By Steve Pokin
O'Fallon [MO] aldermen last week assured residents that they will not use the city's power of eminent domain to take private property for economic development, despite the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court decided that government can do just that.
"I think eminent domain is a touchy word in this city and I hope this resolution might put some of the residents at ease," said Lyn Schipper, a Ward 2 alderman and board president.
Aldermen voted 8-0 at the July 14 board meeting to pass a resolution that states that the proper use of eminent domain is for items such as streets, parks and public water and sewer systems — not for economic development.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 23 that the Constitution requires only the possibility of economic gain for government to acquire private property from one individual for the benefit of another.
In the eyes of the court, taking a home so a developer can build a shopping mall is as much of a public use as taking land to build an interstate highway.
In O'Fallon, a 2003 attempt by the city to use eminent domain has shaped city politics.
A different board majority gave tentative approval to a sweeping redevelopment plan, called Main Street Ventures, for Old Town O'Fallon.
The plan included eminent domain. Numerous residents and business owners would have been forced to sell their property.
Only one alderman — Bill Hennessy in Ward 4 — remains on the board since that time.
Alderman Randy Hudson, Ward 1, said his downtown business of 25 years, Randy's Jewelry, was targeted by Main Street Ventures.
"After that happened to us, I looked at the world differently," Hudson said. "I drove around St. Charles County and looked at different properties and thought to myself, ‘Gee, I bet I could replace that with something that would produce more taxes.
"We all think we have the right to own property and then we find out that we don't," he said. "I think the resolution sends a strong message that says we are no longer the same government we were two years ago."
Dennis Sherman, owner of O'Fallon Garage on South Main Street, said his business also was targeted by Main Street Ventures.
He said the fight to stop the plan is not something he wants to relive.
"It messed up my whole summer," he said. "Every week there was a meeting — whether it was with the Board of Aldermen or a fund-raiser to fight what was happening. There was all kinds of stuff going on. It took me away from my wife and kids."
St Louis Post Dispatch: www.stltoday.com