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Boston ‘Burb’s Residents Fight City’s Land Grab

WOBURN, Mass. (CN) - Residents of a Boston suburb bolstered their efforts to halt a city plan to wipe out 279 residential properties as part of the city's "Union Square Revitalization Plan."

The city of Somerville has declared the residential area as a "decadent area" under a state law that allows municipalities to deem areas as "detrimental to safety, health, morals, welfare or sound growth of community because of the existence of buildings which are out of repair, physically deteriorated, unfit for human habitation, or obsolete, or in need of major maintenance," for the purposes of seizing and redeveloping the areas.

Specifically, the plan claims that the area contains obstacles to developmental growth, including faulty parcelization, obsolete street patterns, flooding and unsuitable or contaminated soil, incompatible land uses and deteriorated buildings and facilities.

Somerville residents challenged the "decadent" classification in their lawsuit, which was filed in Middlesex Superior Court.

"There's been so much misinformation and now the truth needs to finally come out," plaintiff and Somerville property owner Aliki Pishev said. "The city has threatened to take my property for private development, claiming my property is run down. But that is a flat-out lie-my property is not run down. It has been the home to thriving businesses for many years."

The plan authorizes the use of eminent domain to demolish 279 privately owned properties for redevelopment as luxury condominiums and high-end retail.

A group of property owners and residents are suing the city of Somerville and the Somerville Redevelopment Authority, arguing that the plan is unlawful and violates their rights in the creation and execution of the plan. The lawsuit seeks to stop the city from using eminent domain to threaten and bully property owners for the benefit of private real estate developers.

The lawsuit was originally filed in August 2015, but it was recently refilled with the inclusion of 10 taxpayer plaintiffs.

They claim that there was no meaningful public participation in developing the part of the plan that calls for acquiring these properties for clearance and redevelopment, and that the city repeatedly violated Massachusetts's Open Meeting Law.

The property owners are working with the Institute for Justice-a self-described nonprofit civil liberties law firm that "advocates for property owners fighting eminent domain abuse across the country."

"Clearly, Mayor [Joseph] Curtatone is using the expansion of the Green Line as a pretext for the unconstitutional taking of thriving businesses and homes in the Union Square neighborhood," Phil Applebaum, activism coordinator at the Institute for Justice, said - referring to the extension of the area's commuter rail line. "Destroying these properties just to benefit private real estate developers is not a public use and sends a chilling message to every other business and homeowner in Somerville - their properties are not safe."

A representative from the mayor's communications office did not return a voicemail requesting comment.

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