Arguments begin in Clayton eminent domain case: St Louis MO Post-Dispatch, 12/14/06

By William C. Lhotka

Lawyers for Centene Corporation began their condemnation case this morning seeking a court order to declare as blighted three properties along Forsyth Boulevard west of Hanley Road in Clayton for the company’s proposed $190 million office and retail complex.

Thomas Weaver, an attorney for Centene, used Clayton City Manager Michael A. Schoedel to identify reams of documents in St. Louis County Circuit Court that show Centene and the city of Clayton made all the proper moves in obtaining city approval in 2004 and 2005 for the redevelopment project.

Schoedel testified at the end of the morning session that Centene’s proposed project was in accordance with a Master Plan for Forsyth Boulevard that city officials adopted in 1993. The plan calls for high-density office use along Forsyth, described by Weaver as the spine of Clayton, along with retail operations.

To condemn the properties at Centene’s request, Judge James R. Hartenbach must determine that they are blighted.

In his opening statement, Weaver told Hartenbach that the decision on whether properties are blighted is a determination by a legislative body under Missouri law and, in this case, the Clayton Board of Alderman already made that determination when it approved the project in December of last year.

Attorneys for the property owners, David Danforth, Dan Sheehan and Debbie Pyzyk are expected to argue against a ruling that the well-maintained and highly appraised buildings could be adjudged as blighted.

In a prepared statement before the three-day trial began, Sheehan said: ``It’s very hard for me to believe that a property that is valued at more than $7 million an acre can be in any way considered blighted.''

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