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A Philadelphia jury has returned a $1.5 million award in a case brought by landowners who claim the city illegally used its powers of eminent domain to take about four acres of land in Grays Ferry to be added to a new 11-acre FedEx facility. Following a three-week trial process, the jury in Down Under GFB Inc. v. Redevelopment Authority of the City of Philadelphia concluded that the Stein family’s five properties, parts of which rest under the Grays Ferry Bridge, are worth more than the $250,000 at which the RDA appraised them, according to the family’s lawyer, Susan J. French of Wolf Block Schorr & Solis-Cohen. When the RDA took the land, it offered less than $160,000 in compensation. The owners contested that amount, and their case was heard by the city’s Board of Viewers, a three-member panel that ultimately found the landowners should have been paid more than $1 million. The Steins appealed, arguing that their appraisers had judged the properties as being worth $2.7 million at the minimum and about $4 million at the higher end. They argued at trial that the parcels — which, being zoned under the “least restricted” category, are able to be the sites of heavy industrial activity — would be best used as part of a waste transfer station. Paul Sandler of Sandler & Marchesini, who represented the RDA, said jurors told him post-verdict that some members of the panel wanted to award the Steins the figure cited by the authority’s appraiser, while others wanted to go higher than the amount ultimately agreed upon. “The jury reached a compromise verdict,” Sandler said. RDA officials could not immediately be reached for comment. According to court papers, the Steins bought the Grays Ferry properties from Consolidated Rail Corp. in 1987 (Down Under GFB was formerly known as Morris M. Stein Investments Inc.) Those parcels were adjacent to properties already owned by the family near the banks of the Schuylkill River. In May 2001, the RDA filed a declaration of taking in state court in Philadelphia. The RDA condemned the five parcels “to remove blight and redevelop the area in accordance with the Urban Redevelopment Law,” the authority contended in court papers. French said evidence was presented at trial that the city planned to turn over some of the Steins’ parcels for use by FedEx. “The Grays Ferry parcels are worth more than most undeveloped industrial land,” Wolf Block attorneys representing the Steins wrote in court papers. “Because the property is zoned least restricted, the property can be used for a number of purposes that would be precluded on property zoned for other uses. The [parcels] are also unique because a portion of the property sits beneath the Grays Ferry Bridge. The bridge shields a portion of the property from the elements, creating a covered storage area. “Perhaps most significant to the intrinsic value of the Grays Ferry parcels is the fact that as a former railroad right of way, the property is crucial for linking many of the surrounding Grays Ferry properties to the Grays Ferry area’s many rail lines.” According to French, the parties began to pick a jury Oct. 28 and proceeded to trial before Judge Esther R. Sylvester. The 12-member jury returned with its 11-1 verdict Monday after roughly four hours’ deliberations. (The early part of the litigation took longer than usual due to the SEPTA strike, French and Sandler said.) Both attorneys said jurors indicated during post-verdict discussions that some members of the panel wanted to award the Steins more than what was ultimately awarded, while some wanted to award less. French said it was not clear whether the lone dissenter was in favor of awarding more or less than the figure ultimately included in the verdict. French said the Steins called to the stand three experts who testified that the land would have been best used as a waste transfer station: Craigg Cody, a waste transportation broker with Waste Connections in Exton; Ronald Mersky, a professor of civil engineering at Widener University who specializes in solid waste issues; and Thomas Ramsey, an engineer with GeoSyntec Consultants in Columbia, Md., who focuses on the construction of waste transfer stations. French said the Steins have also filed a suit in federal court in Philadelphia in which they seek to have the property returned to them. A complaint has been filed in that action, but no responses have yet been submitted by the defense, she said. “I think the verdict reflects the fact that [the jury] realized this property was valuable and did have valuable use,” French said. Sandler said the RDA is considering filing post-trial motions. “It was certainly a lengthy trial,” he said.

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