Maplewood backs off on eminent domain plan: St Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 7/18/05

By Kathie Sutin

Maplewood will curtail the use of eminent domain and will not use it to force property owners near Manchester Road and Sutton Boulevard to sell their land to a private developer, Mayor Mark Langston announced Monday.

At a press conference Monday morning, Langston said the council unanimously agreed by fax over the weekend to a resolution that would limit the use of eminent domain so it would not be used as a threat to force property owners to sell to private developers.

In announcing the resolution, Langston said the restrictions would apply to the request for proposals the city issued for the Sutton-Manchester area last month. proposals for the area are due July 29.

The resolution says the city will use eminent domain only "for those traditional areas in which eminent domain has always been used," such as building roads, parks and other public uses and for redevelopment of blighted areas meeting certain criteria.

Langston's announcement came less than a week after more than 300 people packed a City Council meeting at City Hall to protest a request for proposals the city issued last month for the Manchester-Sutton area. Many said they feared the city would declare the area blighted and use eminent domain to force business owners to sell to a developer.

The resolution is a "promise to Maplewood citizens," Langston said. It is not binding, but officials plan to introduce an ordinance implementing it at a meeting on Aug. 9. They may also take a public vote on the resolution then, he said.

Several dozen residents, business owners and others who attended the press conference said they were happy with the council's action, but many said they were skeptical because the resolution is not "written in stone."

Under the resolution, the city will:
  • Use eminent domain for private development only when a majority of property owners agree to sell to a private developer and a "holdout" is blocking the project. The resolution does not specify a number, but Langston said it would take a substantial percentage of property owners favoring a development to persuade the city to use eminent domain on the holdouts. "We've discussed 90 percent or more," he said.
  • Notify residents of an affected area by certified mail 30 days before it
    issues a request for proposals for a redevelopment.
  • Seek "a partnership of local interest areas contemplated for redevelopment and
    proceed only with the concurrence of substantial numbers of the affected

Matt Williams, a business owner in the affected area, praised the council for passing the resolution and said it was a major victory over eminent domain abuse.

In an interview Williams called the resolution "a neat public-private partnership."

He added: "It's not watertight. It's not perfect. But it's a great first step, and the unanimous vote is a public statement of the City Council's intent to curtail the use and abuse of eminent domain."

The resolution says the power of eminent domain for the benefit of a private developer solely for a private economic development project having no other public purpose is contrary to principles of sound government.

Maplewood declared blighted a residential area on Hanley Road in 2002 and granted eminent domain powers to THF Realty to acquire property to build a Sam's Club and Wal-Mart in a development called Maplewood Commons.

Last month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government can use eminent domain for economic reasons and that taking a home to build a shopping mall is as much a "public use" as is taking land to build a highway or school.

After last week's City Council meeting, officials and leaders of the property owners met Thursday, Friday and throughout the weekend to hammer out the agreement.

Five homes and about 18 businesses that employ nearly 200 people are in the Manchester-Sutton project area. The request for proposals covers an area bounded by Manchester Road, Sutton Boulevard and Hazel Avenue, but excludes Cavalier Ford at Manchester and Big Bend Boulevard.

Post-Dispatch: www.stltoday.com