By Michael Davis
The Stockbridge [GA] City Council last week voted to condemn several properties in its proposed redevelopment area. An appointed city panel minutes later decided to condemn several more.
This week, at least one state lawmaker is criticizing the city's move as "abuse" of eminent domain powers.
Through a press release, state Rep. Steve Davis, R-McDonough called the city's actions "disgraceful" and vowed to support pending legislation that would rein in government's ability to take private property. He said he would support a resolution by state Rep. Bill Hembree, R-Douglasville, to put a constitutional amendment on the November 2006 ballot that would limit government's ability to seize property to public purposes only, not for economic development.
"As I sat in the chambers and watched the mayor and city council pass all the condemnations unanimously, I wondered if they knew what they were doing," Davis said in the release.
Hembree feels the best way to ensure limits on government's seizure abilities was through a state constitutional amendment, which requires a referendum. A law enacted by the Legislature "can be challenged and a judge can throw it out," he said on Tuesday.
The use of eminent domain, the authority granted the government to take property in exchange for compensation determined by a court, has come into question since the U.S. Supreme Court in June bolstered government's ability to use it for economic development.
Since then, local governments in some areas, including the county, have vowed they wouldn't condemn property and turn it over for private development. Henry commissioners, and the city of Hampton, both passed "hands-off" resolutions in July.
Stockbridge city leaders say the town center project will revitalize the city's ailing downtown business district, which sits in the shadows of a bridge over railroad tracks that once brought booming business to the town. City Manager Ted Strickland declined to comment Tuesday on Davis' statements, except to say "I don't want to get into a debate with him."
Last Thursday, the city council and the appointed Urban Redevelopment Agency voted to move forward with condemnation procedures against eight properties that lie in the 22-acre so-called Urban Redevelopment District. Officials said they were unable to come to an agreement with the property owners over a purchase price.
The condemnation mends together the final properties that complete the 18 lot site planned for a new city hall and parking deck and a public park. The Urban Redevelopment plan, which was changed Thursday to put more public buildings on land set for condemnation, also includes selling portions of the property to private developers to develop multi-story retail, office and residential buildings.
Officials hope the city's investment in defining a center of a town devoid of one will spark interest in the project and bolster the city's retail growth. Strickland has said the plan is needed to curb blight in the business district and ensure the economic health of the city.
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