City’s Current Redevelopment Plan Denies Private Property Rights

On August 31 current mayor Bob Hall published a video on his campaign Facebook page in which he claimed that his “opponents” have lied about the city using eminent domain to take houses from people in the Pleasant Ridge neighborhood. In his video Bob denied that the city is “taking homes” and called upon his “opponents” to either “put up” evidence or “shut up” about the issue.

Bob Hall has only one opponent this November – me. And I’ve never claimed that the city has used eminent domain to take anyone’s house.

Bob Hall has intentionally misrepresented my platform promise to protect private property rights in order to make it easier for him to refute the substantial evidence against his redevelopment plan for Pleasant Ridge.

Although I would love to have had the chance to address this topic face to face with Bob in a public forum, I will have to respond in-kind with this video until he agrees to do so.

So let’s go over the evidence again.

First, Bob Hall’s redevelopment plan for Pleasant Ridge requires the complete destruction of every house in the neighborhood.

  • In 2014 Bob applied for a Blight Elimination Program grant that called for the “demolition of 354 homes” in Pleasant Ridge (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 4). This is the total number of houses in the neighborhood.
  • During a City Council meeting on December 1, 2014 then council member Dan James asked the mayor if it is correct that developer John Neace called for an “all or none” deal in his agreement to redevelop Pleasant Ridge and Mayor Hall replied, “yes” (Council Minutes 12/01/2014, p. 4)
  • On November 8, 2016, current council member Tina Barnes emailed Bob Hall to ask if people who fixed their homes in Pleasant Ridge would be allowed to stay, and Bob said that he would not make that promise because redevelopment of the neighborhood required “all or nothing” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 14).
  • On November 22, 2016 Bob Hall posted a Facebook status warning homeowners living in Pleasant Ridge not to spend money repairing their homes because he “is convinced that every home in the neighborhood will be demolished for redevelopment” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 15).
  • In his personal testimony under oath during the preliminary injunction hearing Bob was asked if Pleasant Ridge residents who maintained their homes in good condition would be allowed to remain in them and Bob again refused to make that promise (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 15).

Second, Many homeowners in Pleasant Ridge have said they will refuse to move or sell their homes.

  • Homeowners who want to keep their well-maintained homes have appeared at public meetings, posted frequently about their desires on social media, formed their own neighborhood association to help one another, and filed a lawsuit against the city’s fining practices.
  • During a city council meeting on December 15, 2014 Bob Hall admitted that 30-40 homeowners did not want to sell or move (Council Minutes 12/15/2014, p. 4).
  • In an email that developer John Hampton sent to his partner John Neace on July 6, 2016 Mr. Hampton said he met with Bob Hall and the city attorney to discuss the redevelopment of Pleasant Ridge and their discussion “included speculation that 30-40 property owners would refuse to sell and that eminent domain would eventually be required” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p 8).
  • The Honorable Jason Mount – special judge assigned to the Pleasant Ridge Neighborhood Association lawsuit – wrote in his court order issuing the preliminary injunction against the city that, “The Mayor and other City officials have made it clear that the ultimate objective of Mayor Hall’s administration is the complete destruction of the homes in Pleasant Ridge” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 31) .

So, If Bob Hall’s redevelopment plan requires 100% of Pleasant Ridge homes and a portion of the homeowners refuse to sell, then the city WILL have to force people out of their homes in order to complete his plan.

An independent, third-party judge agreed.

  • During the hearing for the preliminary injunction Pleasant Ridge homeowner Ellen Keith testified under oath that Bob Hall told her that “he intended to use a combination of fines and eminent domain to force the complete redevelopment of Pleasant Ridge” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 15).
  • Judge Mount found that “[t]he evidence supports a preliminary finding that the Mayor told Plaintiffs Ellen Keith and David Keith of his plan to use code enforcement to compel the sale of property from Pleasant Ridge homeowners to a private developer” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 31).
  • Bob Hall testified that his statements had been misrepresented and told the Judge that he meant something different, but the court “does not find that testimony credible” and “does not find the Mayor’s present gloss on his own writing persuasive in light of what the Mayor actually wrote and the context of that written statement” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, pp 14-15).
  • In light of the facts presented, Judge Mount found that the homeowners in Pleasant Ridge “reasonably fear” that “the City will use a combination of inspections and fines to force them to sell their homes” (Preliminary Injunction Findings of Fact, p. 16)

After hearing all of the testimony and reviewing the evidence in the case, Judge Mount issued a court order temporarily barring the city from unequally enforcing maintenance codes in Pleasant Ridge on the grounds that the homeowners were likely to win their case on three of their four claims. Although an appeals court reviewed that decision and sent the matter back to Judge Mount, the appellate court did NOT refute Judge Mount’s decision on those three issues. Instead they asked him to reconsider the fourth claim because they believe it has merit as well. If someone tries to discredit the preliminary injunction, remember that the matter is still scheduled for trial and the appellate court’s decision does not cancel Judge Mount’s third-party opinion.

Has the City, under Bob Hall’s administration, used eminent domain to take a house? Not yet. And I’ve never claimed they have. But the evidence shows that it remains a possibility and THIS is what I’ve discussed.

Has the City used eminent domain to take property? Yes. In his video posted on August 31, Bob Hall admits to the seizure of three parcels of land that he called “vacant, unbuildable lots” in order to build the road now named Coomer Way. Bob claimed that the city’s use of eminent domain in this instance was not challenged, but during the hearing for one of the properties on October 1, 2018, Alan and Jill Moore told the Board of Public Works that they did not want to sell the portion of their yard that the city was taking. Ultimately, since the city wanted the land for a road, which constitutes “public use,” the Moores were forced to sell a portion of their yard to the city at an amount significantly below their desired price. This is eminent domain.

Bob Hall’s plan for “redevelopment” of Pleasant Ridge reflects his disregard for private property rights.

What the evidence shows is that the city has multiple ways of taking people’s homes. Excessive immediate, daily, accumulating fines for minor infractions, purposeful creation of blight, neglect of infrastructure, targeted plans to drive down property values, and the strategic placement of roads or parks are all strategies that will result in the displacement of community members.

With all the claims being made about issues relating to Charlestown it’s sometimes easy to get lost. This is why I always support my platform and my claims with evidence like what I’ve provided you in this instance. You can also access a transcript of this video and all of the documents on my website under the “news” header.

Again, the Charlestown community deserves to hear both candidates for mayor voice their plans in a debate. I publicly invited Bob Hall to a public forum and am still awaiting a response. Until then, if you’d like to talk more about this issue and see the documents that I read to reach my conclusions please reach out any time.

Redevelopment in Pleasant Ridge isn’t the only issue this election year, but it is very important. Whether you live in Pleasant Ridge or not, NOBODY wants to live in a world where they get punished or have their rights removed because of the choices of their neighbors. As we move forward, let’s do so ethically and responsibly – let’s practice redevelopment without displacement. 

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