Judge allows piano tuner to keep Atlantic City home until state can prove redevelopment plans

Industries Associated Press

An Atlantic City piano-tuner doesn't have to abandon the three-story brick home a state agency wants to take from him until officials can provide reasonable assurances they will follow through with redeveloping the land, a state judge ruled Wednesday.

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Citing Atlantic City's struggling financial condition, Superior Court Judge Julio Mendez ruled Wednesday that 68-year-old Charlie Birnbaum can keep the home that the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority wants to take unless it presents evidence that a redevelopment plan will be implemented.

Mendez ruled in November that the agency could take the house in the shadow of the closed Revel Casino Hotel, but Birnbaum's attorneys appealed, arguing that the agency didn't have specific plans for the land that it says it needs to create a tourism district.

The judge agreed, noting that the "court shares Birnbaum's concern about the uncertainty of the various plans for Atlantic City's recovery and the ability of the CRDA to implement the plan that justifies taking" his property.

He noted that casino revenue is down and that the way CRDA is funded is scheduled to change under an Atlantic City rescue package recently approved by the state Legislature and awaiting Gov. Chris Christie's signature.

He gave the CRDA six months to provide "reasonable assurances that the project will be implemented." Mendez agreed that the CRDA doesn't have to disclose what specific buildings will occupy the property.

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Stuart Lederman, an attorney for the CRDA, has said the agency can't disclose specific stores or uses planned for the land. The property would be part of a mixed-use development project, he said. Lederman was out of town and wasn't immediately available to comment.

Birnbaum doesn't live in the house on Oriental Avenue, but he is there often. He uses the first floor of the building — bought by his parents in 1969 — for his piano-tuning business and rents the top two floors to tenants. The house is one of the few inhabited buildings on the block and overlooks a large swath of vacant land.

The opening of the $2.4 billion Revel brought with it promises of large-scale redevelopment in the surrounding area, but the casino closed two years later and the land around it mostly remains barren. A Florida developer has bought the casino, but it's not yet clear when it will reopen.

Birnbaum, who lives 30 miles inland in Hammonton and has tuned pianos at the casinos for Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and others, said he was offered fair market value for his family's house, about $240,000.

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This story has been corrected to show that the ruling was made Wednesday, not Thursday.