Tuscaloosa Business Owners Fight Eminent Domain Takeovers: NBC-TV13, Birmingham AL, 9/28/06

Some Tuscaloosa [AL] residents are fighting the city - and winning.

The city’s government is confiscating private property downtown, but some said citizens are not being offered enough money for the property being taken.

By 2009, Tuscaloosa’s city leaders plan to have a new federal courthouse in place of a number of small businesses. The area has been designated as a blighted property, so legally, the city can force property owners to sell using the power of eminent domain. The question is, though, how much is the property worth?

For Jimmy Birmingham, the $98,000 the city offered him wasn’t enough.

“Not to me it’s not,” said Birmingham.

Many of his neighbors are protesting the city’s offers as well.

“We all want what it’s worth or what we think it’s worth. We may be out of line, but we think they’re out of line, so that’s why we’re going to probate,” said Birmingham.

Now an independent panel is re-evaluating the city’s offers.

“(The appointed panel) protects the property owners from the government simply taking their property and not paying fair market value,” said Judge Hardy McCollum.

There are six disputed offers and so far the panel has ruled in the city’s favor once and with the business owners twice.

“There’s never, in the end, an easy way to do this. But we’re trying to do it the best way possible,” said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox.

Maddox said the panel’s decision shows the checks and balances of the law are working. He said he expected protests from property owners.

“It’s not easy when you have 16 blocks of blighted property you’re trying to upgrade so we can make this good city a great city,” said Maddox.

The debate isn’t expected to delay the courthouse’s groundbreaking, which is scheduled for next August. The panel will evaluate the three remaining disputed properties in the next few weeks, including Birmingham’s barbershop.

“I have my fingers crossed,” said Birmingham.

NBC-TV13, Birmingham AL: http://www.nbc13.com