Saturday, August 16, 2008

Homeowners Notch Win in Long-Running Battle Over Eminent Domain

Pamela A. MacLean,, 08-11-2008

A New Jersey appellate court handed a victory to homeowners in a long-running eminent domain dispute with the city of Long Branch, N.J., finding no actual blight in an area set for condemnation and redevelopment.

The case by a group of long-term residents of the coastal strip drew the attention of land use specialists and landowner rights advocates from around the country in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's 2005 decision allowing cities to use eminent domain to take "blighted" land from one private owner to give to another for development. (link)

I realize that if a similar case went to trial in Nashville, it would have to be decided by defining "blight" under Tennessee law. I am not a lawyer and do not know how such a suit would turn out. However, I would be very surprised if Joy Ford's modest neat brick one story building could be found to be blighted under any rational definition of the term. I would be surprised if Tennessee defines blight less restrictively than New Jersey.
It appear that the Joy Ford case is going to be solved. The developer and MDHA decided they did not have to take her property in order to go forward with the proposed development after all. They have offered her a large sum of money for a portion of her parking. This however is still a case of negotiating while some one has a gun to your head. Joy will probably decide to accept the lucrative offer rather than fight a costly court battle. I don't blame her. However, I would like to have seen this go to court. Property should not be considered "blighted" just because someone else has a better use for the property. Property owners should be able to be secure in knowing that they have a right to their property.
While it appears that eminent domain condemnation was avoided in the case of Joy Ford, the right of the government to take your property on behalf of a developer is secure. Citizens in redevelopment zones must still negotiate with potential buyers while the government holds a gun to their head.

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