Realtors push for new eminent domain laws: Henry (County GA) Herald, 10/13/05

By Justin Boron

A group of Georgia Realtors on Wednesday launched a media push that advocates changing the state's eminent domain laws to protect residential and commercial property from being seized by governments for private development.

Hoping to pressure legislators to close ”the loophole“ in the laws, the Georgia Association of Realtors has committed $100,000 to radio ads, started a Web site, and will rally its 36,000 members for the cause, said Jan Baker, the president for the group.

Focus on eminent domain laws sharpened nationwide after the U.S. Supreme Court bolstered local and state governments' ability to condemn property for economic development. The Court permitted New London, Conn., officials to take a group of older homes along the city's waterfront for a private developer who plans to build offices, a hotel and convention center. The court said states can pass more restrictive laws.

Since the ruling, Stockbridge in Henry County and Clayton County has become the center for state debate on the issue. Unable to negotiate with property owners, the city has condemned commercial property for a mixed use project that includes government facilities, retail stores, and residential buildings. Mark and Regina Meeks, who owns the flower shop condemned by the city, are challenging the process in court.

State lawmakers plan to meet with the public on the issue this Friday.

Steve Davis, R-McDonough, who also is a Realtor, said the city is expediting its condemnation to ”usurp“ the Legislature before it can take up the issue during the General Assembly.

”These municipalities do not need to be working as land brokers,“ he said. ”Hopefully, we can get it stopped in time to save the people in Stockbridge.“

Baker said the Realtor group is favoring a Constitutional amendment that if approved by the Legislature, would appear on the 2006 General Election ballot.

Amy Henderson, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Municipal Association, said its concern is that legislative changes could ”take away the cities' power to do good things with eminent domain.“

She also reminded those powers, which cities often uses to improve ”blighted or ”economically depressed“ neighborhoods, existed before the Supreme Court ruling.

Tim Kibler, the coordinator of government affairs for the Realtors group, said the definition of words like ”blight“ that cities use to justify eminent domain need to be tied closer to real public health conditions such as unsafe structures or areas that fail to meet existing civic health codes.

”Blight right now is what the city council says it is,“ he said.

Henry Herald: www.henryherald.com