Newport defends eminent domain: Kentucky Post, 11/15/05

By Kevin Eigelbach

Four years after it held the first public hearings on a plan to redevelop the Cote Brilliant neighborhood, the Newport [KY] City Commission still finds itself defending the decision.

At Monday's meeting, Joyce Avenue resident Raymond Butts asked city commissioners to consider renouncing the use of eminent domain for economic development.

He was concerned about a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the practice in a Connecticut case.

In 2001, when the city commission presented a plan to build a shopping center where low-income housing was, the commission identified several other neighborhoods as potential redevelopment zones, Butts said.

Butts didn't want to see that happen, he said, and urged the board to "show leadership when it comes to property rights."

City commissioners declined, and defended their pursuit of economic development.

In the case of Cote Brilliant, 99 percent of the residents wanted to sell their property to the city, Mayor Tom Guidugli said.

The other 1 percent wanted the city to buy their property, but said, "give us an extra $100,000," the mayor said.

He blamed the media for reporting only on the few disgruntled property owners involved, and not the overwhelming majority of satisfied sellers.

The city declared 55 acres just west of Interstate 471 "blighted" in 2002, and has struck a deal with Montgomery, Ohio-based Bear Creek Capital to develop a retail project there.

Kentucky is a model state in regard to the number of safeguards it requires before a city can use eminent domain, Newport City Solicitor Mike Schulkens said.

One reason the city pursues economic development so vigorously is because only 10.6 percent of the budget comes from property tax, but 44 percent comes from payroll taxes, Schulkens said.

But Butts protested that some of the city's poorer residents don't have the resources to defend themselves against the threat of eminent domain.

"All citizens, rich and poor, should be protected," he said.

Commissioner Jan Knepshield told Butts he was painting an inaccurate picture of the city commission "swooping in" and taking all kinds of real estate.

In fact, he said, the city didn't take one property in Cote Brilliant by eminent domain.

It's impossible to find one property owner in the neighborhood who could have gotten a better price for his property on the open market, Knepshield said.

It would be easy for the commissioners to jump on the bandwagon against eminent domain, Schulkens said, but it wouldn't really have any effect, since the city's not considering any further such projects.

Butts said he brought the issue up in 2001 and would probably bring it up again.

Kentucky Post: http://news.kypost.com