Richard Desrosiers was pretty sure he owned the lot at 758 Cranston St., in Providence. He'd owned it for about 18 years, paid the taxes, cleared debris. He looked at it as an investment. He figured the area would eventually make a comeback and his property would be valuable. Apparently, he was right. The problem is, he doesn't own the property anymore. Just as he was about to sell it at a tidy profit, he learned it wasn't his to sell.
"Technically, the Providence Redevelopment Agency is the owner of this property," says Thomas Deller, the agency's executive director. The lot at Cranston and Anthony Streets has been taken by eminent domain. Desrosiers says he first learned of it in a letter from the Redevelopment Agency last November. It was concise: "The Providence Redevelopment Agency offers for the property of Richard Desrosiers located at 758 Cranston Street within the Vacant Properties Program the sum of $57,900."
Desrosiers wrote back within the specified 15 days and declined the offer. He told the agency he was working out a deal with a developer who wanted to put a car wash on the lot. He says he received no reply to his letter, and continued with the planned sale of the land for considerably more than the city was offering. He said it was during a title search conducted in preparation for an April 30 closing that he learned the land had indeed been taken by the Redevelopment Agency.
Eminent domain is a procedure that most people probably think is applied to make way for things such as schools, highways, hospitals -- projects that have a clear public benefit. In the pile of correspondence he has received about his property, Desrosiers was informed that eminent domain is used "in the public interest, necessary for public use." Obviously, eminent domain should not be used to take opportunity from one person only to bestow it on another.
But the public benefit is clearer in some cases than others. Deller points out that the Redevelopment Agency will sometimes go into a particular neighborhood and identify vacant property on which nothing seems to be happening and decide that eminent domain makes sense. He says putting several parcels together can make property more attractive for good development. Deller says that nine lots were actually designated for taking in the same area, but his agency moved ahead with the taking of Desrosiers' property at the request of Providence City Councilman Ron Allen.
It does seem strange, though, that a city can take land on which the taxes are paid and for which the owner has plans of his own. But it's happening on Cranston Street. It will be interesting to see what happens to the property at 758 Cranston St. It will be interesting to see how what is done there serves the public interest.
Caught.net Note: Mr. Desrosiers is told he can appeal the amount the Redevelopment Agency paid - notice he is NOT told he can appeal the decision to take the property. Eminent domain, once used only for vital public interests, is now used for anything from car washes to bowling allays.