Eminent domain dispute brewing: Cedar Rapids (IA) Gazette, 9/20/05

Associated Press

Some Iowa lawmakers want to restrict government's ability to force the sale of property for economic development.

Several legislators say the use of eminent domain can hinder a property owner's rights. Some city leaders in Des Moines say it promotes economic development.

The U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year reinforced the authority of government to buy property against the will of its owner. Such authority allows cities and county's to run roughshod over property rights, some lawmakers said.

"What we're looking at is something that would prevent governments from condemning private property and then turning it over to another private property owner," said Rep. Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha.

Eminent domain is frequently used to acquire property for roads, but property rights advocates say it has been increasing used to push projects they think will boost property values.

"If it's for a public project, that's one thing, but to take it from one and give to another is a different issue altogether," said Iowa House Speaker Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City.

Des Moines officials say stripping away their authority could crush redevelopment efforts.

"If they want to shut down the development of our cities, that's the way to do it," said Rick Clark, acting Des Moines city manager.

Councilwoman Christine Hensley said Des Moines doesn't abuse eminent domain. She said it's one of the few tools the city has to push redevelopment.

Des Moines has threatened to use eminent domain on two downtown buildings owned by Brad Hamilton.

The buildings, city officials say, have not been updated to match others in the area, despite inspection reports that indicate there are no serious

"As long as their taxes are paid and it's not dangerous to the public, then they should leave them alone," said Don Roberts, owner of a nearby service station.

Nate Nicewanger, who owns a record store that is housed in one of Hamilton's buildings, said he wants the city to stop pressuring his landlord because he fears he will have to move his business.

"I'm just afraid the city is going to ask him to do some things that he might not be able to afford," Niceswanger said.

Tom Bredeweg, executive director of the Iowa League of Cities, said the group hopes Iowa "can find a middle ground" that ensures eminent domain "is used consistently with good public policy."

Sam Staley, policy director of the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, has worked with about a dozen cities and states to scale back the use of eminent domain.

He said property owners "shouldn't have to worry about other private owners coveting his property and using the government to seize it because they can't buy it on the open market.

"Essentially, what governments are doing is using the flimsiest of excuses, and everybody's property is at risk," Staley said. "It doesn't matter if it's a business or somebody's home."

Cedar Rapids Gazette: www.crgazette.com