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Charles Birnbaum, son of immigrants and Holocaust survivors, owned a modest brick house near the Atlantic City Boardwalk. That home had remained in his family for a half century.
In 2014 the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA), a New Jersey state agency, used its eminent domain powers to seize the Birnbaum’s property, seemingly to benefit the state economy. In actuality, the nearby Revel Casino (which later shuttered) wanted the land. Birnbaum refused to yield and challenged the taking. Read on to find out what happened.
To revitalize its economy, create jobs, and increase tax revenue, a municipality or other government agency can enact a community redevelopment plan. Often those redevelopment plans contemplate acquiring large swaths of land by assembling tracts or parcels. The government may purchase properties outright, through a conventional negotiation and purchase/sale process. But when landowners don’t want to sell (for various reasons, such as inability to agree on price, or sentimental ties to the property), a government can resort to taking the land by exercising its eminent domain powers.
“Eminent domain” is the government’s power to seize property; “condemnation” is the process whereby the government exercises that power.
The U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause prohibits governments from condemnation of land without just compensation. Most people intuitively envision such public uses as:
Those uses are viewed as public purposes, because people many use and therefore benefit from them. More controversial is a town’s use of eminent domain where private business mixes with the ostensible public purpose.
Interestingly, the CRDA took Birnbaum’s property not for any specific identified purpose, but to warehouse it for possible future land development. At first, the judge (in CRDA vs. Birnbaum) gave the CRDA every opportunity to demonstrate that it had a viable public use for the property. Ultimately though, the CRDA failed to persuade the court, and in 2016 the judge ruled in the homeowner’s favor. That decision may have somewhat reined in the ever-expanding justifications that governments use to take private property.
“Economic development” or “tourism” do not qualify as public use in New Jersey. Furthermore, the CRDA could not “bank” the property for some speculative future project. The court found that the CRDA had abused its power of eminent domain, allowing Birnbaum to keep his property.
Development projects frequently occur. If there’s talk about a pending project, you may soon face a difficult decision: to sell or not?
If the government needs your property, it will first offer to purchase it. Those initial offers are usually low. That’s why you should hire a seasoned, experienced condemnation attorney. If you’re a property owner facing eminent domain, you need the right lawyer by your side. Trust the Ohio condemnation law professionals at Sever Storey. Call us right away (888) 318-3761, or contact us confidentially. With our national team of eminent domain attorneys, we’ll help preserve your Constitutional right to receive just compensation.
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