Eminent Domain Abuse in Holyoke, Massachusetts


Officials in Holyoke, Massachusetts, a city of 39,880 that is 90 miles west of Boston, are gearing up for eminent domain abuse. At a public hearing Monday, planners told residents about plans to attract private development to four neighborhoods that are "decadent"—a designation that allows the city to seize property from unwilling sellers for private projects "as a last resort."

Via The Republican:

The full City Council in the next few weeks is scheduled to vote on the plan, which officials said is intended to spur private investment to help in revitalizing the Flats, South Holyoke, Churchill and Prospect Heights-Downtown neighborhoods.

The Holyoke Redevelopment Authority and staff of the Office of Planning and Economic Development prepared the plan: "Connect. Construct. Create. – A plan to revitalize Center City Holyoke."

The urban renewal plan calls for the acquisition of 74 properties in the 749-acre project area, which sits next to the Connecticut River. Many of those parcels are vacant lots or vacant buildings, but homes and businesses are included as well. Of course, all 1,664 private properties in the project area will be under the cloud of condemnation for the life span of the plan, which can be decades.

The consultant that prepared the blight study (and the urban renewal plan itself), finds that the area is "decadent" because of substandard public infrastructure, "irregular lot sizes," the presence of vacant lots that lack "curb appeal," and old buildings—fully 50 percent of the buildings are over 100 years old. Moreover, there is an appalling "diversity of ownership" among the thousands of private properties, some of which are small and, therefore, a serious "constraint to attracting new private development."

The Holyoke Redevelopment Authority has released an insipid inspirational video about the plan. A quote from senior planner Karen Mendrala:

The changes that are included in the urban renewal plan and in our blueprint of where we want to go include everything from making sidewalks better, making them safer to walk on for all people with strollers, people with disabilities, and to make bike lanes, to include all sorts of road improvements, addressing vacant buildings and either rehabbing them or getting rid of them if they are beyond repair, a whole bunch of different actions that will make Holyoke a better place…. Holyoke needs to change to a future beyond the dream.

Massachusetts is one of six states that did not pass any eminent domain reform in the wake of Kelo v. New London, where the Supreme Court held that seizing property for private development is a public use.

Check out the archive for more Reason coverage of eminent domain abuse.