Eminent domain bills go to House: Charlotte (FL) Sun Herald, 4/2/06

By John Haughey

Three bills restricting government's eminent domain powers will be introduced onto the floor of the Florida House of Representatives this week.

All three diminish community redevelopment agencies' abilities to condemn private property for public uses.

And all three are opposed by local governments, including Charlotte County.

But Commissioner Matt DeBoer told fellow commissioners last week that continued opposition to the house bills "could undermine our credibility."

"Don't throw yourself under the bus," he warned. "It's just not worth fighting for."

DeBoer said the county would need all the credibility and political clout it can muster to derail a bill still being pondered by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

That bill — Senate Bill 2168 — not only limits CRA powers, but would be retroactive, meaning it could imperil the county's Murdock Village Redevelopment Project.

The county borrowed $82 million to buy nearly 3,000 lots it condemned within the 1,132-acre Murdock Village CRA.

Commissioners will award the contract to develop the 871-acre CRA redevelopment project on April 11.

However, there are 73 Murdock Village landowners who can still appeal the condemnation one more time before the 2nd District Court of Appeals, DeBoer said.

If SB 2168 is approved by the state Legislature, those Murdock Village landowners will have incentive to file their appeal and, perhaps, win, he said.

DeBoer has testified several times before the 15-member committee chaired by Rep. Marco Rubio, R-Coral Gables.

The committee has been meeting since September, following the U.S. Supreme Court's June ruling in Kelo vs. the city of New London.

That decision essentially upheld economic development as a public benefit that justifies government seizure of private property through condemnation procedures.

Previously, public benefit was restricted to acquisition of private property for community uses, such as schools and roads.

The ruling sparked a nationwide backlash. Florida is among 47 states pondering changes in eminent domain statutes.

DeBoer said his emphasis in testifying before Senate and House committees has been to discourage retroactive legislation.

"We have commitments from two senators (on the subcommittee) to hold us harmless," he said. "I think in that part of the legislation, we are in good shape."

The three house bills — HB 1567, HJR 1569, HJR 1571 — emerged from the House Select Committee on Private Property Rights last week without opposition.

The legislation would change the state's 1969 Community Redevelopment Act, redefining how property deemed "blighted" can be condemned through eminent domain.

A CRA could take private property only when necessary to eliminate a threat to public health or safety. Local government would have to prove that to a judge — property by property.

"You can't declare areas blighted anymore," DeBoer said. "Basically, what they are doing is they are making it so eminent domain must be applied property by property and putting a heavier burden of proof" on local governments.

Sun Herald: http://www.sun-herald.com