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Correspondents' Corner

By Carla J. Zambelli
Vice President
Save Ardmore Coalition
www.saveardmorecoalition.org

Eminent Domain for private gain is legal stealing, economic segregation, and more
often than not, class warfare. When you receive a notice of a taking, your world
turns inside out, not just upside down. At first you feel like you are in the
battle completely and utterly alone. But you aren't alone. There are a lot of us
out there.

I didn't set out in life to become a grassroots activist on any level, but eminent
domain is an issue that, as an American, I found I simply could not ignore. Let
me tell you our story in Ardmore, Pa., where eminent domain threatened a block of
small businesses in a local historic business district.

Ardmore is in Lower Merion Township, which is situated in Montgomery County, Pa.,


just minutes outside of Philadelphia. Ardmore is your quintessential old
fashioned main street-oriented town. It represents the bygone days of small town
America.

One night in February 2004, my fiancé and I headed off to our typical Friday night
dinner destination--Hu Nan Restaurant in Ardmore. This was a tradition started by
my parents when I was a child. That night we found out that my family tradition
for the past 30 years might cease to exist.

When we got to the restaurant and were seated, the proprietors, Dr. E Ni and Betty
Foo were unusually subdued, and Betty was sad.

"The township sent me a letter. They want to take my business." Betty said with
tears in her voice.

Betty told us about all of the businesses at risk, including Suburban Office
Equipment, which has been in business since 1926, and the local VFW Post next door
to Hu Nan.

The township had declared the block "blighted," and it intended to acquire these
properties in a certified historic district for inclusion in a mixed-use
development project to be owned by a private party. Eminent domain abuse was
coming to Ardmore.

The Foos asked us to get involved, and we went to a meeting on the second floor of
their restaurant and met not only the other targeted business owners, but ordinary
citizens just like us who cared. We came from all walks of life and occupations.
We became the Save Ardmore Coalition, or "SAC".

One of the first lessons we learned as SAC was that when you are fighting a battle
like this, you become an instant pariah. SAC next contacted the Institute for
Justice and newly formed Castle Coalition, who gave us a crash course in
grassroots activism. We became a 501(c)(4) Non Profit Civic Action Organization.
We also started our own website (www.saveardmorecoalition.org) to get our message
out faster and farther.

We held rallies, protests and community meetings. We wrote letters to the


newspapers until we had writer's cramp. We took every opportunity to speak at
public meetings. We lobbied government officials on a state and national level.
And we hit roadblocks. Although eminent domain had become a national issue when
Susette Kelo took her case to the U.S. Supreme Court, in the Philadelphia area we
discovered it was hard to get media attention from anyone other than the local
papers. Eminent domain wasn't sexy enough—it was just "a local issue". We were
called NIMBY and castigated publicly by certain local elected officials at public
meetings, who referred to us as "a small group of mean spirited individuals."

But we hung in there. We found support from not only the Institute for Justice,
but from folks like Nancy and Dick Saha of Coatesville, Pa., and the late Rosemary
Cubas of Philadelphia who were fighting eminent domain as well. We were suddenly
part of a very large and supportive family!

When someone told us in a letter if we didn't like how government was run we
should "change the face of who governs us," our resolve as a group was
strengthened. We decided to change literally the faces of those who were
governing us. We had an upcoming election. We didn't back one candidate in
particular but decided they should all adopt our position and take IJ's pledge
against the use of eminent domain for private gain.

We were successful. In November 2005, we watched as five new faces against


eminent domain were elected to the 14-member Board of Commissioners.

During this whole time before and after the election, we had the good fortune to
finally get some national and even international media publicity. We networked
further with other eminent domain fighting citizens locally and nationally. We
continued our campaign in the local newspapers and on our website. Honestly, our
website put us on the map. The Internet was a most valuable tool. Members also
gave testimony before both the Pennsylvania Senate and the Pennsylvania House of
Representatives. We submitted written testimony to the U.S. Congress and became
part of the record on HR 4128.

In February 2006, Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner came to town with Congressman Jim
Gerlach to discuss eminent domain. In March 2006, the five new commissioners who
came to office promising to end the specter of eminent domain did just that: they
proposed and passed a resolution to end eminent domain. Our businesses were free.

Today, as a group, we continue to work for the betterment of our community,


including being a part of the eminent domain-free redevelopment process, and a
local monthly arts crawl called First Friday Main Line, the brainchild of one of
our members. We also continue to play it forward and offer support to other
groups still fighting eminent domain.

We are living proof that David can prevail against Goliath. So take heart and
remember: you are not alone.

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