Imminent change for eminent domain: Atlanta (GA) Business Chronicle, 1/6/06

By Justin Rubner

Six months after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled governments could condemn private property for economic development, sweeping changes in Georgia's eminent domain laws are all but inevitable in the 2006 Georgia General Assembly, several key lawmakers say.

Already awaiting legislators on Jan. 9 are five anti-eminent domain bills, one of which passed the Senate in 2005.

On the table is an issue that strikes at the heart of the American dream: the ability of hundreds of local governments and dozens of nongovernmental "authorities" to take property from landowners, with compensation, to pave the way not only for roads and power lines but also for city halls, shopping centers, condos and parking decks.

The man in charge of deciding which bills will be heard on the Georgia Senate floor, Sen. Don Balfour, promises authorities will be severely limited in their powers after the session. Groups with that power range from the Georgia Ports Authority to numerous city development authorities.

"They, very quickly, will not have eminent domain," said Balfour, a Republican from Snellville who serves as chairman of the powerful Senate Rules Committee. "There's no reason why nonelected officials should have the power of eminent domain."

Others agree. State Rep. Ron Stephens of Savannah, the Republican chairman of the House Economic Development and Tourism Committee, said the state's authorities "see the writing on the wall."

"We're going to drop the hammer on them," he said.

If they are successful, that would be one massive hammer. Any anti-authority bill would likely see strong resistance from local governments and the groups that represent those governments, the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA). GMA spokeswoman Amy Henderson said the group will be actively involved with lawmakers to ensure they pass tempered bills.

Then there are the authorities themselves. Public housing authorities, the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, the North Georgia Mountains Authority, hospital authorities and many more have the power.

Senators and representatives involved with limiting those powers contend there are concrete reasons — other than politics — that warrant tough legislation.

In one case just gaining momentum, International Paper Co. (NYSE: IP) wants to sell a 2,630-acre property in Effingham County to a residential developer. But the Effingham County Economic Development Authority has stepped in, seeking condemnation powers for an industrial park. The authority said it needs the land to prepare for population growth in the county, located near Savannah. The authority in December proposed a price of $31 million, according to a report in the Effingham Herald, but Stephens said Industrial Paper would get more for the residential project.

In another case, the city of Stockbridge (25 miles south of Atlanta) and its development authority are under fire for a plan to condemn four properties in the town so the city could build a new city hall and parking deck. Two of those property owners, Mark Meeks and Donna Bell Mayo, are fighting the plan.

"It's going to be a touchy subject," Stephens said. "It's clear, though, that in recent weeks, economic development authorities are abusing their power. And they will be reined in with legislation."

Balfour went on a several-months long tour of the state late last year with other lawmakers, hearing concerns from both sides of the issue. He and freshman Sen. Jeff Chapman, R-Brunswick, co-sponsored Senate Bill 86 in 2005, which is expected to be heard by the House Judiciary Committee for a final vote this year. The bill, which passed the Senate 40-10, prohibits using eminent domain for most economic development purposes.

Chapman says eminent domain will be the most important issue the General Assembly will tackle in 2006 and sees a "sense of urgency" in lawmakers' desires to pass meaningful legislation. He predicts many lawmakers, including some Democrats, will want to get their names on anti-eminent domain bills.

Balfour said the House will "have a tough time voting against this bill."

One person voting against Senate Bill 86 was state Sen. Vincent Fort, a Democrat whose district includes the low-income area of East Point as well as upscale Buckhead. He warns against taking too many powers away from authorities.

But even he agrees the issue of eminent domain needs to be looked at. In particular, Fort is interested in tweaking the definition of "blight." He and others believe low-income people are in danger of being abused by loose definitions.

Despite his objections to Senate Bill 86, Fort believes substantial legislation will be passed in 2006.

"You can bet your bottom dollar they're going to respond to their constituents," Fort said. "I just hope it will be done in a thoughtful way."

Others voting against Senate Bill 86 were Democrats Ed Harbison, George Hooks, Michael M.V. Bremen, Doug Stoner, Horacena Tate, Curt Thompson, Steve Thompson and Republicans Jack Hill and Jeff Mullis.

As Senate Bill 86 is debated, other bills will likely trickle in as well, lawmakers say. Already prefiled are House bills 943 and 960, both of which severely limit the use of eminent domain, and House resolutions 1036 and 1037, which seek amendments to the state's constitution.

Atlanta Business Chronicle: http://atlanta.bizjournals.com

Assembly reaches decision over eminent domain: KTUU-TV2 (Anchorage AK), 1/10/06

By Jill Burke

The city didn’t want it and said citizens didn’t need it. Even so tonight city leaders sent a strong message about how and when the city can take someone’s property. And the debate over eminent domain came to an end tonight with a win for anyone who fears the city’s powers to seize their property. The Assembly approved tighter control on that tactic.

“I think this goes a long way towards protecting private property rights in our community,” said Chris Birch, Anchorage Assembly.

Birch admits fears over how extending the coastal trail to the south might impact property owners were part of the motivation behind his idea.

At last count, the city says a south extension could nibble away at about 98 private parcels, ranging anywhere from a tenth of an acre to more than17 acres. But for Birch and his supporters that trail, a so-called leisure activity, doesn’t rise to the occasion.

“What is the government’s role in taking people’s property when the purported purpose is sometimes less than the highest public need,” said Dan Sullivan, Anchorage Assembly.

So what about a road needed to connect people to a trail in Eagle River? Access to Mount Baldie is in just such a fix. And Allan Tesche says while the coastal trail extension may have become the mascot of looming threats to private property, it’s not.

“Government bulldozers may be coming and they’re coming to Government Hill,” said Tesche.

Bulldozers rumbling through Anchorage’s oldest neighborhood, says Tesche, to quite possibly make way for the Knik Arm crossing. Tesche says to really drive the point home, he and his Assembly colleagues should look to the legislature, not the city for greater protections from what he calls such unbridled uses of eminent domain. Though spirited, he was out-voted. The tighter standard now in place makes it harder for the city to take property you’re not willing to give up.

The city is, of course, against tighter controls saying it doesn’t use the power of eminent domain loosely. The change in law basically states property cannot be taken for trails or parks. If, however, a major road project, a right of way or a pedestrian walkway is needed, someone’s property might still be at risk for being taken and used by the city.

KTUU-TV2: www.ktuu.com

A death galvanizes eminent-domain foes: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 1/11/06

Patrick W. Fritzsche wouldn't sell. Allies call him a martyr. Not everyone agrees.

By Porus P. Cooper

A long-running dispute in Haddon Township involving the threatened use of eminent domain for a redevelopment project took an unexpected and bitter turn this week with the death of a key opponent.

Patrick W. Fritzsche, 53, owner of Pat's Pub in Westmont, died Sunday, four days after he made an emotional appearance before the Board of Commissioners to ask why health inspectors and police had shown up at his bar to investigate anonymous complaints after years of giving it a clean bill of health.

He alleged he was being harassed for resisting pressure to sell his property to the township and make way for a large housing and shopping development along Haddon Avenue, the town's main street.

The project is centered on DyDee Diaper Service Inc., a defunct diaper-laundering site, but incorporates homes and businesses on several surrounding acres that the township is seeking to acquire under threat of condemnation.

There is nothing to indicate the dispute had a direct role in Fritzsche's death, but it immediately made him a martyr in the minds of eminent-domain opponents in town. Some, led by dissident Commissioner Kathleen V. Hogan, organized a candlelight vigil and sang "Danny Boy" outside his bar Monday evening.

The stress of battling the township "had something to do with his death," said Debi Fischer, owner of Perks Place, a barbershop next door to the pub also slated for takeover.

Hogan said: "There might be something about coming to a public meeting and getting all upset and... days later he is dead."

Mayor William J. Park Jr., one of the two other commissioners strongly backing the redevelopment, said such allegations were "despicable" and "irresponsible."

"It's like me saying if I had a heart attack, it was because somebody came up at the meeting and created my illness," Park said.

Fritzsche's widow, Beth Anne, said the cause of his death was unclear. He had suffered seizures in recent years, she said, and sensed the onset of another after staining a new door Sunday afternoon. He stopped breathing after being rushed to the hospital that evening, she said.

Just what role did she believe the eminent-domain dispute played in his death?

"I don't think it caused it, but it weighed heavily on him, very much so. The pub was his life," she said. He spent 36 years at the pub, first as an employee.

Others noted that Fritzsche could hardly stop talking about his predicament since September, when Pat's Pub was added to the list of properties the township was seeking to acquire for the redevelopment. Fieldstone Associates of Doylestown has tentatively been designated developer of the project.

John Sandone, a developer and business owner in the town, recalled that Fritzsche was still "in a tizzy" Thursday over the surprise health inspection when the two men met at a luncheonette.

Sandone, too, is fighting to hold on to land and properties that are part of the redevelopment plan.

"I am getting worn down," he said as he nursed a bout of pneumonia at home.
Last week, the project moved forward after marathon meetings of the Board of Commissioners and planning board.

The Planning Board took under consideration amendments that include the acquisition of Fritzsche's pub. The board is to meet again at 7 p.m. tomorrow at the municipal building to review the plan and hear public comments.

Philadelphia Inquirer: www.philly.com/mld/inquirer

Task force seeks to ‘curb abuses’ of eminent domain: Kansas City (MO) Star, 1/11/06

By Mike Rice

A state task force’s new recommendations on eminent domain should help Missouri lawmakers find middle ground on the contentious issue, one of the task force members said last week.

“This report goes a long way in helping the state curb the abuses of eminent domain without throwing the baby out with the bath water,” said Spencer Thomson, the lone Kansas City-area representative on the nine-member task force.

Thomson, a Kansas City development lawyer and Northland resident, spoke about the issue to several dozen members of the Platte County Pachyderm Club last Thursday.

The task force recently submitted a report to Gov. Matt Blunt with 18 recommendations, including prohibiting governments from using condemnation solely for economic development and allowing property owners greater access to the courts.

Republican leaders in the Missouri General Assembly have identified eminent domain reform as a priority during the 2006 session, which began last week.

Thomson characterized some of the task force members as staunch opponents of eminent domain who, after several task force meetings, began to realize some of the tool’s benefits.

The main benefit, he said, is that it eradicates blight, particularly in the urban core, and can help bring businesses and jobs back to struggling areas.

But Thomson said task force members who were more supportive of eminent domain learned that the tool has been used more broadly.

Thomson said most of the eminent domain abuses that the task force heard about occurred in St. Louis and its suburbs.

One example, he said, was St. Louis’ acquisition of a parking garage to build a new garage with a different owner.

“That is not what our founding fathers envisioned when they drew up the Constitution,” Thomson said.

Thomson sees both sides of the issue.

“Missouri borders eight states and all of those state governments compete with us for business,” he said. “I know that eminent domain is necessary for economic development, but I’m also a staunch conservative who respects property rights.”

If the task force’s recommendations become law, the benefits of economic development, such as an increase in the tax base or more jobs, would not be defined as a “public use.”

And the acquisition of farm land through eminent domain for economic development would be prohibited.

“I don’t think of a green field in the middle of the suburbs as blighted,” Thomson said.

Under the task force’s recommendations, entities using eminent domain would have to notify the affected property owners early in the process, inform them of their legal rights and how the acquisition process works.

The entities would also be required to negotiate in good faith, give landowners 30 days to consider an offer, and provide an opportunity for third-party mediation.
The mediation stipulation is important, Thomson said, because it can result in fewer acquisition cases going to court.

Among the other recommendations:
  • Factors beyond fair market value should be considered in determining compensation for landowners.
  • Courts should be able to penalize a condemning authority if it is determined that it acted in bad faith.
  • Eminent domain should be used only by government agencies whose officials are elected or appointed and accountable to the people, not by private developers or urban redevelopment corporations. Missouri and New York are the only two states that allow developers to act as the condemning authority, the task force said.

State Sen. Charlie Shields, the Senate Majority Leader who attended the meeting, said the task force’s report and recommendations should serve as a good “road map” for lawmakers.

“We will try to find a reasonable solution,” Shields said. “But it will be fraught with political peril.”

Kansas City Star: www.kansascity.com

Eminent domain: Ft Wayne (IN) Journal Gazette, 1/11/06


Proposed legislation to increase the burden on government when it uses eminent domain to acquire private property will be a step toward protecting property-owner rights.

It does so without removing a necessary tool from local government’s economic development toolbox. However, a loophole in the bill that exempts the Indiana Department of Transportation from having to meet the same requirements is wrong.

House Bill 1010, sponsored by David A. Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, would raise the burden for units of government wanting to take land from private property owners. The proposed bill was unanimously endorsed Monday by the House Judiciary Committee.

Government should always have to make a clear case that taking private land is justifiable and will serve the public’s best interests. And in cases where the property is going to be turned over to a private owner, government’s burden of proof should be higher than when the property is going to remain under public control.

Under the proposed legislation property owners would get 150 percent of the fair market value – 125 percent for farmland. Government would also have to reimburse property owners for legal fees over $1,000. The bill also sets specific criteria to declare land blighted.

“The definition we had before was so lax that you could declare anything as blighted,” Wolkins said. “Now there is specific criteria.”

And every parcel of land a city wants to acquire has to fit the blighted description. A city can’t declare an entire area as blighted.

Two recent uses of eminent domain in Fort Wayne offer good examples of both the necessity of eminent domain and the need for caution.

Clearly, in the case of the former Southtown Mall, the use of eminent domain was right. The property was not only an eyesore, it was a severe public safety hazard. Although a private company is developing the property, portions of the land will still be used for public purposes. Since the city is not in the construction business, a private-public partnership was the only way to make the project happen. The new Menards and Wal-Mart will undoubtedly add to the betterment of the community by creating hundreds of jobs and increasing the tax base.

In contrast, the wisdom of the city’s use of eminent domain to take over the downtown Belmont Liquors property is less obvious. The city acquired the property to build a third downtown hotel as part of its downtown revitalization plan. But when the plan was updated, city leaders had second thoughts on the hotel location.

The community would benefit from a third hotel, but the city should have used eminent domain only as a last resort, i.e., after it was certain of the location for the hotel.

The proposed legislation’s exception for INDOT was clearly made in deference to Gov. Mitch Daniels. The new law has the potential of making his Major Moves initiative, which may involve a private company operating the proposed extension of Interstate 69, more problematic.

“I’m not going to go to the wall for that issue because it is a contradiction. I grant you that,” Wolkins said. “But I wanted to give the governor a chance to make his case.” But Wolkins also thinks that there is some justification for the exception because there is a public benefit to the road even if it is operated by a private company.

State legislators should remove the exception for INDOT before final approval. If it’s good for cities to have to demonstrate either a clear public advantage, or obvious blight, then the state should have that same burden.

The proposed legislation, with a few tweaks, would be a step toward ensuring that when a unit of government in Indiana uses eminent domain to take private land, the landowners are justly compensated. And if government takes land that will be turned over to a private developer, it must prove that the land is blighted and that putting it to an alternative use will, in the end, serve the best interest of the community.

Ft Wayne Journal-Gazette: www.fortwayne.com

Eminent domain OK'd for condos: San Diego (CA) Union-Tribune, 1/11/06

National City says businesses must go

By Tanya Sierra

[National City CA] officials are using eminent domain to force three downtown property owners to sell their land to make way for a 24-story condo project at 11th Street and National City Boulevard.

In February, the Community Development Commission began the approval process for Park Village, a high-rise that will be 257 feet tall and have shops on the ground floor.

Last night, officials gave final approval for the housing development, which will displace three businesses and an athletic program for at-risk youth.

For more than two years, Park Village developer Jim Beauchamp has tried to buy property on the block he wants to develop. The property and business owners, which include the Community Youth Athletic Center, a dry cleaner, a car lot and an auto repair business, have held out.

"In your opinion, you have a better use for my property than I do," said Ray Brock, who started an auto business 47 years ago on 11th Street. "That's what Hitler said 70 years ago."

Another longtime business owner was concerned about relocating his dry-cleaning service because environmental concerns limit where laundry businesses can operate.

Separate plans are under way to relocate the youth center. The center's board of directors and city officials have been working to find a new location for several months.

Community Development Commission board members, who also make up the City Council, said displacing old businesses is difficult but necessary for the city to grow into a vibrant, livable community.

"I'm committed to see National City grow," Councilman Frank Parra said.

In the past, National City used its eminent domain authority to clear out several bars – and the accompanying crime – on National City Boulevard. The city then built an education center in that area.

Property must be considered blighted to be seized through eminent domain. The law defines blight as property that is not economically viable and is physically deteriorating.

Councilman Luis Natividad grew irritated at the end of the hearing after several attorneys and landowners spoke against the use of eminent domain.

He accused some property owners of buying property at a low price years ago and wanting to sell high – in some cases for more than the land is worth.

"Some of you owners are greedy," he said.

The decision to use eminent domain comes four weeks after officials scrapped a plan to enlarge the area where they can use the power. Seizing property in the city is limited to businesses and vacant land. It is against the law in National City to use eminent domain to obtain residential property.

Carrying out the process, however, is rare, said Councilman Ron Morrison.

"This is rarely done in National City," Morrison said. "This is not an easy decision."

San Diego Union-Tribune" www.signonsandiego.com


Battle Over Funeral Home Land Brings Up Eminent Domain Issue: NBC-17 (Raleigh NC), 1/9/06

County Commission Votes To Take Land For New Courthouse

Businesses nationwide are battling the eminent domain law, and in Durham, a funeral home that has served the community for over a century may be forced to make way for a courthouse.

This summer, a U.S . Supreme Court ruling allowed local governments to seize property for economic purposes, but said states were free to enact their own laws protecting property rights.

The Durham County Commission voted Monday to seize the property belonging to Scarborough and Hargett, a funeral home owned by Skeepie Scarborough's family, along with a neighboring U-Haul hub, so a new courthouse can be built.

The commission is offering the family $1.2 million, what it calls a fair market value. But, Scarborough, his wife and a team of lawyers said it is not the first time the government has hurt the family business and this time it will take more money.

"I've worked in this community as well as my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather," Scarborough said.

"In the name of progress, this business has been condemned two separate times and moved on three separate occasions," said Bill Thomas, Scarborough's attorney.

Members of Durham's African-American community came out to support Scarborough and Hargett.

"Here, we have a couple that have been working with families in this community since 1914, but we want to put them out of business?" said Victoria Peterson, a community activist.

"If my father owned that funeral home, I would vote for eminent domain, and I would, because it's the right thing to do," Durham County Commissioner Lewis Cheek said.

But, the commission said it has no choice, that the courthouse has to be built in that location so a tunnel that would connect the court to the county jail can be utilized.

The commission voted 3-2 to condemn the property. Commissioners Philip Cousin and Michael Page cast the dissenting votes.

Scarborough and his lawyers are asking the government for more money. The government said they are asking for too much.

Meanwhile, the two sides can continue negotiating for 30 days after the eminent domain action is officially filed. Both sides hope they can come to an agreement in that time.

NBC-17 News: www.nbc17.com

Legislature approves eminent domain bill: Today's Sunbeam (Salem NJ), 1/10/06

By Terrence Dopp

Almost a year after outcry over the U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding public condemnation for private development, the Legislature approved a bill Monday opponents said would expand the use of eminent domain.

Under the bill, municipal governments could unilaterally clean up some sites deemed condemned and bill the owner during condemnation proceedings.

When Gov. Richard Codey will sign the measure was unclear. Opponents of the measure said it would allow communities to strong-arm property owners.

"They can ransom them," said Jeff Tittel, executive director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. "They now can say that if you don't sell us your property or give it to us, we'll choose the most expensive and complicated clean up plan and then bill you for it."

Eminent domain has been a hot-button issue since the case of Kelo v. City of New London, in which the court ruled the Connecticut community was within bounds in using the condemnation process for economic development. Under the bill, local governments and the state Department of Environmental Protection could take charge of the clean ups when four years or more have passed following a government designation as a contaminated site.

The DEP would be authorized to waive all fees as it sees fit, spurring some to contend it will lead to abuse and as a tool to leverage land from private owners.

"At the time when towns are demanding an end to abusing people's property rights through eminent domain this expands that abuse," said David Pringle, campaign director for the New Jersey Environmental Federation. "Even if it is not intentional you'd have to be superb in some future case not to use this to extort owners."

Sen. Stephen Sweeney, D-3 of West Deptford, said he initially opposed the measure because he worried about potential abuses. Sweeney was prompted to change his vote when the bill was amended to require owners to not clean up contaminated sites for four years after government initiates proceedings against them.

Four years is "plenty of time," Sweeney said. "I opposed this at first because towns could do what they want ... This is not a bad bill."

Early in the day, the bill appeared stalled when lawmakers deadlocked in the Senate. By Monday evening that logjam was cleared and the bill passed decisively in the Assembly and in the Senate. Long an established practice in New Jersey, eminent domain traditionally involved annexing land for a park, road or schools provided they meet established criteria.

In the recent past, it has been a crucial part of redevelopment efforts in northern New Jersey communities such as New Brunswick and Jersey City and is proposed in the Cramer Hill section of Camden.

Some lawmakers in Trenton and other state capitals have rushed to propose laws that would restrict the ability of local and state governments to condemn private property to turn over to private development firms.

In the Garden State, the main proposal is Republican legislation requiring governments to meet greater burdens of what use would constitute a greater public good before taking private property. Lawmakers in New York have also introduced plans to require public entities to pay 150 percent of fair market value for property.

Today's Sunbeam: www.nj.com/news/sunbeam

House panel OKs limits to eminent domain: South Bend (IN) Tribune, 1/10/06

By Martin DeAgostino

A bill imposing strict limits on the use of eminent domain for economic development or urban renewal sailed through a House committee Monday, but the bill's author said he is not yet ready to submit it to the full House for amendments.

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, also rejected some proposed amendments from the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, which wants more leeway to condemn private property for projects of benefit to entire communities.

Governments have long had that authority for public infrastructure such as roads, schools and airports. Wolkins' bill largely preserves that authority but seeks to nearly stop it for private projects such as factories or shopping centers.

"This bill is going to stifle a big economic development project like that," Wolkins said.

House Bill 1010 does that through new legal and financial hurdles that could make the cost of buying farms, homes or businesses prohibitive.

Example: An acquiring agency would have to pay 125 percent of fair-market value for agricultural land and 150 percent for residential property. Business properties would only receive full market value, but would also receive "damages" for lost profits or income.

The bill also limits a redevelopment authority's ability to declare as blighted either individual properties or entire redevelopment areas.

And it flatly prohibits acquisition if a "reasonable alternative" exists to the proposed condemnation.

"We want eminent domain to be a last-chance opportunity," Wolkins said.

Wolkins' bill flows from previous, failed legislation and a summer study committee in 2005 that gained momentum after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld eminent domain for private development, with some limits.

Wolkins' bill seeks to clarify and tighten those limits in Indiana.

According to the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, eminent domain law should balance property rights with the public's interest in livable communities "that grows out of public projects."

South Bend Tribune: www.southbendtribune.com


Backing eminent domain: San Bernardino County (CA) Sun, 1/9/06

City pushes to maintain procedure

By Kelly Rayburn

Over the past few years, when [Fontana] city officials here have gone to Sacramento or Washington, D.C., they've gone to ask for help in completing freeway projects, for money to build a library and a teen center, and for relaxation of the rules that protect an endangered fly.

In 2006, add protecting the ability to obtain private land for public projects to that list. Eminent domain, officials here say, is under attack.

And they say that could spell doom for a host of city projects from widening roads and building parks to providing low-income housing.

The concerns officials face have come amid continued backlash from last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Kelo v. City of New London, Conn., case, which upheld local governments' rights to seize private property and give it to another private party.

Critics charged that the court was rewriting the U.S. Constitution, and, in the wake of the decision, both the federal and state governments considered placing stringent restrictions on eminent domain.

City Manager Ken Hunt said the issue is largely misunderstood by the media and politicians alike.

He argues the decision did little except preserve what cities had been allowed to do for decades.

"(Kelo) was so misrepresented by the media outlets that all these political folks said `ah-hah, there's a hot-button issue,' " he said. "The whole thing has been blown out of proportion."

Hunt said that in his dealings with other city managers in the region, this issue is not yet a major concern. He believes it will be if the state or federal government moves closer to passing major legislation on it.

In California, state Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, has been a leading advocate of reforming California's law on eminent domain.

He proposed legislation in 2005 to bar governments from using eminent domain to take property and hand it over to another private party.

The legislation went down on a party-line vote, McClintock said, but he plans to reintroduce it. He's also pursuing the possibility of getting his proposal directly before voters in the form of a ballot measure for the November election.

Asked if he thought it had public support, he said, "overwhelmingly."

"This isn't a question of partisanship or ideology. This is simply right or wrong," McClintock said.

Three other organizations, including the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, are also moving to launch ballot measures curbing eminent domain.

Hunt agrees that there is strong support for curbing eminent domain, calling legislative backing for such measures "huge."

That's what worries him.

Although McClintock's legislation was not designed to eliminate the government's ability to seize land for public projects, Hunt offered an example where, from his point of view, the city's use of eminent domain and subsequent work with a private developer paid public dividends.

When the city was looking to build the first of now three senior-housing complexes in the downtown area, it needed to acquire 23 pieces of property in one square block.

Deputy City Manager David Edgar said the city did not have much trouble obtaining 22 of those properties. There was one holdout.

According to Edgar, an appraiser the city hired put this property owner's triplex at a value of about $175,000. The owner wanted more than $900,000.

The city initiated eminent domain, and, eventually obtained the land before turning it over to private hands to build the senior center.

The complex, the Village at Sierra, opened in 2003.

From Hunt's point of view, the application of eminent domain allowed the city to achieve a number of important city goals for downtown, including getting rid of blight and providing low-income housing.

But it's not only public-private partnerships that have Fontana worried.

Although McClintock's proposal would not bar governments from using eminent domain for strictly government projects, such as roads or parks, Hunt cited the possibility of legislation impeding eminent-domain use against nonprofit organizations such as churches as evidence that such projects could be in danger.

For Janice Rutherford, the Fontana City Council's most vociferous property-rights advocate, it's technicalities like these that make her believe current legislative eminent-domain proposals are misplaced.

Rutherford said she was "very disappointed" with Kelo and went so far to say elected officials need to refocus on property rights and "remember the fundamental principles on which our nation is founded."

But she thinks the remedies offered so far aren't right.

"There are some reforms needed," she said. "I support those reforms. I think the language needs tweaking."

San Bernardino County Sun: www.sbsun.com

Group Opposing Eminent Domain Gathers 1,200 Signatures For Measure: ABC-7 News (Denver CO), 1/9/06

Supporters of a state constitutional amendment to limit the government's use of eminent domain to seize property said they have gathered 1,200 signatures in support of getting it on the November ballot.

The signatures were collected in two days at the National Western Stock Show in Denver in an effort led by a group called Colorado Citizens for Property Rights, the group said Sunday. Supporters need 100,000 signatures to get a proposed amendment to limit eminent domain on the ballot.

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer allowed local governments to seize property for economic purposes, but said states were free to enact their own laws protecting property rights.

Colorado Citizens for Property Rights is seeking an amendment to the state constitution that would limit the government's ability to use eminent domain to take property for private uses such as stores, private toll roads, corporate campuses or other economic development projects.

They said their proposal would not affect the use of eminent domain for public projects such as highways, schools or utilities.

The group was formed last year to fight the proposed "Super Slab" private toll road along the Front Range. The developer had been planning to use the power of eminent domain to take over private property for the project.

ABC-7 News: www.thedenverchannel.com

FB Survey — Americans Oppose Eminent Domain: American Farm Bureau Federation , 1/9/06

News Release

Americans remain strongly committed to protecting private property from the possibility of unjust seizure, according to the results of a nationwide survey released today by the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) during the organization’s annual convention.

The poll shows, regardless of geographical, partisan and other demographic differences, Americans are unified nearly 2-to-1 against government use of eminent domain to take private property, except in limited circumstances such as when the public at large would clearly benefit from a new road, electric utility or similar project.

Likewise, 83 percent of Americans oppose the use of eminent domain to further private development initiatives. Seizure for private development was the issue at the heart of the Kelo v. New London, Conn., case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court last year. That case made national headlines when the high court ruled that property could be taken from one landowner to advance the economic development efforts of another private entity.

“The Kelo case sent shockwaves through American agriculture,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman. “If there is any land type on the outskirts of urban areas that is attractive to developers and vulnerable to government-sponsored seizure, it is our disappearing farmland. This case really sounded a justified alarm in farm country.”

In the survey, when respondents were asked about the Kelo ruling, an overwhelming 95 percent expressed disapproval; of those respondents, 87 percent said they disagreed strongly with the ruling.

“That kind of near unanimity on this key property protection issue is heartening,” Stallman said. “The protection of private property is a key thread in the fabric that makes up bedrock American values and to have agreement on this issue that cuts across all demographic boundaries should send a clear message to lawmakers at all levels – fix this problem now.”

Farming, in particular, received solid support when respondents were asked to prioritize entities that should be off-limits to eminent domain proceedings. For example, 14 percent said farms with a portion of land set aside for conservation or environmental preservation should be protected from condemnation. This is directly in line with the level of support respondents said should be given to historical monuments, churches, schools and hospitals.

Likewise, 12 percent of those surveyed said family farmers should be exempt from eminent domain laws, compared with 9 percent who support exempting private businesses and 8 percent who support exempting all landowners.

“America’s farm and ranch families are unique in that they literally rely on their land for economic survival,” Stallman said. “It is encouraging that when Americans are given a list of possible exemptions from eminent domain seizures that farm families came out on top.”

Furthermore, Americans are much more likely to disagree than agree (67 percent to 24 percent) that the government is justified in using eminent domain laws against a small number of individuals who refuse to sell property when most of their neighbors agree to sell so a development project may proceed.

In addition, the survey illustrates the extent to which there is agreement among Republicans and Democrats on this issue. Although a higher percentage of Republicans said they were strongly opposed to eminent domain – 45 percent compared with 40 percent of Democrats – the overall level of opposition among Republicans or Democrats was similar, with 66 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of Democrats expressing opposition to eminent domain.

Women expressed stronger opposition than men to the use of eminent domain. For example, when women were asked to state their level of support or opposition to the right of the government to take private property for public purposes, while paying the owner fair market value, 65 percent of women expressed opposition, compared with 59 percent of men.

The results also show that Americans share the same general views about eminent domain, regardless of where they live. When asked to state their level of support or opposition to the right of the government to take private property for public purposes, close to two-thirds of Americans expressed opposition: 65 percent in the East, 58 percent in the South, 59 percent in the West and 65 percent in the Great Lakes region.

The telephone survey of 1,076 adults was conducted by Zogby International. The nationwide survey, conducted Oct. 29 through Nov. 2, 2005, contains a margin of error of +/- 3 points.

The survey is one component of the grassroots “Stop Taking Our Property” (STOP) campaign initiated by the American Farm Bureau Federation following the Kelo ruling.

American Farm Bureau Federation: www.fb.org

Eminent-domain case goes to court: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 1/8/06

By Steve Kemme

The eminent-domain fight in Norwood is to head into Ohio's Supreme Court on Wednesday, with the fate of three remaining homes at stake. Owners contend Norwood illegally took private property for a $125 million retail, residential and office complex.


Attorneys for Norwood and the Rookwood Exchange developers say Norwood has the right to take the property because:
  • Norwood needs the property to accomplish urban renewal goals. The U.S. and Ohio Constitutions uphold the rights of municipalities to use eminent domain for urban renewal.
  • Norwood's urban renewal study identified problems in the area bordered by Edwards and Edmondson roads and Interstate 75 that Rookwood Exchange will eliminate. Problems cited include traffic safety, substandard lots, and bad street layout.
  • The Ohio Constitution allows eminent domain to be used for a public purpose and specifies that improving a municipality's economy, creating jobs and building new housing are public purposes.

Attorneys representing the three property owners fighting eminent domain say Norwood has no right to seize the property because:
  • Norwood relied on a flawed urban renewal study as a basis for declaring the neighborhood "deteriorating."
  • Any law that allows a normal neighborhood to be declared deteriorating and subject to eminent domain is unconstitutional. It gives local governments too much power to transfer someone's property to another private party.
  • Norwood developed urban renewal plans for the proposed Rookwood Exchange site simply to acquire eminent-domain authority. Urban renewal plans are supposed to be undertaken to eliminate blight.

The bitter, lengthy legal fight over Norwood's right to take private property for a $125 million retail, residential and office complex resonates far beyond this financially struggling city.

Municipalities, property owners, developers and state lawmakers nationwide are watching to see whether the Ohio Supreme Court sides with Norwood and the Rookwood Exchange developers or with three property owners - an elderly couple who have lived in their house for 35 years, a man with a rental house and a couple who operated a small math and reading center.

The outcome of this three-year legal battle will influence how other Ohio cities use eminent-domain authority to seize property for economic development. It also could provide clues about how eminent-domain laws might change in other states.

On Wednesday, Norwood's eminent-domain case is to take center stage in Ohio's highest court.

Attorneys for Norwood and the Rookwood Exchange developers will argue before the Ohio Supreme Court why they believe Norwood acted legally when it seized the three lots. The city plans to tear them down for a development expected to generate $2 million in tax revenue.

They contend that Norwood was serving the public good by trying to replace a deteriorating neighborhood with a new development that would create jobs, housing and generate badly needed tax revenue.

Meanwhile, attorneys for Joy and Carl Gamble Jr., who want their house back, Joe Horney, who wants his rental house back, and Sanae Ichikawa-Burton and Matthew Burton, who operated the Kumon Math & Reading Center, will challenge the city.

They say the neighborhood was not blighted or deteriorating. They contend that Norwood illegally took private property.

The seven-member Ohio Supreme Court may take several months to issues a decision.

This is the first eminent-domain case to come before a state supreme court since the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 5-4 decision last year. In Kelo v. New London, the court supported the right of New London, Conn., to use eminent domain to seize homes and businesses to allow a developer to build a hotel, health club and offices.

Beyond establishing economic development as a legitimate reason for eminent domain, the court gave state supreme courts leeway to provide greater protection for private property owners, if they desire.

"The Norwood case will serve as a real indication where states may go in this area," said Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm in Washington, D.C., that represents the Gambles, Horney and the Burtons. "It will determine whether there will be any meaningful limits on eminent domain in the state of Ohio."

"This case means a lot to local governments in Ohio," said Tim Burke, an attorney for Norwood. "Older, built-up communities, especially, need the power of eminent domain to put together property for economic development."

Bill Baldwin, a Cincinnati attorney who often represents developers in real estate and commercial transactions, said there's another reason why the Norwood case has created such widespread interest.

"There is a universally held perception that unless I'm in a slum or the government wants to built a highway in front of my house, I'm safe from eminent domain," said Baldwin, one of the attorneys who represented Hamilton County in the seizure of riverfront property needed for the construction of Paul Brown Stadium. "It's startling to people that the government could take your property even if you're taking good care of it and they're not building a highway."

The three buildings that had been owned by the Gambles, Horney and the Burtons sit in a large empty tract of land cordoned off by a chain-link fence. They are the only remnants of the middle-class neighborhood that had been bordered by Interstate 71 and Edwards and Edmondson roads.

The other 64 homes and two small businesses were demolished in April. So far, the courts have protected the remaining three buildings from the wrecking ball while the case is being decided.

Initially, 66 of 71 property owners in the neighborhood agreed to sell to the Rookwood Exchange developers, Anderson Real Estate and the Miller-Valentine Group. Five property owners resisted. After two lower courts ruled in Norwood's favor, three of the five decided to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court.

Until the three remaining buildings are torn down, the developers can't start building the Rookwood Exchange and Norwood can't begin collecting the anticipated tax revenue.

And until the case is resolved, the holdouts have put their lives on hold. Courts awarded them sums of money far above their properties' market values, but they don't want to use the money while the case is pending.

The Gambles, who are in their late 60s, are living with their daughter in Northern Kentucky. About two months ago, they drove past their old neighborhood and saw the house they had bought as a young married couple and where they had raised their two children.

"I felt sadness and sorrow," Joy Gamble said. "There's our home, and we're elsewhere. But we're happy it's still standing. What Norwood did to us was wrong. They threw us to the wolves."

Another indication of the extensive interest in the Norwood case: 14 groups filed amicus or "friend of the court" briefs on behalf of the three holdouts; and eight groups filed in support of Norwood and the Rookwood developers.

The Tennessee-based National Federation of Independent Business Legal Foundation filed a brief supporting the three property owners. This business organization is an advocacy group for small business owners.

"Norwood was outrageous in labeling the properties as deteriorating and blighted," said Karen Harned, executive director of the group's legal foundation. "If we're going to start defining properties as blighted when somebody thinks it might bring in more tax revenue, then almost every home or small business could be called blighted."

The American Planning Association, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit group representing more than 38,000 professional planners, filed a brief in favor of Norwood and the Rookwood developers.

Lora Lucero, who heads the association's committee that reviews court cases throughout the country, said Norwood's use of eminent domain was "very appropriate," even though the neighborhood hadn't become a slum.

"We think it was very important that community leaders not wait to take action until it gets to the point where properties already have suffered from years of neglect and blight," Lucero said. "Norwood saw a neighborhood heading in the wrong direction and wanted to take a pro-active stance."

She said the American Planning Association believes eminent domain should be avoided whenever possible.

"In Norwood's case, the facts are crystal clear that it was a tool of last resort," Lucero said. "That's why it was easy for us to support Norwood in this case."

In reaction to last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision, legislators in about 40 states have or will consider changing laws to make eminent domain more difficult to use. Ohio recently placed a one-year moratorium on using eminent domain for economic development while legislators consider changes in state law.

Burke says the Norwood case boils down to a basic dilemma: "How far do you go to respect individual rights in relation to the efforts of a municipality to better the condition of the community as a whole?"

Bullock expressed the same point in a different way.

"Ohio now has a choice as to which direction it'll take," he said. "Will it go toward the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo decision or will it go in a direction that provides real limits on eminent domain authority?"

Cincinnati Enquirer: http://news.enquirer.com

Idaho looks at eminent domain restrictions: Jackson Hole Star-Tribune (Caspar WY), 1/6/06

By Christopher Smith, Associated Press

Idaho is one of 44 states whose legislatures plan to stiffen laws limiting when private homes and businesses may be seized by local governments to make way for public works or economic development projects.

But it's one of only a few that may go so far as to attempt to amend the state constitution to rein in what many lawmakers see as government-sanctioned land grabs.

The arcane subject of governments' eminent domain powers became a hot issue after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a Connecticut case last year that using such power to take private land for economic development projects to be built by private companies qualifies as a "public use."

Idaho's constitution gives local governments the right to condemn private property for water and mining development as long as owners are fairly compensated, and says "any other use necessary to the complete development of the material resources of the state, or the preservation of the health of its inhabitants, is hereby declared to be a public use."

"Right now, you don't have a clear definition of what constitutes public purpose," said Rep. Lenore Barrett, R-Challis, who has two constitutional amendments drafted for possible introduction in the session beginning Monday. "The language is crucial here and I think it needs to be in the constitution."

Amending Idaho's constitution requires a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate and simple majority approval by voters in the following general election. While several lawmakers are crafting proposals to limit eminent domain powers, some are not convinced that changes to the state's constitution are necessary.

"I don't want to go down that slippery slope to change the constitution until we've worked on something statutorily," said Sen. John McGee, R-Caldwell, who plans to introduce legislation. "I'm confident that we can come up with something that protects private property rights while at the same time we don't need to squelch business."

Idaho House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, said he believes the only entities in Idaho that could flex eminent domain powers for private economic development are local urban renewal districts and he's seeking to limit that ability in the new session.

"They told me they like to have that hammer available when they negotiate," Newcomb said at the Associated Press 2006 Idaho Legislative Preview Thursday. "That was a bad thing to say."

Property rights groups say eminent domain power is being abused by governments to make so-called "private-to-private" land transfers, where cities and counties claim the private economic development projects qualify as public use.

Although the issue has not created a high-profile case in Idaho yet, the Web site of the watchdog group The Castle Coalition lists dozens of legal clashes on private-to-private transfers around the country, ranging from Tempe, Arizona, where the city is trying to condemn 19 private businesses to build a new shopping mall, to St. Paul, Minn., where the city council wants to condemn a liquor store known as Booze Mart to make way for a private developer's town home and commercial buildings.

Historically, eminent domain was used by governments to acquire private land for public projects such as bridges, libraries and highways.

Sometimes, older neighborhoods were labeled "blighted" and condemned through eminent domain to make way for urban renewal projects. But that use is also under fire: In Missouri, lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment to strip the government of its power to declare private property blighted.

Legislative analysts worry that in the populist zeal to limit eminent domain, a valuable tool to revitalize decaying cities may be shelved. For example, the bans on using eminent domain to foster private economic developments that are being discussed in many states now could bar condemning land for a new public library if the library had a Starbucks coffee shop in the building.

"Legislators are going to have a tough time striking that balance," said Larry Morandi, who monitors eminent domain bills for the National Conference of State Legislatures in Denver. He points to the bill enacted in a special 2005 session of the Texas Legislature that prohibited use of eminent domain to confer a private benefit on a private party or for economic development. In the seven-page bill, the prohibition language takes up one paragraph while the rest of the legislation is a laundry list of exceptions, including allowing local governments to use eminent domain power to condemn private property to build new professional sports stadiums.

Jackson Hole Star-Tribune: www.jacksonholestartrib.com

Local reps part of panel looking into eminent domain laws: Roanoak Rapids (NC) Daily Herald, 1/7/06

By Amy Lotven

Two local members of the N.C. House of Representatives are currently reviewing the state's controversial right to take property from a private landowner for public use.

Rep. Lucy Allen and Rep. Edward Jones are part of a legislative committee examining the eminent domain process, which goes back to English common law and gives the government the authority to take private land in exchange for compensation.

They will consider ways to protect the government's right to take land when necessary, while also protecting landowner rights.

Allen said the first committee meeting consisted mainly of reviewing North Carolina's eminent domain laws and comparing them to other states. “It was educational,” she said.

Allen and Jones are both members of the House Select Committee on Eminent Domain Powers that met Thursday morning in Raleigh. The panel has been asked to recommend to the full General Assembly, when it reconvenes in May, whether to make changes to North Carolina's eminent domain statutes or the state constitution.

The committee was created in response to last year's controversial Supreme Court decision that allowed a Connecticut town to take over citizens' private property as part of a large-scale economic development plan, which included a hotel and other amenities that would be owned and operated by a private entity.

The town had determined that the higher tax base created by the development constitutes a greater “public purpose,” therefore justifying eminent domain, and the majority agreed.

The 5-4 decision, later called “scary” by former Supreme Court Judge Sandra Day O'Connor, who penned the dissenting argument, created a public outcry and prompted many states to take a second look at their own eminent domain statutes.

The overwhelming fear, also voiced by O'Connor and Judge Clarence Thomas, is that the decision erases any definition of “public use” and leaves any property open for the taking if a government deems it is somehow for the public good.

Thomas also noted that the law would disproportionately affect the poor. “The consequences of today's decision are not difficult to predict, and promise to be harmful,” he wrote in his dissent.

“So-called ‘urban renewal' programs provide some compensation for the properties they take, but no compensation is possible for the subjective value of these lands to the individuals displaced and the indignity inflicted by uprooting them from their homes. Allowing the government to take property solely for public purposes is bad enough, but extending the concept of public purpose to encompass any economically beneficial goal guarantees that these losses will fall disproportionately on poor communities.”

Ed Jones is also concerned how the law affects such communities. “We need to look out for the little person and define what is a blight,” he told the Daily Herald. “If the government wants to knock down the private home of a person with little resources and replace it with an apartment complex, it may increase the tax base and give people more places to live, but it may not fit the definition of public purpose,” he said.

Declaring a neighborhood or area as “blighted” is one reason often given for taking away private land. Jones said his understanding of blight is that it has to do with the health and safety, rather than the with monetary value of the property.

North Carolina law lays out nine conditions under which cities and counties can condemn private land, including the creation or expansion of roads, parks, sewer lines and government buildings. It does not include private development.

Jones said the meeting consisted mainly of reading over definitions and trying to set the ground rules for the discussion. “We still don't know where we're going with it,” he said. “It's so complex.”

Panelists asked the legislative staff to provide more information at the next meeting, for which a date has not been set, regarding how property values are determined when the government compensates owners for seized property.

The Daily Herald: www.rrdailyherald.com

Eminent Domain reform to be major issue next legislative session: ECM Publishers (Coon Rapids MN), 1/6/06

By T W Budig

Among the properties claimed by the sweep of eminent domain is the Minnesota State Capitol.

The issue has become big.

On Thursday (Jan 5) a diverse coalition — Minnesotans for Eminent Domain Reform (MNEDR) — presented proposed eminent domain reform legislation to be carried by a bipartisan pair of lawmakers.

Within minutes of that press conference, three local Republican senators — Sean Nienow, Pat Pariseau, and Mady Reiter — were hawking a rawboned eminent domain reform bill whose sleekness they believe make it a perfect alternative bill.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty, too, on Thursday added his voice to the growing din calling for eminent domain reform. “In general, we have given our government too much latitude,” he said.

Eminent domain is the legal process by which government can take private property.

A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, helped push the festering issue into national prominence last summer.

The MNEDR press conference had supporters lining a wall — representatives from groups seemingly unrelated like the Urban League and Farm Bureau.

Rep. Jim Johnson, R-Plymouth, House Civil Law and Elections Committee chairman and attorney general candidate, and Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, are carrying the MNEDR legislation.

“This Bakk/Johnson legislation is the key vehicle for reforming eminent domain abuse in Minnesota,” said attorney Lee McGrath, executive director for the Institute For Justice Minnesota Chapter and MNEDR frontman.

Restrictive use
Some provisions in the MNEDR bill include a restrictive use of eminent domain, a compensation provision that requires payment to include costs beyond bricks and mortar — a business’s total value, for instance — reimbursement of legal costs of property owners who successfully defend against an eminent domain, and an eminent domain public hearing by elected officials requiring a majority vote for action.

One local person who heartily endorsed the MNEDR proposal was Jim Meide of Champlin.

Meide, 77, a retired teacher and MNEDR member, and his wife Beverly, 75, have lived in a home along the Mississippi River for 30 years, raising six children there. Now they believe their “castle on the Mississippi” is threatened by a proposed development by the City of Champlin.

“I want to die in that house,” said Meide at the press conference, saying the couple considers the home an investment.

“Offer me a million dollars and I’ll think about it,” he said of selling his home.

Johnson, who believes an eminent domain bill will pass the Legislature this session, argued that people facing eminent domain judgment feel helpless against the juggernaut of government.

“People who sell with a gun to their head are not selling voluntarily,” he said.

The legislation proposed by three local senators is shorter than the MNEDR — just 13 lines.

“We decided we wanted it simple,” said Pariseau, R-Farmington, saying the bill focuses on definitions. But most eminent domain concerns can be addressed by the bill, said Nienow, R-Cambridge. “This is quick and easy,” he said.

A handful of other eminent domain bills have already been simmering within the Senate Republican caucus, Pariseau explained.

The legislative session does not begin until March.

Emotional responses
Jim Miller, executive director of the League of Minnesota Cities, worries about emotional responses to the U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision.

“Our main concern is that we don’t have kind of a hysterical reaction to a factual situation that’s been misrepresented,” said Miller.

He argues that the League's 853 city members have shown restraint with eminent domain — only a fraction using it in recent years.

McGrath called the results from a recent League survey “bogus.”

The U.S. Supreme Court Kelo decision does not change Minnesota law, said Miller. “Eminent domain is and of itself is not something anyone would say is good idea,” said Miller.

But it is a tool of government, he argued.

Nienow, too, views eminent domain as a legitimate function of government. “But the use of that has pushed the boundaries of what we as a people would generally agree on,” he said.

Miller does not expect an agreement to be worked out on eminent domain prior to start of session.

ECM Publishers: www.hometownsource.com

Met Council to consider ban on eminent domain funding: Minneapolis/St Paul (MN) Business Journal, 1/6/06

By John Vomhof Jr

The Metropolitan Council will consider a ban on grants for projects in which local governments use eminent domain to transfer property from one private party to another, the agency said.

The proposed policy comes in the wake of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld local governments' rights to condemn land and transfer it to private developers if it would result in a public benefit. The ruling allows eminent domain to be used for projects that would generate more jobs or increased tax revenue, as well as public-use projects such as roads and parks.

Met Council Chairman Peter Bell said the policy would "help prevent the abuse of eminent domain and safeguard the property rights of individuals and business owners."

The Met Council's Community Development Committee will consider the policy at its Jan. 10 meeting. The committee's recommendation would then go to the full council.

Eminent domain has become a heated topic since the Supreme Court's decision in June. On Thursday, a coalition called for Minnesota to reform its eminent domain laws. Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, said they will co-author a bill that would only allow eminent domain to be enacted for public-use projects.

Minneapolis/St Paul Business Journal: http://twincities.bizjournals.com

Stadium authority tries an eminent domain end run: Marion (IN) Chronicle Tribune, 1/5/06

Legislature should not let it succeed

This is not a good time of year to get down on the Indianapolis Colts or anything connected with the state's National Football League team, but efforts to get the Colts a new stadium go too far.

The Indiana Stadium and Convention Center Building Authority, which has plans to build the Colts' new luxury stable in downtown Indianapolis, filed a lawsuit Friday to take over some property it wants through eminent domain.

The stadium authority filed the suit before 2005 ran out in an attempt to avoid possible restrictions the General Assembly might enact this session.

The stadium wants 4.26 acres of property at 230 W. McCarty St., claiming the property is blighted and a candidate for eminent domain.

The authority filed two other lawsuits last month, one going after a 2.3-acre lot at Capitol Avenue and South Street, and the other going after a small lot that contains a piano store near the Hurst building.

The stadium authority wants the Hurst property so it can fulfill its obligations to provide enough parking around the stadium.

The problem is that the Hurst property, at least, isn't blighted. It's the site of the N.K. Hurst Co. bean factory, a thriving business that's been in operation on the site since 1938 and does not want to move.

Eminent domain - the taking of private property by government for public use - has gotten a bad rap over the years, and it wasn't helped by the recent Supreme Court decision in Kelo vs. City of New London, Conn., which said that it's all right for government to take private property and turn it over to private developers looking to turn a profit.

The idea behind eminent domain is that government should be able, as a last resort, to buy someone's property, paying them what it's worth, for infrastructure projects such as a new highway or school.

But it's something else to do that for economic development, as important as that is.

A football stadium does not rank up there with a highway or a school. It amounts to economic development.

Some would argue that a new stadium would mean more money for Indianapolis and that a new stadium amounts to a public benefit.

More likely, they just don't think a bean factory is as cool as an NFL franchise, even though the bean factory is doing well, providing jobs and paying taxes.

The government has offered the Hurst company $3.7 million for its property, including the factory building. Hurst officials, according to The Indianapolis Star, have estimated the costs of moving the factory alone at more than $7.5 million, not including the cost of acquiring new land and a new building.

Indiana's current eminent-domain law is so vague that government can often get by with simply calling a property blighted, whether it is or not. Such would appear to be the case in the Hurst case.

Rep. David Wolkins, R-Winona Lake, has been quoted as saying he plans to sponsor legislation that would make it more difficult for governments to take private land.

His bill would allow governments to seize land only when there's no reasonable alternative. Wolkins also said he likely would make the bill retroactive so it would apply to the Hurst case.

On the football field, it's "Go, Colts!" But in the stadium-vs.-bean-factory contest, it's "Go! Fight! Win, Hurst!"

Marion Chronicle Tribune: www.chronicle-tribune.com

Supreme Court ruling prompts eminent domain reform push in Minnesota: Minnesota Public Radio, 10/5/06

By Tom Scheck

State lawmakers, property rights advocates and others are demanding the state limit property seizures by government agencies. The move comes as a result of last year's U.S. Supreme Court decision on eminent domain. The court ruled local governments can use eminent domain to take property from one private entity and give it to another private entity if it's in the public interest. The ruling outraged many people. But some officials are urging caution. They worry lawmakers may react too quickly without giving the process enough thought.

Jim Meide is the type of guy who sees his home as his castle. He and his wife have lived in their Champlin home for nearly 30 years.

"We worked hard," he told a Capitol news conference on Thursday. "We paid off our mortgage and made improvements to our American dream house. We retired and expected to live out our retirement in our castle on the Mississippi River."

But Meide is hopping mad at the city of Champlin because he says it wants to use eminent domain to take his property. The city supports a marina, condominiums and a restaurant proposal on the site. Champlin officials did not return calls to confirm his account. Nevertheless, Meide says he doesn't want to sell his house and is worried that the city may seize it through eminent domain.

Opponents of eminent domain say that's a violation of personal property rights. Dozens of people attended a news conference urging lawmakers to change the state's eminent domain laws.

Local governments use the process mostly for public uses, like building a road, a park or other public building. But in some instances, they use it for redevelopment and economic development purposes. State lawmakers are worried the practice may increase in light of the U.S. Supreme Court decision.

"One of the most fundamental rights of Americans is the right to own your home or your own farm or your own piece of land and in Minnesota it's not that difficult, in fact it's relatively easy to take that home or that farm or that little piece of land and we don't think it should be," says Rep. Jeff Johnson, a candidate for attorney general.

The issue is so hot right now that every legislative leader and Gov. Pawlenty supports some change. The debate is over which properties should be protected. Some lawmakers want to forbid local governments from using eminent domain to seize private property for the use of another private entity. Others want to restrict local governments seizure of a person's home for private use except in cases of extreme blight. The definition of "blight" is also being debated.

Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, says lawmakers may quibble over the minor details, but hopes they pass some sort of changes during the upcoming session.

"Our hope is that we can keep this a nonpartisan issue because I would bet you that the person who's home is being taken doesn't care about partisan politics and this issue should rise above that," he said.

Some city officials say they're worried lawmakers may overreach in their attempts to fix a problem that wasn't even a concern a year ago. Moorhead City Manager Bruce Messelt says cities and towns rarely use eminent domain but says it's a good option to have available. Messelt says a broad overhaul of the law may make things difficult for local government agencies.

"We could see the pendulum swinging to the point where we tie the hands of local governments to such an extreme amount that local governments will not be able to deal with blight, with environmental contamination, with shuttered and closed businesses and property owners who live in Florida and just don't care. If we take away those tools then we have to be careful to understand what those communities might look like in five or 10 years," according to Messelt.

For example, Messelt says Moorhead residents have called on city officials to renovate the downtown for years. He says they worked with landowners to make the changes without using eminent domain. He says other cities may find it necessary.

Tom Grundhoefer, with the League of Minnesota Cities, says he's concerned lawmakers may restrict the flexibility needed to manage land on the local level. He says locally-elected officials have been reluctant to use eminent domain in recent years and may take a more cautious approach as a result of the Supreme Court ruling.

"Given the public reaction, the media reaction and the political reaction, I think our local elected officials are maybe approaching eminent domain with a higher level of sensitivity than they did before," Grundhoefer says.

Grundhoefer says a survey by his organization found that 34 Minnesota cities used eminent domain to seize land for redevelopment or economic development between 1999 and 2005. But critics say the number is too low and doesn't account for the number of property owners who sold as a result of the threat of eminent domain.

Minnesota Public Radio: http://news.minnesota.publicradio.org