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It’s not easy being green space: Developer prevails against city p2

8/5/2014 | Real Estate Blog

We are discussing Greg Ventresca’s plan to build 48 homes on land he owns in Philadelphia’s Roxborough neighborhood. The property is adjacent to a park, though, and the neighborhood association wanted to maintain it as green space; some nearby residents believed the land was, in fact, a park. All the developer asked was that the city improve the road running through the property so it could to support the new development.

It’s generally a good thing when a city councilmember works hard to promote the interests of his or her district and constituents. A Commonwealth Court says this district’s councilmember, Curtis Jones Jr., has gone too far; he has protected his constituents’ interests to the detriment of developer Ventresca.

When the issue of expanding the road came up, Jones would not introduce the ordinance. He decided instead to introduce a bill to have the street taken off the city map. If the road did not exist, development on that tract of land now or in the future would be off the table.

According to court documents, Jones made that decision not to bar Ventresca from developing the site at all, but to spur further negotiations between Ventresca and the neighborhood association. Up to that point, all efforts at compromise had failed. For the developer, there was one simple solution: If the neighborhood truly wants that land to be a park, the city could buy it. The city, however, would have to pay fair market value.

To the court, Jones’ introduction of the ordinance constituted an exercise of the city’s power of eminent domain. The city had effectively, by employing “extraordinary and unique measures,” taken the land from its owner. The city’s actions have made the owner’s land “virtually useless,” the court said, adding that the city has prevented the owner from realizing the “highest and best use” of the property.

In short, the city took the land, so the city should pay for the land.

In our next post, we’ll explain eminent domain and the principle of “highest and best use” in more detail.

Source:, “Councilman Jones under ‘bizarre’ eminent-domain fire in Germany Hill development lawsuit,” Alan Jaffe, July 28, 2014