Assembly reaches decision over eminent domain: KTUU-TV2 (Anchorage AK), 1/10/06

By Jill Burke

The city didn’t want it and said citizens didn’t need it. Even so tonight city leaders sent a strong message about how and when the city can take someone’s property. And the debate over eminent domain came to an end tonight with a win for anyone who fears the city’s powers to seize their property. The Assembly approved tighter control on that tactic.

“I think this goes a long way towards protecting private property rights in our community,” said Chris Birch, Anchorage Assembly.

Birch admits fears over how extending the coastal trail to the south might impact property owners were part of the motivation behind his idea.

At last count, the city says a south extension could nibble away at about 98 private parcels, ranging anywhere from a tenth of an acre to more than17 acres. But for Birch and his supporters that trail, a so-called leisure activity, doesn’t rise to the occasion.

“What is the government’s role in taking people’s property when the purported purpose is sometimes less than the highest public need,” said Dan Sullivan, Anchorage Assembly.

So what about a road needed to connect people to a trail in Eagle River? Access to Mount Baldie is in just such a fix. And Allan Tesche says while the coastal trail extension may have become the mascot of looming threats to private property, it’s not.

“Government bulldozers may be coming and they’re coming to Government Hill,” said Tesche.

Bulldozers rumbling through Anchorage’s oldest neighborhood, says Tesche, to quite possibly make way for the Knik Arm crossing. Tesche says to really drive the point home, he and his Assembly colleagues should look to the legislature, not the city for greater protections from what he calls such unbridled uses of eminent domain. Though spirited, he was out-voted. The tighter standard now in place makes it harder for the city to take property you’re not willing to give up.

The city is, of course, against tighter controls saying it doesn’t use the power of eminent domain loosely. The change in law basically states property cannot be taken for trails or parks. If, however, a major road project, a right of way or a pedestrian walkway is needed, someone’s property might still be at risk for being taken and used by the city.

KTUU-TV2: www.ktuu.com