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It’s not easy being green space: Developer prevails against city p4

8/12/2014 | Real Estate Blog

Developer Greg Ventresca purchased a few acres of land in Roxborough in 2005. The parcel was perfect for a housing development. He presented his plan to the Philadelphia City Planning Commission and met with the neighborhood association to discuss the project. The city approved the plan. The neighborhood association did not.

We have been discussing the fallout of the neighbors’ opposition to the houses. For Ventresca, it has meant nine years of frustration as he tried to use his own property for perfectly legal purposes. For the city, it has turned into a legal nightmare that may not end with a Commonwealth Court decision that the city had exercised its power of eminent domain to block Ventresca’s plan and, so, should pay him fair market value for the property.

For the neighbors, though, it has meant the preservation of green space that they long considered to be part of the adjacent city park. Development was simply not an option, even if Ventresca’s characterization of the way the community uses the property is correct. He says the place is “used for beer parties and riding all-terrain vehicles.” This “park,” he continues, is littered with beer cups and drug paraphernalia. In short, not a good use of the land.

In its ruling, the court said that the city’s actions have “precluded the highest and best use of the property.” Certainly Ventresca’s description of what goes on there is not the best use of the land, but what exactly did the court mean?

“Highest and best use” is a term used in zoning and land appraisals. There are a number of elements to consider when assigning a dollar value to a piece of property. Location is one factor; proximity to a water source could be another. The timing of development plans also come into the mix. When you think about it, though, the value depends almost entirely on what the land is used for.

The highest and best use, then, is the use of the land that will realize the best net return, that will maximize the value of the property for a defined period or just the foreseeable future.

In the end, then, Ventresca is unable to reap the greatest possible profit from his property, the city must pay him “fair market value” for the property. Are they the same thing?

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