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.