League of Minnesota Cities counters spin of eminent domain reform: ECM Capital Roundup (Coon Rapids MN), 1/12/06

By T. W. Budig

The League of Minnesota Cities countered the spin of eminent domain reform activists at a House committee hearing in Blaine on Wednesday (Jan. 11).

City officials put a spin of their own the hot debate.

The House Civil Law and Elections Committee was at Blaine City Hall to ask for public comment on proposed eminent domain reform legislation carried by committee chairman Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, candidate for attorney general.

Johnson’s bill is backed by Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform (MNEDR), a diverse coalition whose press conference last week at the Capitol garnered extensive media coverage.

“This is not legislation by anecdote; this is legislation by principle,” Johnson said of his bill.

But League of Minnesota Cities officials and local mayors, though expressing a willingness to modify eminent domain law, defended its use.

Coon Rapids Mayor Tim Howe told the committee the use of eminent domain was critical in the redevelopment of a 40-acre parcel along Coon Rapids Boulevard — an area across from the old Coon Rapids City Hall.

“This could not have happened without eminent domain,” said Howe of the project, promising construction of at least 300 townhomes, according to the League of Minnesota Cities.

Majority of sites acquired through eminent domain
The majority of the 22 sites in the redevelopment area were acquired through the use eminent domain, explained Howe. Land has been sold to a private developer.

Howe echoed concerns of League of Minnesota Cities officials about the flaring eminent domain debate — that lawmakers shouldn’t let emotionality steer them.

“I hope you have the courage to rein in the bandwagon on the situation,” said Howe.

Speaking after the hearing, the mayor said the City of Coon Rapids uses eminent domain “very infrequently” — it’s the last approach, said Howe.

New Brighton Mayor Steve Larson and City of White Bear Lake City Manager Mark Sather also defended the use of eminent domain in their cities.

The City of Columbia Heights in a letter declared that recent accusations of eminent domain abuse leveled at it were “blatantly false.”

Indeed, City of Champlin Mayor Steven Boynton told that committee that in the 36-year history of the city eminent domain had never been used. Never once had there been the threat, he said.

Boynton’s comment concerned allegations by Champlin resident Jim Meide that he and his wife were in danger of losing their river front home of 30 years in Champlin to eminent domain action. Meide spoke last week at the MNEDR press conference, and also testified before the committee.

Rep. Peter Nelson, R-Lindstrom, said what people perceive as a threat of eminent domain varies.

Powerful tool of government
Attorney Lee McGrath, executive director for the Institute For Justice Minnesota Chapter and MNEDR frontman, argued that the threat of the use of eminent domain is a powerful tool of government. “Every number you see underestimates the use of eminent domain because it excludes the threat component,” he said.

The League of Minnesota Cities is working on possible changes to eminent domain law which includes creating a list of specific purposes for which a city or acquiring authorities could exercise eminent domain, among other proposals.

Some local lawmakers seem open to changing the law. “I think there should be a lot more consideration for those type of decisions,” said Rep. Andy Westerberg, R-Blaine, of the use of eminent domain. “I think pretty much everybody in the free world will agree the time is right for some reform and some change,” said Nelson.

“I think we want to make sure we move cautiously,” said Nelson, a former city official.

Johnson does not expect an agreement on eminent domain prior to the start of the legislative session in March.

ECM Capital Roundup: www.hometownsource.com/capitol