More limits on eminent domain in St. Charles: St Louis (MO) Post-Dispatch, 6/6/06

By Mark Schlinkmann

The [St Charles MO) City Council on Tuesday night passed new restrictions on the use of eminent domain, believed to be tougher than statewide changes approved last month by the Legislature.

"From a local standpoint, I just don't think they really understand how volatile this issue really is," the main sponsor, Councilman John Gieseke of the 8th Ward, said of the state lawmakers.

Under the St. Charles measure, property could be condemned to make way for a shopping center or some other tax-producing project only in limited situations - such as when there is "a harmful or unproductive use of land."

As examples, the bill cites abandoned property, public nuisances and structures beyond repair or unfit for habitation. Also allowed would be the forced buyout of property with at least a 50 percent decline in assessed valuation over two years or nonresidential buildings lacking a business license for a year.

Eminent domain also could be used to acquire residences occupied by renters, whatever the condition of the buildings. The measure, which was approved on an 8-0 vote, would continue to use existing standards of condemnation to obtain land for public purposes such as building roads, parks and sewers.

In February, a similar council bill narrowly failed. In the meantime, the council considered a controversial redevelopment plan for part of the Frenchtown neighborhood.

After weeks of discussion, the council exempted existing businesses in that area from eminent domain by applying restrictions similar to those approved for the entire city Tuesday night.

The statewide bill passed by the Legislature requires cities to pay owners of homes bought through eminent domain 25 percent more than the property would command on the open market. People who had owned their homes for 50 years would get 50 percent more. That also would apply to businesses with fewer than 100 employees.

The state measure drew criticism because it did not change the definition of blight. That allows condemnation of land for having a defective or inadequate street layout, improper subdividing or obsolete platting, among other factors. The new St. Charles measure would not allow use of eminent domain for economic development for those reasons.

St Louis Post-Dispatch: www.stltoday.com