Eminent domain proposal favored in Assembly: Anchorage (AK) Daily News, 12/21/05

ASSEMBLY: Homeowners don't want private property taken for "leisure amenities."

By Richard Richtmyer

The Anchorage Assembly on Tuesday got a taste of opposition to the city's proposal to take private property by eminent domain to build a southern extension of the Tony Knowles Coastal Trail.

South Anchorage Assemblyman Chris Birch has proposed reining in the city's power to take property through eminent domain, forbidding it in instances when the planned public use is for "leisure amenities."

That includes parks, trails and pedestrian paths, greenbelts and a range of other uses that are defined in an ordinance on which the 11-member panel heard public testimony at their meeting late Tuesday night.

Birch's proposal remains on the table even though earlier Tuesday a committee that allocated federal funding for Anchorage transportation projects dropped the Coastal Trail extension from its project list. The panel, Anchorage Metropolitan Area Transportation Solutions, ditched plans to extend the Coastal Trail south and postponed until at least 2010 Mayor Mark Begich's plan for easing congestion at the Lake Otis Parkway-Tudor Road intersection.

Although the proposed Coastal Trail extension isn't mentioned specifically in Birch's proposal, it appears aimed at thwarting the use of eminent domain, which refers to the government's right to acquire private property at fair market value for public uses such as roads, bridges, hospitals and schools.

More than a dozen people lined up to give the Assembly their take on the idea. Most of them spoke out in favor of Birch's plan, and many of them own property that would be affected by the proposed route currently under consideration.

Begich estimates that the extension would need to cross about 80 parcels of private property, but he noted that not all of those pieces would need to be taken through eminent domain.

"Public use has a potential for misuse by special interest groups," said South Anchorage resident Mary Whitmore, who favored Birch's ordinance. "It sounds good, but somebody always wants something at somebody else's expense."

Jan Asserd, who said some of her land was taken through eminent domain when the original Coastal Trail went in, also urged the 11-member panel to adopt Birch's plan.

"Stop the insanity and support this," she said. "We don't have a socialist government."

The Assembly heard testimony from at least 17 people at its hearing Tuesday, which went late into the night. It did not debate or take action on Birch's proposal, however.

Some members suggested that the city wait until similar moves to rein in local government's eminent domain powers move through the state Legislature and Congress before taking action on Birch's plan.

Anchorage Daily News: www.adn.com