Activist Puts the Brakes on Eminent Domain Abuse

June 1, 2008

Castle Coalition activist Ed Osborne fights for his business (below). A friend of Ed’s used a cellphone camera to document the developer’s desire to drive Ed out by photographing a rendering of the proposed new development to be built where Ed’s business now stands.

Activist Puts the Brakes on Eminent Domain Abuse

By Ed Osborne

I was born dirt poor. Because of a bad relationship with my father, I was forced to leave home at 15. With just an eighth-grade education, I could have taken a number of paths—but I chose to work and have not rested for 40 years. I am proud to say that I own my own home and business, Osborne’s Auto Service, in Wilmington, Del.

But recently, someone has been trying to take my piece of the American Dream. The Buccini/Pollin Group, a wealthy developer, wants the land where my shop sits—and because city officials believe my property (and 61 others) can be put to “better use,” they are threatening to seize it through eminent domain if I do not sell.

I first encountered eminent domain abuse in March 2004, when the state wanted to take my business to supposedly widen a road. I visited the Realtor’s sales office for the new condos that were being built across the street and noticed a rendering of Phase II of the project—to be built on my property. Fortunately, I was able to stop this attempt, but I knew the fight wasn’t over.

Sure enough, the city came back with another threat in 2007—this time under the guise of “slum and blight” clearance. For the second time in four years, real estate agents have said publicly that it is just a matter of time before my business is replaced by new development. To show you their arrogance, the rendering of their project that they share with prospective buyers shows their development where my business now stands. A friend of mine captured their rendering in their office with his cellphone camera to document their desire to drive me out.

I have spent nearly every waking moment for 10 months struggling to come to terms with possibly losing everything. I have endured months of uncertainty, from the possibility of relocation and loss of customers to possible legislative reform and a court decision on my lawsuit. I worry about the amount of time I spend away from my business and the depletion of financial resources. And I fight on. While possessions admittedly mean little when compared to family, having been born in poverty, I learned to appreciate the value and self-esteem gained as a result of owning the fruits of one’s labor. I cannot and will not stand quietly by and let someone take what belongs to my family and me.

With the help of the Castle Coalition, I organized property owners, set up community meetings, and addressed the City Council to keep the fight alive and in the minds of voters. I contacted a prominent Wilmington radio station and distributed flyers I made across the city. I attended dozens of legislative meetings and hearings, spent thousands of dollars on legal advice and wrote guest editorials for the local paper.

I remember the first time I was on the radio—my heart was pounding so fast that when they told me it was my turn to speak, I nearly hung up the phone. I have always pondered where soldiers find the courage to stand on a field of battle. But life, I believe, presents moments when fear has no power, when something else takes over. I summoned the courage to speak that day and continue to make my voice heard.

Without a willingness to fight, my belief in myself and in my dream will cease to exist. I am standing up to defend what is rightfully mine, because in the end, it is worth any effort or sacrifice.u

Ed Osborne is a member of IJ’s Castle Coalition.

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