Eminent Domain Abuse Successes and Challenges
Eminent Domain Abuse Successes
Activists around the country are successfully employing the tactics of the Castle Coalition to defeat eminent domain abuse. In 2004, Wal-Mart proposed replacing a neighborhood in Ogden, Utah, with one of its Supercenters. Dorothy Littrell, a 76-year-old retiree, led the fight against the world’s largest retailer—and won. The group held rallies, wrote letters to the editor and exerted tremendous political pressure through the media and state legislature. In early 2005, the group’s activism ultimately resulted in the passage of an eminent domain reform bill that effectively stopped the development and saved a neighborhood.
Last December, city officials in Lincoln, Neb., and developer John Q. Hammons announced plans to replace a block of businesses with a hotel. Using the Castle Coalition website, activists like Sean Wieting of Samurai Sam’s Teriyaki Grills raised awareness in the media about this threatened and unconstitutional use of eminent domain for private development. On March 1, 2005, the City approved the hotel development, but refused to authorize the use of eminent domain.
Nancy and Dick Saha bought their Pennsylvania farmhouse in 1971, and with their five children restored the 250-year-old residence and made it a home for their children and grandchildren. But the neighboring City of Coatesville decided it would rather see the family farm become a golf course and threatened condemnation. The Sahas waged an aggressive grassroots battle, and after three petitions, scores of protesters at local meetings, an approved referendum and a strong push to elect a new city council, the City finally dropped the condemnation.
Eminent Domain Abuse Continues
In Long Branch, N.J., the City is seeking to acquire 36 waterfront homes owned by families for generations in order to replace them with expensive condominiums that will enjoy the same view. Residents from the three threatened streets—Marine and Ocean Terraces and Seaview Avenue—have formed an activist group to fight the condemnations. On September 13, 2005, the City Council voted to reaffirm its use of eminent domain for the 23 remaining properties in the project area. The owners are now receiving offers granting them 14 days to initiate negotiations or be condemned.
Riviera Beach—a poor, predominantly black community in Florida—is undergoing a massive redevelopment plan along its affordable waterfront that may involve the condemnation of up to 2,000 homes, businesses and churches in favor of more expensive homes and retail businesses. On October 17, Florida legislators ordered an audit to look into allegations of financial mismanagement by the City of Riviera Beach and its Community Redevelopment Agency, the entity leading the development.
And in Ardmore, Pa., the Township is planning to raze 10 historic buildings in the charming downtown business district for newer businesses and condominiums.
In each of these communities, Castle Coalition-trained activists are joining with their neighbors and the Institute for Justice to save their homes and small businesses.
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