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It’s not easy being green space: Developer prevails against city p3

8/7/2014 | Real Estate Blog

We are talking about the recent court ruling in Greg Ventresca’s lawsuit against the city and a councilmember. The dispute centers on Ventresca’s development plan for the Roxborough neighborhood of Philadelphia and one concilmember’s actions to stall the plan.

The court said that Councilman Curtis Jones Jr. went too far with his proposed ordinance to strike from the map the city street that runs through Ventresca’s property. That amounted to an exercise of the county’s power of eminent domain, the court ruled.

The Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution bars the government from taking land from private citizens for public use “without just compensation.” For example, say the government — any level, from federal down to local — needs to expand a road, but the only way to do that is to take up a few yards of someone’s farmland. The government has the right to take the property, but it cannot do so without paying market value to the landowner.

Not every taking goes smoothly, of course. Landowners can challenge the purpose of the taking — is it truly for the public benefit? — or the compensation. Generally, too, the government goes through a formal process of notifying the landowner and setting a price. It seldom happens that a landowner comes home one day to find a state road crew carving out a new off-ramp in his front yard.

There are times, though, that a government action constitutes a taking, even though no one has gone through the formalities. In Ventresca’s case, the court said, the ordinance striking the road from the map made his property undevelopable. It is a taking, so the city must pay Ventresca fair market value for the property.

The court also said that the city had “completely precluded the highest and best use of the property.” We’ll explain that and wrap this all up in our next post.

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