Eminent Domain Case Heard In Appeals Court: WCCO-TV4 (Minneapolis MN), 2/23/06

By Pat Kessler

On Thursday, the Minnesota Court of Appeals heard arguments in a case that could help shape one of the state's most divisive debates.

The case is about eminent domain, and the debate is about how far a city can go to take private property and use it for a different purpose.

There is now an empty lot in Brooklyn Center, Minn. where the Hmong American Shopping Center used to be. The city called it blighted and condemned it through eminent domain, but the Southeast Asian immigrant who owned it said he's been treated unfairly.

"I feel like a very scared and a nightmare for me," said business owner Cha Fong Lee. "I worked very hard. And one night, one day all gone. I have nothing left right now."

The struggle of Lee to keep the land is part of a fight against eminent domain that Minnesota lawmakers expect to address this year: Is it right for governments to take private property for other uses?

At the Minnesota Court of Appeals, lawyers for Brooklyn Center said the site was contaminated and had to be demolished before new development could be attracted.

"That is necessary sometimes, to get things going, because developers won't bid on projects where there is known contamination," said attorney Marc Manderscheid. "They want that contamination cleaned up first. Only then will they submit proposals."

Lee and his son-in-law, Dan Vang, are welcome to submit development proposals along with other developers, which they call unfair, because they lost their land, even though Brooklyn Center has no specific project to replace it.

"We're fighting for the average American, the taking is done," Vang said. "This is not the American dream, this is the American nightmare, to wake up one day and have everything taken from you."

This year, Minnesota lawmakers are taking up a bill to restrict just how far government can go, using the powers of eminent domain.

WCCO-TV4: http://wcco.com