Property rights advocate sees difference in Tempe — East Valley (AZ) Tribune, 12/29/04

By Dennis Welch

Tom Liddy, one of the attorneys who successfully defended Randy Bailey against Mesa’s attempts to take his brake shop for economic development, is now defending the use of condemnation in neighboring Tempe.

The conservative talkshow host and chairman of the Maricopa County Republican Party has been hired to represent the developers of the planned Tempe Marketplace.

If Miravista Holdings and Vestar are unable to broker private deals with landowners refusing to sell their property for the $200 million project, they could ask the city to step in and take the property.

Liddy, former executive director of the Institute for Justice’s Arizona Chapter, said there was a stark difference between Bailey’s Brake Shop and the planned Marketplace.

The institute, a Washington D.C.-based law firm, is a major advocate for the protection of civil liberties and private property rights and helped bring national news media attention to Bailey’s fight against Mesa.

"There is clearly a public benefit here where there was none in the Bailey case," Liddy said. He said there are three areas where the public stands to benefit from taking the property.

First, after assembling the properties, Liddy said the developers could complete a major environmental cleanup of the area. It would prevent further contamination of an area that is exposing business owners and their employees to poisonous gases such as methane.

Environmental studies show there are a number of properties that have been contaminated by hazardous waste, including the site of a former Tempe dump. However many of the remaining property owners dispute the extent of contamination.

Second, Liddy said relocating the businesses would improve safety conditions for employees working in the area. For example, he said there are not enough hydrants to offer adequate fire protection.

There is only one hydrant on the 200-acre site, said Deems Shepard, a senior fire inspector for the Tempe Fire Department. The area, which which was annexed in 1999, does not meet the city’s fire hydrant code, Shepard said.

Third, Liddy said the public would benefit from redeveloping a "blighted" area.

However, Bailey disagreed with the popular talk-show host, saying the public does not benefit when cities take private property and give it to developers.

Bailey, who has been speaking with a number of the Tempe holdouts, said that he was very surprised to learn that Liddy is supporting the use of eminent domain.

"I don’t support transferring private property to private owners," he said.

Tim Keller, current executive director of the Institute for Justice’s Arizona Chapter, doesn’t dispute that there are environmental hazards in the area. But he said the planned project fails to meet the test for condemnation.

"The Institute for Justice’s position on the use of eminent domain has not changed," he said. "It should be used for public uses such as schools, roads or government buildings."

The Tempe City Council is scheduled to vote Jan. 6 on a resolution calling for the condemnation of specific properties near Rio Salado Parkway and McClintock Drive.

The city plans to mail letters this week notifying the remaining holdouts of the meeting. However, it was not known how many letters would be sent. Last week, city officials said they were preparing to send as many as 20 notices.

In April, the City Council unanimously approved a resolution authorizing the use of eminent domain.

"I haven’t heard anything to date that would change my mind," Councilwoman Pam Goronkin said. "The bottom line is, this site for the past half century has been a huge blight in the community."

Likewise, Councilman Hut Hutson has said environmental concerns motivate him to support condemnation. Hutson and Mayor Hugh Hallman were not on the council for the April vote.

Liddy said relocating the businesses (to build the Tempe Marketplace) would improve safety conditions for employees working in the area.

Wast Valley Tribune: www.eastvalleytribune.com