By Anne Thompson Chief environmental correspondent
NBC News
updated 1/31/2005 7:28:26 PM ET 2005-02-01T00:28:26

On Atlantic Avenue, two visions of the future are on a collision course. The city of Norwood sees an upscale mall and apartment complex here. But Joy and Carl Gamble see the rest of their lives in the house they bought 35 years ago.

“It's my home. It's my only home, the only home I ever had,” says Joy.

“We've got a little castle,” says Carl.

But it may not be theirs much longer. The city has ordered them to leave by February 3 after buying 99 homes and businesses to make way for the mall and declaring the neighborhood "deteriorating."

What makes it deteriorating?

“The noise, the congestion and everything.” says Norwood Mayor Thomas Williams. “This used to be a quiet neighborhood. It's not anymore.”

The Gambles say this is an abuse of government power.

“They're taking one piece of private property, taking it away from us and giving it to someone else who is a private individual,” says Carl. “And that is not fair.”

How is this possible?

Using a law called “eminent domain,” governments have long been able to force the sale of private property for public uses such as courthouses and highways, but the practice now includes making way for private developments.

“It could be office parks, industrial parks, big box stores, on the theory that these will provide taxes, bigger tax breaks and more jobs,” says Columbia University professor Richard Briffault.

While most of the Gambles' neighbors want to sell, the Gambles are holding on and taking their fight to court.

If the developer fails, Mayor Williams says Norwood will lose big time — $1- to $2-million a year in taxes. But if it succeeds, the Gambles say what they will lose is priceless.

A judge upheld the city's sale of the property and awarded the Gambles $280,000 for their three bedroom house.

Joy Gamble says there is no amount of money that could get her to move.

Two visions — with no room for compromise — that will change forever the future of a city or a family.

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