Eminent Domain for Private Use Approved in Somerville, Massachusetts

On Tuesday, aldermen in Somerville Mass. approved an urban renewal plan that calls for the use of eminent domain for private development in a 117-acre neighborhood over a 20-year period. The Union Square Revitalization Plan identifies seven blocks with 35 private properties to be acquired first.

Threatened properties include two homes; nine auto repair businesses; nine shops, warehouses, or offices; and a CrossFit gym. City planners envision moderate to high-density development on those blocks including retail, restaurants, residences, and office space—as well as a new transit station and public library.

Via the Somerville Patch:

“This project really concerns me. Eminent domain can be a really cruel and violent act,” said resident David Guss. The project is “a cloud of doubt that’s hanging over everybody’s head.”

J.T. Scott, owner of CrossFit Somerville, said, "I believe in the revitalization of Union Square. That's why I purchased the property." He said "the threat of seizure hanging over our head" would make investing in his business difficult.  

The city has yet to select a developer and state officials still have to OK the plan, which would be the third approved for the area since the 1980s. The goals of the previous urban renewal plans “were never realized.”

In August, the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (SRA) declared the neighborhood “decadent” and “detrimental to safety, health, morals, welfare or sound growth.” The SRA cited:

  • “faulty parcelization,” meaning lots are too small for large-scale development;
  •  property owners that “have arranged by lease or other agreement to use one another’s properties in ways that may make sense for their businesses today but limit options for development;”
  • “incompatible land uses,” meaning existing industrial and auto repair businesses are inconsistent with the new high-end development officials desire;
  • and “deteriorated buildings and facilities.”

City staff surveyed the 482 parcels in the project area and found 164 (34 percent) to be in “moderate” or “severe disrepair.” Properties in moderate disrepair are in need of only “minor structural repairs,” so it’s impossible to tell how much real deterioration is going on because the two numbers are lumped together. It’s also possible that properties in severe disrepair are already publicly-owned.

The plan thus allows for the use of eminent domain to seize non-blighted properties because other nearby properties may be blighted under the very broad definition of “decadence” required by Massachusetts law.

After the Kelo v. City of New London decision, in which the Supreme Court declared private-to-private property transfers to be constitutional, 44 states reformed their eminent domain laws. Massachusetts was not among them. Reason has covered recent urban renewal schemes in Baltimore, Denver and Norfolk, Virginia.  

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  • Caleb Turberville||

    Libertarian policy reforms only benefit rich people!LALALALALALAL(I can't hear you!)LALALALALALA!

  • Brett L||

    The one in the middle in the pic is chick, right?

  • Hugh Akston||

    More importantly, which one of them is Warty?

  • Brett L||

    Far left. Its always the quiet one.

  • Hugh Akston||

    That guy does look like he has some secrets to keep.

  • sarcasmic||

    Defensive body posture with the crossed arms. Definitely hiding something.

  • Hugh Akston||

    I guarantee there's a suit made from womens' skin hanging in that guys basement.

    And by 'that guy' I mean Warty.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Are you all familiar with a concern known as "Mayhem"?

  • ||

    Fuck you, I'm way bigger than that. Here I am on the right.

  • sarcasmic||

    Ya. A Svedish chick. She's a screamah!

  • nobody||

    Jesus fucking christ that's evil.

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    The neighborhood is "decadent"? What, so wrapped in its only luxury it can't see a better way? Seems like an odd word to use.

    In any case, Somerville alderman can go jump off a bridge. If the land values don't dictate a renewal by private entities, a free candy project to a developer (ala New London) isn't going to make it viable.

    In Houston developers have literally bought up private parcels over a decade to build large developments, so its not like they are too impatient. Its the city that can't wait and they'll ruin everything just to see their shiny new buildings.

  • Suki||

    Simpler version: Urban Renewal = Make things look pretty for the people who don't own them.

  • R C Dean||

    Fort Worth had a huge downtown redevelopment project that require zero (zip, nada) eminent domain.

    Turned out well, too, but it helps to do your redevelopment in a functioning economy, not a Mafia hangout check-by-jowl with Cambridge. I should know, I lived there while I was going to law school.

  • Invisible Finger||

    Slummerville. When the last 3 local real estate booms pass the neighborhood by, the problem sure isn't LACK of government involvement.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    The first definition at Merriam-Webster is "marked by decay or decline".

    I guess they didn't want to declare neighborhoods "effete".

  • Lost_In_Translation||

    Never heard anyone use decadent to describe urban slums. I guess those massholes are more sophisticated than I in there descriptions.

  • Bardas Phocas||

    The goals of the previous urban renewal plans “were never realized.”

    Redevelopment money was spent.
    Cronies were paid.
    Negros were relocated.
    Properties were seized.
    Seems like they realized the real goals of any "urban renewal".

  • Raston Bot||

    Virginia's constituional amendment on the ballot would not allow this bullshit that's going down in MA.

    That the General Assembly shall pass no law whereby private property, the right to which is fundamental, shall be damaged or taken except for public use. No private property shall be damaged or taken for public use without just compensation to the owner thereof. No more private property may be taken than necessary to achieve the stated public use. Just compensation shall be no less than the value of the property taken, lost profits and lost access, and damages to the residue caused by the taking. The terms "lost profits" and "lost access" are to be defined by the General Assembly. A public service company, public service corporation, or railroad exercises the power of eminent domain for public use when such exercise is for the authorized provision of utility, common carrier, or railroad services. In all other cases, a taking or damaging of private property is not for public use if the primary use is for private gain, private benefit, private enterprise, increasing jobs, increasing tax revenue, or economic development, except for the elimination of a public nuisance existing on the property. The condemnor bears the burden of proving that the use is public, without a presumption that it is.

    It's not perfect w/ that 'public nuisance' qualifier snuck in there but it makes it more expensive compensating for lost profits.

  • FD||

    Why all this claptrap to give lawyers job security?

    Why not simply, "That the General Assembly shall pass no law whereby private property, the right to which is fundamental, shall be damaged or taken."
    Period.

    Public use, my eye.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    How else would a four lane highway ever get constructed?

    Wait, is a four lane highway where none was before even a fundamental right?

  • Flatulent Monkey||

    "...which would be the third approved for the area since the 1980s."

    When will municipalities catch on? All property rights issues aside these revitalization projects rarely, if ever, result in any actual, you know... revitalization and end up benefiting no one but the well connected developers.

    Ahh the statist method: Do something, it doesn't work. Do it again, harderer.

  • Jordan||

    Massachusetts, eh? Boy that's a shocker. I'll bet joe's got a serious rager going right now.

  • InlineSkate||

    Nothing says invest in our city, state, or country like the good old looming threat of eminent domain.

  • Raven Nation||

    Nothing says you should have invested in my re-election campaign like a good old eminent domain decision.

  • tarran||

    My prediction:

    1) A bunch of tax payer money is going to pass hands to developers to study the project and work on proposals. Some of it will be kicked back to the state and city officials.

    2) The property owners will be hit up for "contributions" by those same officials as part of fostering a public/private partnership incorporating the concerns of all stakeholders to ensure a sustainable development that is aligned with community goals.

    3) Then the NIMBY/community activist/enviro wackos will enter the kabuki dance (often funded by state block grants btw) demanding and litigating a bunch of concerns regarding state guidlelines for affordable housing/environmental protection/zoning review.

    The project will languish in limbo , and then the developers will pull out. Taxpayer money will have been transferred into the coffers of the politically connected. If it all goes south, somebody will get arrested as happened recently with some state senators wetting their beaks on a development in Dorchester.

    And meanwhile, the denizens of Cambridge MA will sniff at the rest of the country for their lack of understanding why local governance is good for development.

  • Fluffy||

    One additional problem here is that you really can't convince me that Union Square needs to be redeveloped anyway.

    It's perfectly fine the way it is.

  • Raston Bot||

    most of the speakers at Wednesday's hearing supported CrossFit and asked the Board of Aldermen to amend the revitalization plan so the gym wouldn't be considered an acquisition property.

    I'll be surprised if this works out for the crossfitters as opposed to the city later taking their warehouse at the decadent market value when all around it are condos and the developer is funding the aldermen reelection campaigns.

  • ||

    I'd never heard of this band, but a quick search surprises me. I was expecting them to be terrible based on their picture. They're doing a pretty decent thrash sort of thing.

  • Death Rock and Skull||

    Somerville, Mass is a giant yeast infected cunt gash.

  • Skyhawk||

    Well, except for Redbone's.

  • Aresen||

    When it comes to eminent domain for private projects, I could never understand why and how liberals could twist themselves into supporting outright corporsate welfare. There is not even a pretense of helping the poor here.

    I predict this will wind up the same way as the infamous New London project: Empty space where there was once a neighborhood.

  • Tulpa Doom||

    Black gold and a white flag
    Won't you fill up the tank, let's go for a ride.
    Sure like to feel some pride
    But this place just makes me feel sad inside

  • Slumbrew||

    Woo, my hood makes Reason!... for all the predictably bad reasons. Unsaid - I assume this is about the city maximizing tax revenues once the Green Line extension gets built. Can't have the filthy proles benefiting from easier commutes, we must drive them out, raze their properties and bring in more monied citizens.

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