City should be careful in use of eminent domain — Bowling Green (KY) Daily News, 12/29/04


While the city waits for a U.S. Supreme Court ruling expected early next year, Mayor-elect Elaine Walker and City Commissioner-elect Brian Strow have expressed concern over how the current city government has used eminent domain to acquire private land for private use.

They are justified in their concerns.

Our country’s founders established the use of eminent domain for the taking of private property for public use such as highways, courthouses and schools. In the ensuing years, local governments seem to be moving further and further away from their intentions.

“I have serious concerns about using eminent domain to take from one private property owner and to turn it over to another,” Walker said.

Strow has said he is generally opposed to the use of eminent domain for redevelopment projects.

Bowling Green is in the process of a 29-block revitalization of its downtown.

Recently, the city voted to use eminent domain to acquire a piece of property owned by a limited liability partnership connected with Graves-Gilbert Clinic to use in the revitalization process. It would be acquired for a private entity. Another example of this would be the proposed building that LifeSkills would like to be built at the former location of Kelly Printing on State Street, whose owner isn’t a willing seller.

These seem to be examples of eminent domain being pushed to the limit.

Abuses of eminent domain are occurring all across the country; it is certainly not a Bowling Green phenomenon.

In 2003, a brake shop owner in Mesa, Ariz., won a victory against city hall when the state court of appeals ruled that the city didn’t have the power to take private land for private use. The court ruled that the project was not for public use, as eminent domain was intended.

Another example occurred in 2000 in Lancaster, Calif., when the city council tried to condemn a store called 99 Cents Only because its rival wanted to expand in the same shopping center. A federal judge blocked what he called the “naked transfer” of property from one private business to another.

All over this country, lower-income neighborhoods, churches and businesses are being driven off their land by the use of government muscle so that a private developer can come in and put private businesses in their place. Public officials like these transactions because they often raise the tax base.

Yet, eminent domain was never intended for broadening the tax base.

These cases demonstrate that the proper use of eminent domain must be defined once and for all, which the Supreme Court will hopefully do next year.

Some private-business owners in Bowling Green would gladly sell their properties at a fair price, just as every parcel in the transpark was purchased from a willing seller.

But taking private property for another private development seems to be an effort to acquire property on the cheap and distorts the original intent of eminent domain.

Perhaps a moratorium on eminent domain – except in cases where eminent domain serves a clear, public purpose – should be considered by the city in light of the pending Supreme Court decision.

Bowling Green Daily News: www.bgdailynews.com