn a restaurant and bar called the Golden Cicada and the backroom apartment of its owner, Cheng Tan, for that most traditional of “public uses”—to extend a private high school’s football field by seven yards.[1]

Finally rejecting a controversy that has lingered over Tan’s head for months, Mayor Healy said, “There are instances when the city’s taking of private property for public purpose is appropriate, but this is not one of those instances.”[2]

All along, the private school maintained the right to negotiate with Tan and continues to have that option. Now, however, St. Peter’s Prep no longer has the backing of the city redevelopment agency and the threat of eminent domain.

Healy is not the only city official to pull back from eminent domain for private use. Collinsville, Illinois, a small town with St. Louis in its horizon, has scrapped a redevelopment plan that threatened the homes of 15 families. The plan, intended to establish a business district along a 27-acre stretch of land bordering the highway, aimed to create a commercial development to support a planned shopping center.[3]

Pulling the plan at a City Council meeting in late October, Collinsville Mayor Stan Schaeffer acknowledged that the voice of local activists opposing the proposal compelled him to take eminent domain off the table. He said, “Input from residents…brought up some salient points. It is stricken.”[4]

Earlier that evening, Kelly Kalika, a resident just east of the proposed district, provided council members with a display of the charming homes slated to be taken against the will of their owners and bulldozed to the ground. She asked the board to empathize, saying, “There is a social contract between a government and its citizens. They’ve held up their end of that contract. They’ve maintained their homes. They’ve paid their taxes.”[5]

At least for now, the Illinois homes appear to be saved from the government wrecking ball.

A similar plan in Northern California, which would expand the North Oakland Redevelopment area to include new areas, also saw its demise recently in response to public opposition. Jane Brunner, vice mayor and councilmember, commented that citizens were “fearful about the potential for abuse of redevelopment powers.”[6]

In light of citizen discontent with the proposal and, more specifically, the ability for city officials to threaten and use eminent domain, she urged city officials to withdraw the plans.

These are just a few of the many recent actions taken by city officials to curb the abuse of eminent domain in their jurisdictions. The evidence clearly indicates that amplified citizen opposition has rightfully pressured elected officials to abandon plans that put homes and businesses at risk. The Castle Coalition commends the home and small business owners in these three towns and their actions to protect what they already own. This is merely a small sampling of the countless Americans across the nation fighting for their rights against the illegitimate abuse of eminent domain.

Practically every major poll conducted indicates that citizens wholeheartedly oppose the use of eminent domain for private commercial development. In response to the Supreme Court’s perilous ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, giving cities and states a green light to take private property and transfer it from one person to another, legislatures across the nation are taking steps to stop this abuse. Legislative successes range from rural town councils to the U.S. House of Representatives, and this is only the beginning.

As evidenced by the recent stances taken against eminent domain abuse in Jersey City, Collinsville and Oakland, fighting against unjust condemnations can make a real difference. That’s exactly why the Castle Coalition will continue to fight for the constitutional rights of home and small business owners.

[1] Matthew Reilly, “Mayor won’t seize restaurant to aid school: Jersey City withdraws eminent domain for football-field expansion,” New Jersey Star-Ledger, Nov. 5, 2005, at News.

[2] “Jersey City drops plan to seize tavern for Catholic school field,” Associated Press, Nov. 5, 2005.

[3] Adam Jadhav, “Collinsville officials scrap business district,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Oct. 24, 2005, at Metro East.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Jane Brunner, Public Letter to Constituents, Sept. 13, 2005.