Industrial park plan a go despite domain law: (Evansville IN) Courier & Press, 3/27/06

By Byron Rohrig

A[n Indiana] state law restricting government acquisition of property by eminent domain will cost the city more to acquire land for the proposed Center City Industrial Park in Pigeon Township.

But Mayor Jonathan Weinzapfel says despite the "setback" represented by House Enrolled Act 1010, "I think we can move forward with the project." He added, nonetheless, the measure "severely limits the extent to which a city, county or other government entity can do to acquire property by eminent domain for economic development."

The bill narrows the circumstances in which government can classify land as blighted and thus eligible for eminent domain. It also requires public entities to pay more for the land taken "with the intent of ultimately transferring ownership or control to another private person."

In another development, Department of Metropolitan Development staffers discovered on Wednesday that the city received three additional responses to a request for qualifications from potential project developers. They were discovered when a staff member examined accumulated mail addressed to Director Gregg LaMar, who had been away for several days because of illness. He returned for most of the day on Thursday.

Before the discovery, Redevelopment Specialist Jane Reel lamented receipt of only one apparent response, from QEPI (Quality Environmental Professionals Inc.). Metropolitan Development will issue a request later for proposals on the project. The additional qualifications discovered Wednesday were from local concerns: Evan Beck of Woodward Development and Construction, Danetta Hiatt of FC Tucker Commercial Realty and Ken Newcomb Jr. from FC Tucker Commercial.

Center City, seen as a generator of jobs and increased assessed valuations in one of the city's most depressed areas, targets 50 to 60 acres deemed worthy of development in a total area of 140 acres. The area north of the Lloyd Expressway between Pigeon Creek and First Avenue is fed by a revamped Fulton Avenue and an industrial rail route.

All but certain to be signed into law by Gov. Mitch Daniels, the Indiana House measure would require a city or county to pay 150 percent of fair market value to the owner of an occupied residence and 125 percent for agricultural land. Weinzapfel noted the bill's effect is to force a government agency to look at individual parcels rather than an entire area when the goal for use of condemned land is economic development and increasing assessed valuation.

The government entity also would be responsible for relocation costs and some legal expenses. Weinzapfel said Evansville's project could fall under a provision of the new law inserted to accommodate a plan to redevelop a South Bend brownfield where Studebaker automobiles were manufactured. It allows a government entity to consider land of multiple parcels as a block when it comprises at least 10 acres and when the entity acquires clear title to 90 percent of the parcels.

But Weinzapfel said his administration is committed to negotiating with property owners, avoiding eminent domain except as a last resort. "We've used it only on utility projects in my 2½ years in office," he said. Public utilities are not subject to the new Indiana law. A nationwide state legislative movement on eminent domain this year was fueled by a 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June in favor of New London, Conn., which seized some waterfront homes for an economic development project.

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