Charlie Birnbaum, the piano tuner who is fighting to keep his family home in Atlantic City from being seized by the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority, delivered a petition with 100K signatures to Gov. Christie on Wednesday. Plus, his lawyers are now arguing that Christie's plans for Atlantic City make the CRDA's efforts to seize his home even more questionable.
The petition, which has been gathering signatures on Change.org, includes 7,000 signatures from New Jersey and signatures from as far aaway as Chile, Greece, Russia, South Africa and India, according to a press release from Birnbaum's attorneys with Virginia-based Institute for Justice, which has long fought against Eminent Domain.
"I wish the New Jersey state government would open its eyes to this injustice," Birnbaum said in a statement. "Something like this should never happen anywhere, but especially not here in America."
Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled against Birnbaum Nov. 17, concluding that New Jersey's Tourism District legislation provived sufficient justification for the CRDA to pursue its seizure of Birnbaum's house on Oriental Avenue, in the shadow of the now-closed Revel Casino. Birnbaum lives in Hammonton with his wife, but uses the Atlantic City home as a base for his piano tuning business. The top two floors are rented out.
Birnbaum's parents were Holocaust survivors who purchased the home in 1969 for $16,000. His mother and a caretaker were murdered in the home by thugs in 1998. Despite that tragic history, Birnbaum has sought to preserve his parent's legacy in the home, preserving its pink painted walls and playing the grand piano in its bright parlor.
As nearby casinos have closed, and the city's economy has cratered, the necessity of the seizure of his home has been challenged. CRDA attorney Stuart Lederman has argued that the land is still needed for the mixed use retail and residential development the state envisions for the area. Stockton recently purchased nearby Showboat.
Birnbaum's attorneys argue in their request for reconsideration before Judge Mendez that the plan put forth by Christie advisor Jon Hanson calls for a reducd role for the CRDA and redirects much of the reinvestment tax revenue to pay off Atlantic City's outstanding debt. "The status and future of the Tourism District and the role of the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority in the revitalization efforts in Atlantic City are in serious question now," wrote Birnbaum attorney Peter Dickson. A hearing is scheduled for Jan. 13 before Judge Mendez.
The governor's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment. -- Amy S. Rosenberg