Council answers blight question — The (Brazoria County TX) Facts, 10/22/04

By Michael Baker

[Freeport TX] Council members reiterated promises that they have no intention of taking any homes by eminent domain as a man who stands to lose business property by the process questioned a city-funded report that denoted several homes as "blighted."

Wright Gore III asked council members to explain a section of the city's
master plan, approved in 2002, referring to the blight in Freeport's residential areas. Gore's father's company, Western Seafood, is battling the city over some docking property it could lose to eminent domain for a marina project. He said other cities have used the "blighted" designation as a green light to take residential property by eminent domain, too.

"One of the criteria is that something has to be labeled as blighted," Gore
said. "That makes it easier to take these homes by eminent domain."

Gore specifically referred to a page in the master plan that described 640
homes, about 95 percent of residential homes, as blighted.

Lee Cameron, director of the city's economic development corporation, said
the master plan was merely pointing out that the city could benefit from beautification efforts. The plan's authors used criteria such as torn screens, broken windows, peeling paint and littered yards to determine how much of the residential area is blighted, he said.

Mayor Jim Barnett said the designation was made by the plan's authors, not
the city. Although the city approved paying for the plan, it has not given a blanket approval adopting its contents, he said.

"It's of no consequence at all," Barnett said.

The exchange between Gore and the council members, specifically Barnett and
Councilman Jim Phillips, was heated at times. The city officials continued to insist they have no plans to take people's homes by eminent domain. Gore questioned the city's urban renewal project, in which they city is using eminent domain to take a few uninhabited lots for an eventual subdivision in the Velasco side of the city.

Phillips also took a jab at an advertising campaign when Gore carpeted the
city with fliers in April, around the time he launched his Web site, scandalinfreeport.com.

"The first indication I had that my home was blighted was when you put a
hanger on my doorknob stating my house was blighted," Phillips said.

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