New Nevada bill would limit eminent domain proceedings: Las Vegas (NV) Sun, 3/25/05

By Brendan Riley, Associated Press

A new legislative proposal [in Nevada] would restrict the use of eminent domain proceedings of the sort used for the Fremont Street Experience in downtown Las Vegas or the pending efforts to block development of the historic Ballardini Ranch south of Reno.

Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, author of SB326, said Friday the proposal would limit what he considers over-the-top moves by governments to force ownership changes without just cause.

"It's real simple," Care said. "If government needs for a public purpose to take land, we all understand it. Just don't abuse it."

Care's 2-page bill would bar the use of eminent domain by government agencies to get property for open-space use or for "protecting, conserving or preserving wildlife habitat."

The measure also says an agency could exercise eminent domain powers to get property for a redevelopment project only after making a written finding that "a condition of blight exists for each individual parcel of property" being acquired.

"Nobody asked me to introduce this," Care said when questioned whether developers urged him to introduce SB326. "I've had an interest in eminent domain issues for some time."

Care said that interest began with the Fremont Street Experience case that led to a split state Supreme Court ruling in 2003 against Harry Pappas and his family, whose property was taken for the project in 1993.

Care's bill adopts the dissenting views in the 4-2 ruling. The two dissenting justices said there should have been a formal process to determine whether the area was really blighted.

When he later read news accounts of the Ballardini Ranch controversy, Care said, "I was outraged." He added that he contacted representatives of Minnesota-based Evans Creek LLC to discuss expanding his proposal. The result was the proposed ban on acquisitions for open-space use.

Tim Smith, president of Evans Creek LLC, said Friday he supports Care's bill because it will make clear that Washoe County's efforts to condemn the Ballardini Ranch for open-space use "as a pretext to stop development is an abuse of governmental powers and unlawful."

Evans Creek, which paid $8.5 million for the ranch in 1998, has proposed building nearly 200 upscale homes on part of the property in the Sierra foothills. But advocates of public acquisition say the ranch would provide a link to U.S. Forest Service land and preserve the area for wildlife and recreation.

Steve Walther of Protect Our Washoe, a group trying to preserve the ranch as open space, said the group will oppose the bill even though, as introduced, it would apply to cases filed in the future.

"It wouldn't be good policy to legislate in situations that really belong to local government," Walther said. He added that the Ballardini acquisition wouldn't be simply for open space but for a wide range of outdoor recreational activities along with possible continued use as a ranch.

Las Vegas Sun: www.lasvegassun.com