By Lauren Wanko
Sixty-seven-year-old Charlie Birnbaum is fighting to keep his Atlantic City family home. The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority is trying to take the three-story apartment building through eminent domain.
“There’s a slogan Atlantic City has, that says DO AC. Well they’re telling me to do it somewhere else and I don’t want to,” Birnbaum said.
“Once again CRDA has decided to exercise the power of eminent domain to throw people off their property for no good reason,” said Robert McNamara, senior attorney for Institute for Justice.
In the late 1990s, the Institute for Justice won an eminent domain case in Atlantic City.
“We fought back the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority or CRDA’s attempts to take an elderly widow’s home just to hand it over to Donald Trump to build a limo parking lot,” McNamara said.
McNamara says the court ruled the CRDA can only condemn properties if the agency can provide reasonable assurances of future, public use.
“And there the court said, there’s not reason to believe this is going to be used for any one one purpose or another,” McNamara said.
McNamara insists the Birnbaum case is incredibly similar.
“In both situations, the CRDA’s attempting to take property without providing any guarantee that it’s going to use it for a public use,” McNamara said. “Here they don’t even have a plan to build a parking lot or anything else.”
Birnbaum’s attorneys say his home, which is just block or so from Revel Casino, is one of about 62 units the CRDA is attempting to seize.
This apartment building has been in the Birnbaum family since 1969. Charlie still uses the first floor for his piano tuning business and two long-time tenants live on the other two floors.
The CRDA spokesperson told NJTV News the agency does not comment on pending litigation, but in their complaint filed in February, the CRDA stated that under New Jersey law, it is authorized through the eminent domain act to acquire the land and the CRDA is seeks to acquire the land for public use in connection with the South Inlet Mixed Use Development Project.
State Sen. Jim Whelan says urban development cannot take place without eminent domain.
“The developer may assemble a track of land and there is one or two hold outs. They want an enormous, unreasonable amount of money. You can’t allow them to sit there and block a development and block progress,” said Whelan.
The CRDA offered Charlie Birnbaum the appraised value of the property — $238,500 — but his attorneys insist no amount of money will replace the memories made in this home. And Charlie says he has no plans to sell it. This afternoon, the judge issued a ruling to allow Charlie’s attorneys to represent him pro-bono and a preliminary ruling is expected shortly.