7/19/2005

Eminent domain discussion is needed: Loveland (CO) Daily Reporter-Herald, 7/18/05

Opinion

Local governments should have the power to use eminent domain for projects that have a wide range of public benefits, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late June.

The majority on the court based its ruling in support of the city of New London, Conn., on the notion that those decisions are best made at the local level.

In the case, city officials had identified a neighborhood of lower-value homes that were adjacent to an incoming pharmaceutical research facility. The city’s elected leaders approved a plan by which those property owners would be bought out, their land turned over to a redevelopment corporation, and upscale, tax-generating businesses would be brought in. The affected property owners fought back, saying the move violated their Fifth Amendment rights against unlawful taking.

A 5-4 ruling by the court upheld the city’s plan. Each time a city forcibly buys property from an individual shouldn’t be a federal case, they ruled.

With that, local and state governments nationwide have awoken to the fact it’s up to them to protect individual property owners’ rights.

In Colorado, a pair of lawmakers have announced their intent to make it illegal for communities to forcibly acquire land from one property owner to turn it over to another private owner who could produce higher tax revenues.

Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, said she will ask legislators to reconsider a proposal she placed before them last year that would restrict the use of “blight” designations that currently allow cities to begin eminent domain proceedings. That bill was defeated in the 2004 and 2005 sessions.

Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, on the other hand, says he will ask lawmakers to refer a constitutional amendment to voters next year that would bar municipalities from turning over property gained through eminent domain to private developers.

The two proposals from Colorado lawmakers mirror trends nationwide to limit the circumstances under which eminent domain may be used.

In almost every state, a group has emerged trying to put a limit to city use of eminent domain as an economic development tool. It will put before local voters and legislators the issues that the Supreme Court ruled were local.

Before the June 23 ruling, the issue of eminent domain was nearly invisible to all but those affected directly. Now, thanks to a ruling that has kept the issue as a local matter, communities and states are starting important discussions on the role of government as not just a provider of basic services but as drivers of community growth.

Regardless of whether you agree with the specifics of the court’s ruling, these discussions are important to have.


Loveland Daily Reporter-Herald: www.lovelandfyi.com