County hardens stance against eminent domain: Ruidoso NM News, 10/24/06

By Dianne Stallings

Following up on previous correspondence emphasizing the opposition of Lincoln County commissioners to using the power of eminent domain for economic development purposes, County Manager Tom Stewart fired off another letter.

Commissioners already stated their disagreement with a stance by the National Assoc-iation of Counties that apparently is opposing legislation passed by the Senate that would guard private property rights.

Commissioners passed a resolution months ago opposing governmental condemnation of private property without just compensation and for reasons other than health, safety and welfare of the community, such as in needed right-of-way for improved roads.

Last month, Commissioner Maury St. John alerted the board to legislation introduced by U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), called the Private Property Protection Act of 2006, that aims to protect private property rights against eminent domain abuse and calls for any entity receiving federal funds to abide by a call not to use eminent domain for economic development or face the loss of federal support.

Tuesday, St. John brought up House Resolution 4772, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Steven Chabot (R-Ohio), that would remove issues of local zoning from the state to the federal level, allowing people to appeal directly to federal courts.

On a motion by Commissioner Tom Battin, Stewart was directed to write a letter to the county's congressional delegation members stating their opposition to the resolution.
"It appears that H.R. 4772 helps developers sue local governments in federal courts," Stewart wrote U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici (R-NM). "The legislation would encourage developers to bypass state courts and local resolution of issues procedures where most land disputes now are resolved. The inevitable result will be a flood of litigation ... borne by local taxpayers. As such, far from preserving the rights of property owners, this bill constitutes a threat to the nation's communities and homeowners.

"In summary, the legislation would undermine fairness and predictability in development, undercut local use and environmental protections and impose enormous costs on local government and our citizens. Please reject H.R. 4772."

Summarizing the resolution, former New Mexico Association of Counties executive director Gus Cordova wrote that the legislation would make it easier for people to sue local governments. Zoning requirements in place may be moot, regardless if they are in the best interest of the community, he wrote.
"With H.R. 4772, if the developer disagreed with this zoning, they could file suit against the county and take the case directly to federal court," Corova wrote. "This sets up a potentially expensive and never-ending process for counties, who could face multiple lawsuits in federal courts over local zoning laws."

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