ATLANTIC CITY — An Atlantic City man appeared in court Tuesday to fight what he called an unjust attempt by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to seize his property through eminent domain.
"There's a slogan Atlantic City has that says 'DO AC,'" defendant Charlie Birnbaum said speaking earlier in front of his property at 311 Oriental Ave. Tuesday morning. "They're telling me to do somewhere else, and I don't want to."
Birnbaum’s case and another one heard Tuesday stem from a 2012 condemnation proceeding initiated by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority to seize parcels of land including more than 60 housing units in the Tourism District for use in mixed-use development supplementing the Revel Casino.
Also on the docket was the matter of CRDA vs. Metropolitan Plaza and Vermont Plaza, which covers two affordable housing developments also sought in the condemnation.
Judge Julio Mendez said in New Jersey Superior Court on Tuesday he will issue written decisions on the two cases after a few more days of review. If he rules in favor of the CRDA, the cases would be over, pending any appeals. If the ruling is in favor of the defendants, another hearing would be scheduled after the sides have had time to gather evidence.
Arguments by both sides Tuesday focused on whether the seizure of these properties would serve a “public purpose,” as is required to grant eminent domain condemnation.
Representing Birnbaum, attorney Robert McNamara, of the Institute for Justice, said that because the CRDA has no specific plans for the land past general mixed-use development, its claim does not meet this requirement.
The Institute for Justice successfully defended an Atlantic City woman in 1998 against an attempt by the CRDA to seize her property for use as limousine parking at the Trump Plaza Casino and Hotel. In that case a judge ruled the proposed project did not serve a clear public purpose, which McNamara said bodes well for the current case.
"They don't even have a plan to build a parking lot or anything else,” McNamara said. “They have a plan to acquire some land and then develop a plan. It's 'take first, plan later.'"
CRDA attorney Stuart Lederman argued the agency is not required to provide specific plans in its condemnation plan because the casinos are the city’s primary economic force, and furthering their ends provides a general benefit to the city.
Specifically, he cited statute 5:12-182, which gives the CRDA authority to acquire any property in the city so long as it finds such seizure “necessary to complete a project in the city of Atlantic City.”
“The state has recognized the economic engine is the casinos, and Atlantic City is vital to the success of the State of New Jersey,” he said. “That’s the public purpose here.”
In a separate event in Atlantic City on Tuesday, one state senator maintained that eminent domain is a necessary tool for redevelopment projects in Atlantic City.
Speaking at the East Coast Gaming Congress, state Sen. Jim Whelan told a group of gambling industry executives that many of the major developments in Atlantic City would not have occurred without eminent domain. Whelan referenced The Walk outlets, Revel Casino Hotel, and Tropicana Casino and Resort as examples.
"The fact is that in Atlantic City, you have some crazy people. You have people who want $3,000 a square foot," Whelan said. "We need (eminent domain) in our tool kit. We need to make it clear we will use eminent domain."
McNamara said he’s hopeful Mendez rules in favor of his client, because he believes the alternative would set a dire precedent for residents of Atlantic City.
“This is really about whether there are going to be any constitutional limits on (the) CRDA’s use of eminent domain,” he said. “For the good of everyone in New Jersey, the answer should be yes.”
Staff Writer Jennifer Bogdan contributed to this report.
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