Photo credit: BRIAN HICKEY/PHILLYVOICE
There seems to be a backlash going on against the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the infamous case of Kelo v. City of New London. You may remember that this ruling allowed the government to take people’s homes for private development via eminent domain.
In the latest case on this issue, Charlie Birnbaum--a piano tuner--has been fighting to keep his family home (which is situated in the shadow of the Ocean Resort casino in NJ) from being seized by the State through eminent domain, on the premise that the State had no definitive plans for his property. This week, a New Jersey appellate court sided with Mr. Birnbaum. The state’s Casino Reinvestment Development Authority could not provide assurance that its plans for the property and surrounding area “would proceed in the reasonably foreseeable future,” the court ruled. Therefore, there was no immediate necessity for the taking (“necessity” is a required element in any eminent domain taking-where none exists, then the taking cannot go forward).
The court upheld an earlier decision by Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez, who ruled that the CRDA’s “proposed stockpiling of land for future redevelopment” was not sufficient justification to seize private property such as Birnbaum’s house. The CRDA had offered him $238,000.
Back in 2016, when the underlying case was first decided, the casino (then called Revel) had declared bankruptcy and shut down. Later another casino opened, called Ocean Resort. It too had crippling financial problems. Most recently, a New York hedge fund that was one of its largest lenders recently took over its control from Denver developer Bruce Deifik, as the financial losses continued to mount.
Pauline’s Prairie, the area around the casino, remains largely undeveloped. Close by, the Boardwalk has been rebuilt and a Northern New Jersey Developer, Wasseem Boraie, is leasing new apartments.
The Birnbaum’s home was originally purchased in 1969, by Charlie Birnbaum’s parents who were Holocaust survivors. His mother, Dora, lived there until 1998 when she was killed during a home invasion. Charlie Birnbaum currently lives in Hammonton with his wife, and rents out the upper floors and uses the first floor for his piano-tuning business.
Since a state takeover of Atlantic City, the CRDA has recently shifted its focus to help casinos and businesses focus more on issues affecting city residents. Sadly, nearly 40 percent of the residents live in poverty. Originally, the idea for the area around the Ocean Resort included a mixed use of “tourism-focused residential, retail, and commercial uses.”
Adam Gordon of the Fair Share Housing Center, which filed an amicus brief in the case, praised the ruling and said, “Eminent domain should not be used to displace working families and other low-income communities as part of a wholly speculative development scheme with no demonstrated public benefit.” We wholeheartedly agree.