Eminent domain provision draws fire: Bristol (TN) Herald-Courier, 10/28/05

By Joe Geraghty

Some 100 people showed up at a public hearing Thursday night to raise concerns about a controversial redevelopment plan.

More than 20 people spoke out against it, particularly about provisions that could allow the city to seize private property to make way for commercial development.

"I’m 80 years old, and I’ve been in my house since I was 27," Bonnie Turner said. "I hope you all will reconsider and not take our homes from us."

Under the plan, the city could use eminent domain to obtain property necessary for the redevelopment of an area even if the owner of that property were uninterested in selling.

David Wagner, speaking for the city Redevelopment and Housing Authority and for the task force that drafted the plan, said no one in authority had any intention of forcing property owners out onto the street.

"This is not about taking homes, and this is not going to happen tomorrow," he said.

The plan, released publicly earlier this month, identifies four districts for redevelopment.

One of the districts includes most of downtown, another covers the Southside Shopping Plaza, the third encompasses houses and vacant land west of Volunteer Parkway and south of State Street, and the fourth includes the former Cheers Restaurant building on the parkway.

The plan must receive approval from the Housing Authority, the City Council and the Sullivan County Commission.

Any specific redevelopment plan for one of the four districts also would require approval before any action could be taken, Wagner said.

Every person who spoke Thursday night expressed concern about the possibility of losing property in the name of redevelopment.

"I think you need to figure out a way to rework the eminent domain issue," said Tim Valentine, who owns property in one of the districts. "That’s the only real problem anybody has with this."

Wagner said he and others heard residents loud and clear.

"We’ll have to do some homework on that," he said.

It probably would not be wise to remove the eminent domain portion of the plan because it might be necessary in certain situations, Wagner said.

"Do we want a major project held up because we can’t get a five-foot right of way?" he asked.

He said officials might consider limiting the scope of the eminent domain provision.

The redevelopment task force will reconvene within 30 days to consider the comments and try to rework the document to address people’s concerns, Wagner said.

When the group meets, it will consider excluding the properties of those who do not wish to be included in the plan, he said.

"Obviously, there are a lot of issues we need to cover and some changes we need to make to this plan," Wagner said.

Once the task force has drafted a new version, it will be made publicly available and another public hearing scheduled, he said.

Bristol Herald-Courier: www.tricities.com