Thursday, November 27, 2014

Court OKs Gov't Use Of Eminent Domain To Snatch Elderly Man's Atlantic City Home Of 45 Years, Even Without Any Specified Purpose For The Property; Victim, Counsel Say Appeal Will Follow

In Atlantic City, New Jersey, The New York Times reports:
  • Charlie Birnbaum will have to go to a higher court to defend his parents’ home in Atlantic City, which he wanted to keep as something of a shrine.

    Superior Court Judge Julio L. Mendez ruled on Monday that New Jersey’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, charged with developing the gambling and tourism industries in Atlantic City, had broad leeway to exercise eminent domain and could take the property if it felt there would be a better use that would enhance the city.

    In a telephone interview, Mr. Birnbaum described the decision as “gut-wrenching.”

    “I’m disappointed that a chapter of our lives may be over,” he said.

    But he said that the Institute for Justice, a nonprofit, libertarian-leaning law firm that has challenged other eminent domain proceedings, wanted to appeal to an appellate court and then to the state’s Supreme Court and that he would go along with the firm’s decision. The judge said he would not allow the development authority to take the property for 45 days, effectively giving Mr. Birnbaum’s lawyers time to appeal.

    Mr. Birnbaum, 67, a piano tuner who has done work for Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett as well as almost every casino in Atlantic City, uses the ground-floor apartment once occupied by his parents at 311 Oriental Avenue as his workshop. But to him it is more important as a reservoir of memories. His parents, Holocaust survivors who lived in the building for 30 years, found comfort in the house, the ocean and the beach, Mr. Birnbaum said.

    The casino development authority included the building two years ago in a plan to create a tourism district to invigorate Atlantic City’s fortunes as a gambling resort. Almost every owner of the 62 low-rise buildings and empty parcels accepted the prices offered. But Mr. Birnbaum turned down an offer of $237,000, saying he would not give up the house for any amount.

    He said the authority had no right to take property without identifying a specific intended purpose. But Judge Mendez ruled that the authority needed only a general rationale of turning the area into a tourism district, so broad were the powers the State Legislature had given it.
Source: Setback in Atlantic City for Man Hoping to Save Parents’ Home.

For the trial court's ruling, see Casino Reinvestment Development Authority v. Birnbaum, (N.J. Super, Ct. Law Division, November 17, 2014).
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