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City council okays used of eminent domain for Sharswood project

Eminent domain, or "condemnation," as it is often called, is a legal process that a government agency can use to compel land owners to sell their properties for use in a so-called "public improvement." One of the most frequent uses of the process allows municipal government to acquire urban land for redevelopment. In order to invoke eminent domain for this purpose, Pennsylvania laws require that the land satisfied the statutory definition of "blighted". The entire definition is too long to quote or adequately summarize in this blog, but its essential meaning is that the land in question is abandoned, defective, unmarketable or tax delinquent. Multiple units may be acquired if a majority of them are "blighted."

The Philadelphia city council has recently voted to allow the Philadelphia Housing Authority to use eminent domain to acquire 1,330 separate parcels of land in the Sharswood neighborhood. The city's redevelopment plan involves the purchase of land mostly occupied by dilapidated, tax delinquent housing. The initial phase of the project will be the demolition of the Norman Blumberg projects and replacing them with 57 units of mixed-rated rental housing.

The entire Sharswood project was made possible by a 2013 neighborhood improvement grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. One of the stipulations imposed by the federal government is that the PHA pay landowners "fair market value" for their land. Determination of the fair market value of the land is the heart of the eminent domain process. Owners and the condemning authority often disagree on the value. If negotiation does not resolve the difference, the dispute is submitted to a panel of qualified land appraisers.

Anyone who has received a notice of condemnation may wish to consult an attorney who specializes in real estate disputes and eminent domain cases. Such a lawyer can explain the process, offer a useful estimate of the range of prices that may be obtained, and negotiate with the condemning authority.

Source: Al Dia News (English version), "Council approves eminent domain of 1,300 properties in Sharswood," Max Marin, June 18, 2015

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