Clayton voters send message on eminent domain: St Louis MO Post-Dispatch, 8/18/06

By Ryan Heinz

When Clayton residents were asked if they want stronger restrictions on the use of eminent domain in the future, their response at the polls was a resounding "yes."

The question posed on the ballot was a non-binding issue addressing specifically the use of eminent domain "in conjunction with any economic development or redevelopment project." According to unofficial results, 1,186 of 1,676 Clayton voters, or 70.8 percent, voted in favor of stronger restrictions. A total of 490 residents voted against such potential limitations.

But because this vote was considered merely an advisory measure for city staff and elected officials, the real question is what the city would do with this message sent by the voters. Mayor Ben Uchitelle said the Board of Aldermen intends to carefully take into consideration the results.

"We (the Board of Aldermen) shall certainly be guided by that vote," Uchitelle said.Advertisement

He said he was not surprised by the results.

"I think citizens in general want to make sure their city is careful with the use of eminent domain (on private developments), and I think that bears also on what the Clayton Board of Aldermen think," Uchitelle said.

The state legislature recently passed a law limiting the use of eminent domain. However, the item has come under criticism for a number of reasons, namely for not doing enough to address issues regarding the use of eminent domain for economic developments in urban areas.

One such development that fits that definition is a Centene redevelopment gearing up in Clayton's central business district. The $190 million project will include Centene's national headquarters, which will accommodate 1,200 corporate staff members. City and Centene officials have said the redevelopment would create 800 new jobs.

City officials also believe the development could seriously bolster the city's economy while adding hundreds of thousands of additional tax dollars to the city and Clayton School District each year.

But the development also came with the first use of eminent domain in the city. Two property owners along Forsyth Boulevard reportedly lost their properties to Centene through eminent domain, with the court deciding the compensation. City officials said two other property owners have court dates scheduled for October to determine if their properties could be taken through eminent domain as well.

Uchitelle thinks the city in the past placed numerous restrictions on commercial developers regarding purchasing properties, even before the passage of state legislation limiting eminent domain use. He said he does not anticipate any commercial projects using eminent domain in the near future.

St Louis MO Post-Dispatch: http://www.stltoday.com