By Chris Frates
A Republican state lawmaker said Monday that he is working on a constitutional amendment to prevent local governments from taking private property to make way for private development.
The move by Rep. Al White of Winter Park comes on the heels of a U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the practice.
If the amendment makes the ballot in 2006 and passes, it could have sweeping implications for cities and towns trying to encourage private investment in their communities.
"I just think that citizens of Colorado should not be at the mercy of local governments when they determine that they want to take somebody's property so that they can increase the amount of money in the general fund that they can spend on other goodies," White said.
Like White, Republican Gov. Bill Owens disagrees with the court's decision. He has directed his staff to begin researching what legislation may be necessary to place curbs on condemnation, a spokesman said.
Sam Mamet, whose Colorado Municipal League represents 265 of the state's 271 cities and towns, said White's plan is "an overreaction steeped in political rhetoric and devoid of the reality of the situation."
Few cities have condemned private property for redevelopment, and when people have perceived that the power has been used inappropriately, the legislature and court of public opinion have spoken, he said.
The threat of condemnation is more important than its actual use because it brings reluctant property owners to the table, Mamet said.
But Tom Wambolt (email@example.com), an Arvada resident who fought the condemnation of a lake to build a Wal-Mart, welcomed White's plan.
"Right now, there is really no one voice out there that is speaking for the little man that can raise up and say, 'Hey, you're treading on my land,"' Wambolt said.
Under current law, cities cannot condemn private property solely for a private developer's investment; they have to first prove it is blighted. But the Supreme Court ruling will make such condemnation legal if state law is not updated, said Bob Hoban, a lawyer with the firm Hale Friesen who is helping White draft his proposal.
Mamet said the law firm and partner Allan Hale "make a very nice living suing cities."
"Allan Hale is very motivated, just like others are, by the color of green, because I know what's going on," Mamet said.
Hoban said the firm is motivated by protecting property rights and doesn't sue many cities.
It is not just cities that could lose out.
The amendment would "be a stake in the heart" of plans to build a private toll road between Fort Collins and Pueblo, White said.
But if the private project were taken over by a public transportation authority, it could move forward, White said.
A spokeswoman for toll-road developer Ray Wells did not return a call.
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