Vera Coking

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Vera Coking is a retired homeowner in Atlantic City, New Jersey whose home was the focus of a prominent eminent domain case involving Donald Trump.

Coking house at 127 S Columbia Pl, between the steel framework of the planned Penthouse Casino; photographed by Jack Boucher for Historic American Buildings Survey, c.1991

In 1961, Vera and her husband bought the property at 127 South Columbia Place as a summertime retreat for $20,000.[1] In 1993, when Donald Trump sought to expand his property holdings around his Atlantic City casino and hotel (to build a parking lot designed for limousines), he bought several lots adjacent to his property.[2] Coking, who had lived in her house at that time for about 35 years, refused to sell. This was not the first time Coking had been asked to sell her property for development. When Coking refused to sell to Trump, the city of Atlantic City condemned her house, using the power of eminent domain. Her designated compensation was to be $251,000,[3] about one quarter of what it had been valued 10 years earlier.

With the assistance of the Institute for Justice, Coking fought the local authorities, and eventually prevailed.[4] Superior Court Judge Richard Williams ruled that, because there were "no limits" on what Trump could do with the property, the plan to take Coking's property did not meet the test of law. But Williams' ruling did not reject the practice of using eminent domain to take private property from one individual and transferring it to another, which would eventually be upheld by the Supreme Court of the United States in Kelo v. City of New London.

Trump was not the only one to pursue Coking's property. In the 1970s, Penthouse magazine publisher Bob Guccione had offered Coking $1 million for her property, which she declined, in order to build the Penthouse Boardwalk Hotel and Casino. Guccione started construction of the hotel-casino in 1978 around the Coking house, but ran out of money in 1980 and construction stopped. The steel framework structure was finally torn down in 1993.[5] At one point it was considered the most coveted home in Atlantic City for its value to developers.[1] Two other properties that prevailed against eminent domain eventually did sell: Sabatini's restaurant receiving $2.1 million and a pawnshop for $1.6 million; both became part of a large lawn flanking a taxi stand for the casino.[1][6]

Coking moved out in 2010 and to a retirement home in the San Francisco Bay Area near her grandson, Ed Casey. Since then Casey has tried to sell the house; putting it on the market in 2011 with an asking price of $5 million.[1][7] As of September 2013 the price was reduced to $995,000.00 [8] The property did not sell as Atlantic City continued to suffer the lingering effects of the financial crisis of 2007–08 and over-building during the boom that preceded it.

Coking's property was sold for $530,000 in an auction on July 31, 2014.[9] The reserve price was $199,000, a tenth of the offer Trump had made for the property eight years earlier.[1] Neither the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority nor the owners of Trump Plaza expressed any interest in the auction.[1] The buyer turned out to be Carl Icahn, who held the debt on Trump Entertainment, owner of the Trump Plaza. He subsequently demolished the Coking house.[10] The adjacent Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, the property for which Trump wanted Coking's property to begin with, closed on September 16, 2014 due to lack of business.

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