Officials — Eminent domain initiative likely in Missouri: Kansas City (KS) Business Journal, 12/16/05

By Jim Davis

Missouri voters probably will see an initiative next year on eminent domain, according to a presentation the Economic Development Corp. of Kansas City's board heard Friday.

Spencer Thomson, a member of a state-appointed task force on eminent domain, said the property rights issue has become inflammatory. Property rights advocates, led by the Institute for Justice in Washington, are "exaggerating facts" and "playing to emotions," Thomson said.

Thomson, a lawyer at Blackwell Sanders Peper Martin LLP in Kansas City, said the institute has targeted Missouri. He predicted that a ballot measure on eminent domain could be slotted in August or November.

The issue came to the forefront in June, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the city of New London, Conn., was entitled to take homeowners' property for an office, hotel and convention center complex. Since then, Thomson said, public opinion has galvanized against eminent domain.

Greg Williams, an aide to Kansas City Mayor Kay Barnes, said he's confident the General Assembly won't take draconian action in 2006 after receiving the task force's recommendations.

EDC board member Peter Yelorda said that lobbying needs to extend to labor unions, construction companies and other groups that sway public opinion.

"We can't win this with the dialogue we usually have," said Yelorda, who also chairs the Tax Increment Financing Commission of Kansas City. "We need to have the public understand our position."

Eminent domain regularly enters the TIF Commission's purview, Yelorda said. On Wednesday, property owner Old Republic Title Co. urged the commission to prevent the Power & Light Building's owner from using eminent domain because Old Republic wanted more money than the building owner had offered. The commission didn't accept the argument and voted to let the redevelopment proceed.

Gary Sage, chairman of the EDC's legislative committee, said he expects unprecedented heat next year in Jefferson City on eminent domain and tax increment financing.

"This spring will be the most dramatic shift in economic development priorities in the last 20 years," Sage said.

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