Knoxville lawmaker proposes temporary elimination of eminent domain: WBIR-TV10 (Knoxville TN), 3/10/06

By Herryn Riendeau

One Knoxville lawmaker says he has a new bill that would prevent the government from taking citizens' property. But some say the issue is not that simple, that eminent domain is not a bad thing and sometimes it is necessary.

Representative Stacey Campfield's bill would temporarily stop the government from taking property by eminent domain and giving it to someone else. It is an idea the owner of one downtown Knoxville landmark is all for.

The McClung warehouses are a first impression of downtown Knoxville. Its owner, Mark Saroff, says he wants to make it a better impression. But he is worried KCDC will take it away.

"That's what's on the table is the taking of the property. Well now we've made our commitment, as you can see, to the redevelopment of the properties," said Saroff.

But it is not that simple. The building is in a redevelopment area and considered blighted.

"The main elements have to do with physical deterioration of the building and structural deficiency, the windows being out," said William Lyons, Knoxville's Senior Director of Policy Development, when describing blight.

Saroff must submit a plan showing he has the money to repair the property.

"We have all sorts of plans, and we have submitted a substantial portion of those, some portions are not public," said Saroff.

If KCDC says the plan is satisfactory, the threat of eminent domain goes away. If not, the process moves on. Other developers can submit their plans for the building, and if Saroff still cannot come up with a plan KCDC says is satisfactory, he could be forced to sell it.

"It's immoral and it's theft. I made this investment. I made this commitment to the property," said Saroff.

City leaders say sometimes eminent domain is necessary to get buildings fixed that are dangerous or in disrepair.

But one thing city leaders and Saroff have in common is the hope he will be successful in redeveloping his property.

"We're hoping that now that we're moving on the project that the city will be supportive and cooperative and corroborative," said Saroff.

A representative from the city says in the past couple years, they have only used eminent domain a handful of times.

Saroff will find out whether his plan was accepted later this month.

WBIR-TV10: www.wbir.com