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Nation’s Largest Eminent Domain Land Grab Defeated

Monday evening, after months of living with the uncertainty that they wouldn’t have a home for Christmas, the residents of Pleasant Ridge scored a major victory against a mayor who sought to bulldoze 354 homes in Charlestown, Indiana. At a city council meeting that went late into the night, the council rejected the mayor’s plan to raze the neighborhood and sell it to private developers.

“Christmas has come early to Charlestown,” said Pleasant Ridge resident Tina Barnes. “Finally, we can celebrate the holidays without fear of losing our homes and livelihoods.”

Tina Barnes is like many Pleasant Ridge residents—honest, hardworking and scrambling to make ends meet. She’s a medical receptionist who is raising her two granddaughters on her own. Her home in Pleasant Ridge is a duplex, which allows her grown handicapped daughter to live in an independent environment on one side while Ms. Barnes and her granddaughters live on the other.

Ms. Barnes’s family is not alone. There are dozens of veterans and elderly people living on fixed incomes sprinkled throughout the community. “I wasn’t sure if I should put up a Christmas tree this year,” said longtime Pleasant Ridge resident Barbara Coda.

Demolishing the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood would have been illegal. Indiana reformed its eminent domain law in 2006, barring the use of eminent domain for private development (with the exception of certified technology parks).

“The mayor’s plan was not only unconstitutional, it was unconscionable,” said Institute for Justice Activism Manager Melinda Haring. “The mayor’s plan would have turned hundreds of seniors, veterans, and others out in the cold. Thankfully, the council came to its senses and rejected the plan unanimously.”

The Institute for Justice, a nonprofit public interest law firm, has worked with the Charlestown Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association to mobilize grassroots opposition to the plan since June. To oppose the land grab, IJ built a coalition that included state-based organizations, such as Indiana Landmarks. IJ also helped residents collect hundreds of signatures opposing the plan and organize a large community event.

For the past seven months, the city has sought federal funding to redevelop the neighborhood. In November 2014, the city applied for $3.7 million from the State of Indiana in Blight Elimination Program (BEP) funds to demolish the neighborhood. But these funds were never intended to destroy homes. At the outset, Congress allocated the funds to shore up troubled mortgages, not demolish occupied homes. The use of Troubled Asset Relief Program funds from the Department of Treasury – the source of the BEP funding – would have violated federal law.

“This victory proves that citizens can fight City Hall, and we hope to inspire Americans everywhere to stand up whenever their rights are violated,” said Haring.

The Institute for Justice was instrumental in reforming Indiana’s eminent domain laws in 2006. IJ will continue to work with the Charlestown Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association to ensure that the city respects residents’ rights and follows the law.

For more information on this case, visit https://ij.org/action-post/boots-on-the-ground-one-mayor-s-plan-to-destroy-a-community-dating-back-to-world-war-ii/.

For more information on IJ’s work defending property rights, visit https://ij.org/pillar/private-property/?post_type=case. Founded in 1991, the Institute for Justice is the national law firm for liberty.

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