NJ Judge Reverses Self on Eminent Domain, Sides With Piano Tuner

By Barbara Hollingsworth | August 31, 2015 | 12:23pm EDT
Charles Birnbaum stands in front of his Atlantic City apartment building. (Institute for Justice)

(CNSNews.com) – A New Jersey Superior Court judge who upheld the condemnation of an Atlantic City apartment building owned by Charles Birnbaum last November has reversed himself and is now siding with the elderly piano tuner.

On August 19, Judge Julio Mendez refused to authorize the same eminent domain taking he approved nine months ago, giving the New Jersey Casino Reinvestment Development Authority (CRDA) 180 days to provide “reasonable assurances” that a casino redevelopment project will actually be built.

“Over the last two years, four casinos have closed, two of them in very close proximity to the south inlet area where the Birnbaum property is located,” Mendez wrote in his latest ruling.

(See  crda_v_birnbaum_reconsideration_order_1.pdf)

“Reconsidering this case with a fresh set of eyes is the right thing to do at this time.”

“The Court is greatly concerned that as a result of the uncertainty surrounding Atlantic City, if the condemnation is granted, the Birnbaum property could sit idle in a corner of Atlantic City waiting for years for the plan to come to fruition.”

The three-story brick apartment building on Oriental Avenue is a block away from Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk. Birnbaum inherited it from his parents, who were Holocaust survivors. He rents out the top two apartments and uses the ground floor unit for his piano-tuning business.

Birnbaum’s building is located “in the shadow” of the vacant $2.4 billion Revel Casino, whose new owner recently blamed “giant seagulls” for smashing in some exterior windows. The Showboat Casino next door also closed its doors last August.

Birnbaum said that Mendez’ latest order was “just like a miracle for us. It was totally unexpected.”

“The fundamental principle in a free country is that it should be my decision when to get rid of this house. That’s for me to decide, not the CRDA or the State of New Jersey,” he told CNSNews.com.

 “Basically what changed [since November] is that all the things we’ve been saying in the first place have become even clearer,” Institute of Justice attorney Robert McNamara, who represented Birnbaum, told CNSNews.com. “CRDA has no prospects of actually doing anything with this property.

“The ball’s in their court,” he continued. “We certainly hope that they make the sensible and morally correct decision to leave Charlie alone. But if the State of New Jersey wants to continue this fight, we will fight them every step of the way until we win.”

Related: Real Life Monopoly: Atlantic City Man Fights to Save Oriental Ave. Property

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