Eminent Domain: Boston to Weigh Seizing Property

June 26, 2005

Newspaper: The Boston Globe
By Lucas Wall and Lisa Wangsness, Globe Staff


Boston City Council President Michael Flaherty said yesterday that Mayor Thomas M. Menino’s efforts to spur development of Fan Pier do not go far enough, and he again called on the city to consider seizing the South Boston waterfront property using its eminent domain power.  Flaherty originally suggested taking the 21-acre property in January. He said yesterday that a recent US Supreme Court decision strengthening the eminent domain powers of local governments puts Boston Redevelopment Authority in a better legal position to seek the Fan Pier land.  ”I applaud the mayor’s effort, but I would like to reissue my challenge to see if the BRA would consider moving on the Fan Pier property via eminent domain powers,” Flaherty said. ”Eminent domain is one tool that the city can use along with threatening to revoke the permits.”  Menino wrote Friday to a Boston consultant firm hired by the Pritzker family of Chicago, who have owned the Fan Pier land for the past two decades. The mayor threatened to seek to revoke development permits the city has issued for the property, considered the jewel of waterfront revitalization plans.  He also suggested the city could decline to renew permits that allow the Pritzkers to run a 1,530-vehicle parking lot on the undeveloped land.

Seth Gitell, the mayor’s spokesman, refused yesterday to address whether he would reconsider Flaherty’s proposal. Menino dismissed it in January, saying seizing the site would be too expensive for the city to purchase the land
and then offer it to a developer.  The mayor ”favors what he views as the quickest and best way to develop this land as quickly as possible, and that is the proposal he made” Friday, Gitell said.

Josh Galper, the lawyer for the Pritzker family — billionaire owners of the Hyatt hotel empire — could not be reached yesterday.

It took the Pritzkers four years to get permits for the development planned for Fan Pier, and those permits expire in November, the BRA said. The city has permitted 3 million square feet of office, residential, and hotel development for Fan Pier, located between the federal courthouse and Pier 4.  Flaherty said threatening the Pritzkers with seizure would be another stick the city should use to force sale of the property. ”It’s unfortunate we’re letting a guy from Chicago control the destiny of our waterfront,” said Flaherty, who lives in South Boston.  Two prospective deals with developers for the Fan Pier land have fallen through.

The Supreme Court’s ruling Thursday in a case from New London, Conn., broadened municipalities’ authority on taking property for economic development projects deemed to be in the public interest. Eminent domain has traditionally been reserved for public projects such as roads and schools, but the slim Supreme Court majority held that creating jobs and generating more tax revenue were also constitutionally justifiable for cities to condemn land.  BRA praised the decision in a statement: ”We do believe that this ruling affirms the importance of maintaining a strong planning and economic development agency to help create and implement the public vision for growth.”

Howard Goldman, a Needham real estate lawyer who is on that town’s Board of Zoning Appeals, said eminent domain is more a threat the city can use to force the property’s sale than a practical way to speed development.  ”If the city does engage [the Pritzkers] through eminent domain, it would be involved in three to five years of appeals and court decisions,” he said, ”and the property might not get developed in that period of time.”

The Greater Boston Massachusetts lawyers at Goldman & Pease LLC concentrate in business law, real estate law, condo law, civil litigation, and estate planning and serve the greater Boston metro region including Alston, Arlington, Belmont, Brighton, Brookline, Cambridge, Canton, Dedham, Dover, Milton, Natick, Needham, Newton, Norwood, Waltham, Watertown, Wayland, Wellesley, Weston, West Roxbury, Westwood, and all of Massachusetts.

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