Castle Coalition Defends Property Rights Across the Nation

Castle Coalition Defends Property Rights Across the Nation

By Scott Bullock

The Castle Coalition—the grass-roots advocacy group the Institute for Justice formed to work with and train property owners and activists to challenge eminent domain abuse nationwide—closed out 2002 with a whirl of activity. The Coalition, led by IJ’s Nicole Church, witnessed activity in a case that has been going on for a number of years, in addition to providing much-needed assistance to individuals just gearing up to fight abuse of eminent domain in their own neighborhoods.

Neild Oldham, co-chairman of the Coalition to Save Fort Trumbull, with Castle Coalition members and other opponents of eminent domain abuse, held a vigil in New London’s Fort Trumbull neighborhood on the eve of IJ’s property rights case before the Connecticut Supreme Court.

Saving Fort Trumbull

The first day of December saw the Castle Coalition organizing a vigil in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood of New London, Conn., on the eve of oral argument before the Connecticut Supreme Court. It was a brutally cold and windy night, but still, more than 50 people gathered for a candlelight vigil in front of one of the homes threatened by the City and the New London Development Corporation (NLDC).

Property owners and activists protest the abuse of eminent domain on the steps of the Connecticut Supreme Court on the day of the oral argument to save the homes in Fort Trumbull.

Community activists lent support to the homeowners and the Institute for Justice, as they have throughout this three-year struggle. The feeling of solidarity and commitment to a noble cause were evident not only at the vigil, but also when many of the same people and others boarded a bus the next morning to make an hour-long trek to Hartford for the oral argument and to rally on the steps of the courthouse. It was a magnificent and exhilarating sight to see so many people in front of the courthouse as Dana Berliner and I went up the steps to present our arguments to the justices. After the argument, as we faced the media, activists and property owners surrounded us with their signs and supportive words. In contrast, I counted a grand total of zero supporters for the City and the NLDC, unless you count their lawyers—and they of course had to be there.

Something’s Rotten in the State of Ohio
For some unknown reason, the State of Ohio has seen an explosion in eminent domain abuse. From the outskirts of Cleveland to several communities in the Cincinnati area, local governments plan to destroy perfectly fine middle-class neighborhoods to hand the land over to developers to put in high-end retail stores, condominiums and other projects favored by the misguided and ruthless city leaders and their developer pals. One of the favorite tactics governments use in these areas is to declare the well-kept, attractive neighborhoods “blighted” because with a blight designation comes not only government subsidies for developers but also the power of eminent domain.

Lakewood, Ohio, said this neighborhood was blighted because many of the homes do not have attached garages or central air conditioning.

The criteria cities use to declare an area blighted would be laughable if they were not so dangerous. The City of Lakewood, Ohio, said a neighborhood was blighted because many of the homes did not have attached garages or central air conditioning, while the City of Evendale declared a whole commercial strip blighted because about half of the properties are within a 500-year flood plain (probably half of Ohio, if not more, is within a 500-year flood plain!). These governments nakedly abuse blight laws to force out small home and business owners to make way for their favored projects.

In mid-December, Nicole Church organized a whirlwind trip for Dana and me through Ohio to meet with people who are just now organizing to fight eminent domain abuse. We met with five groups of people around Cleveland and Cincinnati and provided them with the information and tools they will need to try to stop these projects before they get to litigation. And we will continue to work with these brave and principled people in the coming year to make sure they are able to keep their homes and businesses.

Not Again in the Mountaineer State
Shortly before Christmas, Romona Taylor-Williams of Charleston, W.Va., used the skills she learned at the Castle Coalition’s first training seminar to rally opposition to the City’s proposal to engage in urban renewal in the East End section of the city. A large crowd of demonstrators (all wearing their Castle Coalition anti-eminent domain stickers) turned out for the first public hearing on the plan before a committee of the city council and pledged that they would not allow the City to again destroy a neighborhood in the name of redevelopment. IJ submitted written testimony to the council committee opposing the abuse of eminent domain in the area. The activism made an impact. The newspaper headlines the following morning said it all: ?Renewal Proposals Blasted—Black Residents Say City Targeting Their Communities? and ?City Residents Not Sold on New Urban Renewal Plans.?

With eminent domain abuse continuing nationwide, the first part of 2003 promises to be just as active as last year.

Scott Bullock is a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice

 

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