Nevada lawmaker pushes ahead with eminent domain bill: Las Vegas (NV) Sun, 4/22/05

By Brendan Riley, Associated Press

A [Nevada] state senator pushed ahead Friday with a developer-backed bill that would restrict government eminent domain powers, despite opposition from open-space advocates hoping to preserve an old ranch near Reno.

At the urging of Sen. Terry Care, D-Las Vegas, the Senate on Friday approved amendments to his SB326 that leave intact wording that backdates the bill to effectively help a developer hoping to build upscale homes on the old Ballardini ranch.

Care insisted he doesn't want to interfere with pending litigation, but added government entities shouldn't be allowed to do what Washoe County is attempting in trying to block development of the Ballardini ranch on prime land just south of Reno.

The lawmaker said his purpose is to stop government entities from "really taking farms and ranches simply because they look nice, they're attractive, they're the last of their kind and on that theory shouldn't be touched."

It's improper "for the government to say 'We want it. We're not going to do anything with it. We just don't want anything to happen to it,'" he added.

Advocates of preserving the Ballardini ranch argue that the bill should be rejected because it makes an unwarranted end run around pending litigation over the open-space effort.

Steve Walther of Protect Our Washoe, a group trying to preserve the 1,000-acre ranch, told legislators earlier that Care's bill restricts eminent domain powers "just to protect one piece of ground for a Minnesota developer."

Minnesota-based Evans Creek LLC, which paid $8.5 million for the ranch in 1998, wants to build nearly 200 upscale homes on part of the property.

Washoe County Manager Katy Singlaub has said there's overwhelming public support for the preservation effort, but an "environment of mistrust" prevented a settlement.

Earlier plans had more than 2,000 lots, and Singlaub said the latest plan for a smaller project could help revive settlement efforts. But she added a local-level dispute resolution process should be used, rather than a new state law.

Attorney Frank Thompson, representing Evans Creek, has said the use of eminent domain to preserve the Ballardini ranch as open space was arbitrary and not supported by any court rulings. But Michael Chapman, a lawyer representing Washoe County, said a 1951 state Supreme Court ruling supports the county - and the bill would unfairly harm the county's position in the pending Ballardini litigation.

Pam Wilcox, head of the state Public Lands Division, also opposed the bill, saying it would harm the state's authority to acquire property for various state purposes.

SB326 would prohibit state and local governments from using eminent domain authority to acquire property for open-space or wildlife habitat preservation, but Care said that wouldn't block acquisition for a park or for flood control.

As originally written, SB326 would have applied to cases that arise beginning July 1. But Care made the bill retroactive to include any pending cases. He also said he wasn't pushing the bill for Evans Creek.

Care, an attorney, has said his interest in eminent domain 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 downtown Las Vegas 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.

Las Vegas Sun: www.lasvegassun.com