Eminent domain in motion: Branson (MO) Daily News, 4/14/06

By Cliff Sain and The Associated Press

The Branson Board of Aldermen this week approved a bill that would force property owners along a portion of 76 County Boulevard to sell portions of their land.

City officials said they need the land to make improvements at the intersection of 76 and Fall Creek Road, where the city wants to realign Fall Creek Road as part of a $7 million project to extend the street to Roark Valley Road.

“Negotiations have been under way for several weeks for the additional right-of-way needed for the project from some remaining property owners, but an agreement has not been reached despite good-faith negotiations,” City Engineer David Miller said.

The properties affected are the former California Bar & Grill, Ramada Inn, Travelodge, Dogwood Inn, a parcel of land owned by James P. Keeter and Thomas W. Schaefer, and Silver Fountain Inn.

Despite the approval of condemnation proceedings, Miller said the city would continue to negotiate with the property owners.

“The court date will not occur for several weeks and so, until that time, negotiations will continue,” he said. “There may still be a holdout, but hopefully we can get them all resolved.”

Wayne Kennedy, owner of Travelodge, said the city was too quick to use its power of eminent domain, which allows the city to force a property owner to sell land for public use.

“I’ve known some of you for years,” he told the aldermen. “You could have sat down with some of us to talk about our property, but that never happened. That hurt. I’m a little frustrated and angry that you would do this.”

As with the other property owners, the city needs just a portion of the property. In the case of the Travelodge, Miller described the needed portion as “a sliver” along the highway, and that the city needs to construct a new driveway for the business. He also said the city has been in contact with the Kennedy family.

“I’ve talked to his son five times in the last month,” Miller said.

Miller also said the city’s quick action is due to time constraints imposed by the Missouri Department of Transportation, which owns 76 and is sharing some of the cost with the city. The city also could not make an offer until it had appraisals on the property, which the city received a few days earlier, Miller said.

The subject of eminent domain has been a hot-button issue at the state level this year. The House voted 150-7 to give initial approval to a bill designed to limit the use of eminent domain.

The general issue of how the government intercedes on behalf of developers gained attention nationally after a U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer allowing the use of eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another for economic development purposes.

Gov. Matt Blunt and legislative leaders made the enactment of new eminent domain restrictions a top priority for the 2006 legislative session.

In the House, members overwhelmingly defeated an amendment that would have barred the use of eminent domain for projects ‘‘primarily’’ designed for economic development. Lawmakers instead opted for the lower standard of barring eminent domain for projects ‘‘solely’’ for economic development.

Rep. Mike Daus, D-St. Louis, said the lower standard welcomes the return of past abuses of eminent domain, because developers or their attorneys ‘‘will always be able to come up with an excuse’’ to justify how a project is not solely for economic development.

But others, Democrats and Republicans, said barring the use of eminent domain primarily for economic development purposes would stifle economic development and kill jobs.

‘‘The reality is that in the real world it’s simply an unworkable definition,’’ said Rep. Bryan Pratt, R-Blue Springs.

The eminent domain bill, sponsored by Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, would give a bonus to landowners whose property is taken — on top of any other compensation — based upon how long they owned their land. It also would require that property owners facing eminent domain proceedings be given written notice of their rights. But it would not require that property taken through eminent domain be for a public use or declared to be ‘‘blighted.’’

Branson Daily News: http://www.bransondailynews.com