Piano tuner’s fight to keep home goes on after state appeal
ATLANTIC CITY -- An Atlantic City piano-tuner's fight to keep his family's home isn't over yet.
The Casino Reinvestment Development Authority on Wednesday appealed a judge's decision last month to let Charlie Birnbaum keep the home the agency wants to condemn.
Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled the authority doesn't have a specific, viable plan for the area in the shadow of the shuttered $2.4 billion Revel casino and that taking the house is an abuse of eminent domain that exceeds the agency's power.
Mendez ruled in November 2014 that the authority could take the house a block from the beach to create a tourism district, but he reopened the case after Atlantic City's financial condition became more perilous.
The state agency's decision to appeal while Atlantic City is dealing with financial problems is "simply astonishing," said John Kramer, a spokesman for the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based nonprofit that is representing Birnbaum.
"But the fact remains that neither the New Jersey nor the United States Constitution allows government agencies to take private property based on nothing more than the bare hope that they'll think of something to do with the property someday," Kramer said. "We are happy to explain that to as many different courts as the CRDA would like until it gets the picture."
Mendez noted in his ruling 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 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, where his mother was killed by an intruder in 1998, is one of the few inhabited buildings on the block and overlooks a large swath of vacant land.
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