The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) had before it in Central Steel a challenge to the Somerville Redevelopment Authority (“SRA”) with respect to the Assembly Square Redevelopment Plan (“Plan”). The original 20-year Plan, initiated in 1980, was based on a statutorily required finding that the Assembly Square area was “substandard, decadent, or blighted.” In 2002, two years after the Plan expired, the SRA approved a 20-year extension and a change in the project’s proposed uses, without considering that development since 1980 might have changed the character of the area. The 2002 Plan change proposed, inter alia, the eminent domain taking of Central Steel Supply Co. (“Central Steel”). The original Plan, in contrast, had envisioned a continuing presence for Central Steel and other light industries.
Based on the original Plan, the owners of Central Steel had continued to invest in their property since 1980. Central Steel challenged the 2002 Plan change and NELF filed a supporting amicus brief in the SJC arguing, inter alia, that under the “public exigencies” requirement of the Massachusetts Constitution, a taking of Central Steel’s property could not be based on the obviously stale findings that justified the original 1980 Plan. NELF argued that not requiring a new determination of the site’s condition would discourage property owners in redevelopment zones from investing in their properties, since these might be taken by eminent domain at a later date without significant government review.
The SJC rejected Central Steel’s challenge, focusing entirely on the administrative requirements for redevelopment plan changes, which it found SRA had met. While not addressing NELF’s constitutional argument, the SJC reserved decision on the planned, but not yet initiated, taking of Central Steel’s property by eminent domain. This leaves open the possibility that it would later address whether the Massachusetts Constitution forbids a taking based on stale factual findings when a challenge to such a taking is properly before it.