City Stopped from Using Eminent Domain for Speculative ‘Economic Development’

‘Increasingly, government officials are using the power of eminent domain to turn themselves into real estate speculators…’

Appellate Court Restricts New Jersey City's Eminent Domain Powers 1

Charlie Birnbaum/PHOTO: Institute for Justice

(Joshua Paladino, Liberty Headlines) Glassboro, a borough in New Jersey, tried to use eminent domain to take private property for a “redevelopment plan,” but an appellate court blocked the seizure because the government was going to speculate with the land, the Institute for Justice reported in a press release.

“This decision is a tremendous victory for property rights in New Jersey and nationwide,” Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Robert McNamara said. “Increasingly, government officials are using the power of eminent domain to turn themselves into real estate speculators, seizing land in the hopes that some worthwhile investment will come along in the future.

New Jersey redevelopment law says the state can use eminent domain only when it is “necessary” for a redevelopment project, but this case affirms that “necessary” does not merely mean the government thinks it’s a good investment.

“[A] condemning authority must do more than recite that a parcel it seeks to condemn has some unexplained necessity to [an] overall redevelopment area or redevelopment plan,” wrote Judge Jack Sabatino, the presiding judge of the Appellate Division, in the court’s opinion. “The claim of necessity, if challenged, must be justified by a reasonable presentation of supporting proof. It will not suffice for the condemning authority to just ‘say so.’”

The precedent set in the case, Borough of Glassboro v. Grossman, bodes well for Charlie Birnbaum, a New Jersey piano tuner whose long-time family home is threatened by the state’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority.

Birnbaum’s family has owned home in Atlantic City since 1969. Birnbaum says his home’s location in central Atlantic City allows him to easily travel to the many casinos in the city where he tunes pianos.

He has an autoimmune condition prevents him from leaving his home for too long. Birnbaum says his home makes work easily available, and his work keeps him living.

The CRDA wants to take his home, through eminent domain, to “complement” the Revel Casino, IJ reported.

In other words, the government agency is trying to use its public powers to support the private company.

And there are two additional problems to this abuse of government power: the Revel Casino hasn’t operated in years and there is no “formal development plan” for the property once they seize it.

“Documents released by CRDA indicate that there is no substantive project or plan beyond the plan to condemn the properties,” IJ wrote.

Birnbaum won the case in trial court, with the judgement describing the CRDA’s actions as a “manifest abuse of the eminent domain power.”

The case, however, remains open as New Jersey has appealed the decision.