Washington Constitution limits 'eminent domain' takings: Seattle (WA) Post-Intelligencer, 6/24/05

By Jennifer Langston

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling giving local governments broad powers to condemn homes to make way for economic development projects isn't likely to have a big effect in Washington [state].

The state constitution has stricter prohibitions against condemning land for private uses, legal experts said yesterday.

The Washington Supreme Court has also defined a "public use" for which a city can use eminent domain more narrowly, according to Attorney General Rob McKenna.

Local governments generally haven't been allowed to condemn a home or business and then turn around and sell it to someone in the private sector, said Hugh Spitzer, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Washington.

"Our court has said if there's real blight — dilapidated houses, juvenile delinquency, health problems, hazardous waste — then (a city) can do it," he said. "It can't just do it because they think it would be neater or better for the economy."

The city of Seattle, for instance, was blocked from using its power of eminent domain to bulldoze several businesses on land that was originally supposed to be part of the private Westlake Center mall redevelopment.

The courts did allow the city to condemn property for the plaza, because that was considered a legitimate public use, according to the Seattle City Attorney's Office.

Still, there are plenty of places — such as South Lake Union — where the city has sold property that was originally condemned for freeway extensions or other public projects that never happened, said Steve DiJulio, a land-use attorney at Foster Pepper & Shefelman.

"You have examples throughout the history of Northwest development where properties were condemned and the project failed, and it found its way by default back to private development," he said.

Post-Intelligencer: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com