House OKs eminent domain limits: Ft Wayne (IN) Journal Gazette, 1/27/06

By Niki Kelly

[Indiana] Lawmakers hopped on the anti-eminent domain bandwagon Thursday, voting unanimously in the House to restrict the use of condemnation for private profit.

Hoosiers have shown more concern over the use of eminent domain since a key U.S. Supreme Court decision came down last year.

That pressure gave Rep. Dave Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, the support he needed to pass House Bill 1010, which now moves to the Senate for consideration.

He told his colleagues about a letter he received from an elderly South Bend man who has lived in the same home for almost 60 years. He went to a meeting recently and was told the city was taking much of one neighborhood through eminent domain.

So far, the highest offer for any of the homes on the street is $40,000. “That’s not right,” Wolkins said with a quaver in his voice. “I ask you to help me solve this problem.”

The bill would make it harder – and more expensive – for cities, towns and counties to take private property and then transfer the land to a private, for-profit entity.

For instance, the city of Fort Wayne in 2000 used eminent domain proceedings to force a $2.2 million purchase of the Belmont Beverage lot at Harrison Street and West Jefferson Boulevard. The land was to be used for a third downtown hotel to be owned and operated by a private company.

But now the city has decided against that location, and the land is in limbo.

Traditionally, eminent domain has been used on projects of public use, such as a road or a school or park. But the practice has slowly morphed into public good, such as creating more jobs or adding to the revenue base.

It was the latter approach that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of last year. The legislation affects an entity that uses eminent domain to acquire a parcel of property from a private person “with the intent of ultimately transferring the ownership or control of the parcel to another private person.”

Under these circumstances, the taking of the parcel would have to be a last resort.

The parcel would also have to meet more specific conditions for a judge to determine it is blighted and available for condemnation, such as being subject to health or housing code violations.

Those sections will make it close to impossible for cities to acquire farmland for a large manufacturing plant or other economic development project, according to a few Democrats who spoke on the measure.

But it was not enough for them to vote no.

“I believe this is one of those efforts that we’re undertaking not for political agenda or partisan reasons but out of necessity,” said Rep. Trent Van Haaften, D-Evansville.

He differs with an exception in the bill for the Indiana Department of Transportation but wanted the legislation to move forward for improvement.

A large portion of the legislation addresses how much money owners of the land would receive in an eminent domain case. Current law requires “just compensation,” but the bill would force cities, towns and counties to pay homeowners 150 percent of the fair-market value, plus relocation costs.

Businesses would not be eligible for the increased percentage but could claim damages, such as loss of income.

Journal Gazette: www.fortwayne.com