Eminent domain law may be too broad: Jacksonville (FL) Daily Record, 3/7/06

By Bradley Parsons

Florida’s eminent domain laws face imminent changes according to state Rep. Dick Kravitz.

Eminent domain allows the government to take private property for public use. But it will become more difficult for cities and counties to use following the upcoming legislative session, Kravitz predicted at a legislative briefing last week.

The current law is too broadly worded said Kravitz. The current law says “blighted” properties can be taken for a “public purpose.” That language needs to be tightened to prevent abuse.

“The way things are looking now, there will be a significant tightening on that,” said Kravitz. “Something like ‘public purpose’ could refer to almost anything.”

The briefing was called by Mayor John Peyton to outline the City’s legislative priorities to state lawmakers and lobbyists. During the meeting, Peyton emphasized “home rule and local control,” but it appears the state will take a heavier hand in protecting property rights.

City officials have appealed for the state to stay out of eminent domain. Ron Barton, the executive director of the Jacksonville Economic Development Commission, has called eminent domain a sometimes necessary tool for economic development. In a near three-decade career in Florida economic development, Barton said he’s rarely seen eminent domain abused.

“I don’t know if people are aware that it’s a power rarely used and very rarely abused,” he said.

Barton expressed concern in January about the potential for politically-charged changes to eminent domain.

The U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 last June (Kelo vs. New London)to uphold the City of New London, Conn.’s right to take private property for sale to developers of a mixed use condominium and office project. New London wanted to boost capital investment in a poor part of town and increase tax revenues.

Barton doesn’t agree with New London’s rationale, but it looks like he will have to deal with the political fallout. Barton said recently that he was concerned that politics was “riding herd” in Tallahassee with regards to tightening eminent domain.

Shortly after the Kelo decision, Florida House Speaker Allan Bense formed a committee to study property rights in preparation for the upcoming session. State Rep. Everett Rice is pushing a resolution that would call for a popular vote on strengthened property rights language to be added to the state constitution.

But Barton said Florida’s protections are sufficient. Peyton told Kravitz during last week’s meeting that he thought Florida “does a good job protecting property rights.”

Barton fears that tighter restrictions will make it harder for the City to use eminent domain when necessary. He said it should be used only to clear blighted areas. Those areas go undeveloped for decades or longer for a reason, he said. Without government intervention, they would continue to sit as obstacles to the economic development of the surrounding neighborhood.

But Kravitz said he’s seen eminent domain abused and pointed toward Florida’s Riviera Beach as an example. The predominantly black beach community’s local government plans to use eminent domain if necessary to move 6,000 locals to make way for a billion-dollar development.

Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown cited the Kelo decision in pushing the City’s plans.

Daily Record: www.jaxdailyrecord.com