Mayor eyes eminent domain in property battle: Reno (NV) Gazette-Journal, 4/7/05

By Sandi Hoover


Eminent domain is the government’s right to acquire private property for public use. The governmental entity may be a federal, state, county or city government, school district, hospital district or other agency.

They can take the property with or without the owner’s permission. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution provides that “private property (may not) be taken for public use without just compensation.”

The eminent-domain process usually involves the acquiring governmental entity to pass a resolution to take the property (condemnation). That includes a declaration of public need. It’s followed by an appraisal, an offer and negotiation.
Some of the public uses supporting eminent domain include schools, streets and highways, parks, airports, dams, reservoirs, redevelopment, public housing, hospitals and public buildings.

Carson City could consider using powers of eminent domain for the first time to acquire the former Wal-Mart property on South Carson Street if the site is added to the city’s redevelopment district.

On Thursday, officials instructed their redevelopment director to look into including the nearly 13-acre site now owned by former television star Max Baer Jr. in the district for possible retail development.

“If we’re going to look at redevelopment areas, then we better start looking at that property,” said Mayor Marv Teixeira. “One of the things redevelopment looks at is blighted areas, and I absolutely would embrace eminent domain.”

Baer, who starred as the Jethro Bodine on the long-running TV show, “The Beverly Hillbillies,” bought the Wal-Mart site after the retail giant moved across the county line to Douglas County in July 2002. But after his plans to build a casino complete with a flaming oil derrick were quashed, he refused to budge.

“It isn’t that he hasn’t had offers to purchase that property and it isn’t that we haven’t had conversations with him. He has a sign up that says, ‘This Building is Not for Sale or Lease,’” Teixeira said.

“Does that show he cares about this community? Well, I care about this community, and with this property-tax cap, if we don’t pick up more sales tax revenue, we are going to have to cut services,” Teixeira said.

Carson City Economic Development and Redevelopment Director Joe McCarthy said that eminent domain requires that any property taken be put to public use.

“We are heavily reliant on sales tax here and I think a case could be made for bringing in retail to maintain services such as fire and public safety,” he said.

Teixeira said enough is enough.

“He’s been holding onto that property and won’t do anything with it. Well, guess what? This city does have power.”

But Baer said it isn’t going to be that easy.

“When you condemn something as a blight, the problem is, ‘What is the market value?’ And that was established by Sam’s Club’s offer to me, which was substantially higher than I paid,” Baer said.

“The second thing is that it has to be taken for public, not private, use — for a park or a swimming pool or something like that. You can’t just condemn it and give it to some other developer,” he said.

“And the third thing is that deed restrictions travel with the property and I’ll do whatever I need to do to protect myself within the law,” he said.

“This is called America, and the U.S. public believes, ‘Don’t tell me what to do with my piece of property,’” he said.

Baer also said he has gotten a bad rap in Carson City and that he bought the property because he was led to believe he could build his casino as he envisioned it.

“I would not have bought that Wal-Mart if I’d thought nobody wanted my casino, or that restrictions couldn’t be worked out, but I was led to believe there was a solution,” he said.

McCarthy said the eminent-domain process is a last resort and one the city never has used in its history.

He said that including the Baer property in the city’s redevelopment district could work to the owner’s advantage.

“There are restrictions on the property now, but if he can meet those requirements, we will aggressively help him,” McCarthy said.

“But this gives the city the authority to be proactive. The message I got from the board was that they’re not comfortable with that property sitting there vacant,” he said.

Reno Gazette-Journal: www.rgj.com