Deterring eminent domain: Rolla (MO) Daily News, 8/9/05

Bill would punish cities that take private land for private development

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson is supporting a bipartisan bill that would punish cities that use eminent domain powers to take private property for commercial use.

The proposed bill follows last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling that allowed New London, Conn., to condemn private property for commercial development.

"If we could overturn the Supreme Court decision, we would," Emerson said.

The legislation would cut off federal funding to cities that use eminent domain for anything other than public good, Emerson said during her Farm Tour stop in Rolla Monday.

"Cities that seize land for private development would never get any more federal dollars - highway funds or anything," she said.

"That's a pretty strong incentive."

Emerson said she is confident the bill will get passed.

"It will pass in a nanosecond," she said.

Rolla Development Director John Peterson said he fears the bill is a knee-jerk reaction to the court's decision.

"There are all sorts of reactions out there," he said. "It's real easy to react with hysteria and sometimes they throw the baby out with the bath water."

At first glance, Peterson said the legislation seems "a little extreme."

Eminent domain has not been used in Rolla but the threat lingers over land at the corner of Highways 72 and 63.

Rolla has proposed development there that would use tax-increment financing, a tool that captures tax revenues to recover development costs.

Eminent domain can be used to take property in that area if property owners refuse to sell, however Mayor Joe Morgan said that it would be a last resort.

He declined to comment about the proposal because he had not seen the bill.

Peterson said he does not agree with using eminent domain power to take private property and give it to a private developer unless the area is "blighted."

Information released about the legislation does not mention "blighted" areas and a spokesperson for the bill's sponsor, Congressman Henry Bonilla of Texas, could not be reached to clarify the proposal.

If the proposal does not allow room to condemn blighted areas, Peterson said the legislation could be damaging to a city's economy.

"A law like that would greatly hinder a city's ability to take hold of the future and its own fate," he said.

Peterson said the Highway 72, Highway 63 area is blighted.

"There's been a finding of blight for that area, but there's also the common sense smell rule," he said. "Does it look blighted? I think a reasonable person would look at those 10 acres and say, 'Yes, it's blighted. I wouldn't want it in my backyard.' We talk about taxes and jobs, but in reality those are not the findings. It's a finding of blight."

Rolla Daily News: www.therolladailynews.com