Local governments and other authorities [in Pennsylvania] would face stricter limits on seizing property for private commercial development projects under a bill passed unanimously Tuesday by the state Senate.
The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, would generally ban the use of eminent domain for private development unless the property meets a narrower definition of "blight." The measure was passed Monday by the state House and now goes to Gov. Ed Rendell.
The legislation is in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that the city of New London, Conn., could take 15 homes to build a mixed-use waterfront development to boost the local economy. The ruling drew protests across the nation and prompted many states to consider changing their laws on the government's ability to take private property.
A companion bill sent to Rendell on Monday by the House of Representatives would increase reimbursements to property owners whose land is seized for public uses. The measure would increase maximum relocation payouts from $5,250 to $6,300 for renters, from $22,500 to $27,000 for homeowners, and from $10,000 to $12,000 for businesses and farming operations.
Piccola, R-Dauphin, said both bills "will provide substantive rights to protect property owners from government overreaching in eminent domain."
Piccola's bill would eliminate a portion of state redevelopment law that allows a local government or authority to declare eminent domain by citing "economically or socially undesirable land uses."
"It can no longer be used to take ordinary neighborhoods for private development or to take neighborhoods just because the people who live there have less money," Piccola said.
Under the bill, a property can be considered blighted if it is a health or safety hazard, abandoned, or has been tax-delinquent for two years.
Kate Philips, Rendell's spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the governor would review the legislation.
"The governor's main focus with this legislation is that the greater good of the community is properly balanced with a property owner's rights," Philips said.
Piccola's bill also would allow Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Delaware County, which is home to the city of Chester's rundown waterfront, to act until Dec. 31, 2012, on projects in areas those governments have already certified as blighted. The measure would also prevent one local government from condemning property within another jurisdiction without the other government's permission.
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