Judge: Piano tuner can keep home New Jersey fought to take
ATLANTIC CITY -- An Atlantic City piano-tuner won a court fight on Friday to keep his family's three-story brick home that a state agency wanted to take for redevelopment efforts, after a judge pointed out the city's financial straits and the lack of a specific, viable plan for the area.
Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority's attempt to condemn 69-year-old Charlie Birnbaum's house is an abuse of eminent domain power and exceeds the agency's authority.
"This has been a four-year process to finally hear this news that things can come back to some kind of normal, that our beloved place is still ours, and we can be part of whatever good is going to come to Atlantic City and it will," said Birnbaum, whose mother was killed in the home by an intruder in 1998. "I can be part of it. That's all I kinda asked for."
John Palmieri, the CRDA's executive Director, said the agency is disappointed in the ruling "and will be examining the opinion to determine our next steps."
Mendez had ruled in November 2014 that the agency could take the house a block from the beach and in the shadow of the $2.4 billion Revel Casino Hotel to create a tourism district.
But after Atlantic City's financial condition became more perilous, Mendez reopened the case and ordered the CRDA to prove that it had plans that justify taking the property.
Mendez noted that the few residents left in the area known as "Pauline's Prairie" have been waiting for years for economic development projects to materialize. He said that the "history of failed projects for this area weighs heavily" in his analysis.
He said that a proposed mixed use development project is only an idea and "not likely to occur within the foreseeable future" because of the history of failed projects and the city's financial crisis.
Birnbaum, who lives 30 miles inland in Hammonton and has tuned pianos at the casinos for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and others, said he was offered fair market value for his family's house on Oriental Avenue, about $240,000.
Birnbaum uses the first floor of the building -- bought by his parents in 1969 -- for his piano-tuning business and rents the top two floors to tenants. The house is one of the few inhabited buildings on the block and overlooks a large swath of vacant land.
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