Limiting eminent domain: (Sterling CO) Journal-Advocate, 2/21/06

Lawmakers try to restrict government land grabs

By K C Mason

Northeast Colorado lawmakers are among the sponsors of six bills and two resolutions for a constitutional amendment to rein in the use of eminent domain.

Rep. Cory Gardner, R-Yuma, and Sen. Greg Brophy, R-Wray, are teaming up in House Bill 1099 to completely ban the use of condemnation by a government entity if the property is then transferred to a private party to generate economic development.

Rep. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who calls the use of eminent domain an attack on private property rights, guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution, is sponsoring House Bill 1208 to require compensation to the owner of up to 100 percent above the fair market value of the property taken.

"In order for compensation to be just, we must address the question of what the owner has lost," Lundberg said. He cited the example of a man who had to put off retirement for six years because he lost his home in a condemnation action.

Most of the bills to put more restrictions of government use of eminent domain are motivated by a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer.

"The Kelo vs. New London decision was astonishing," Gardner said during a hearing on his bill before the House State Affairs Committee. "It said private homes could be demolished to make way for private offices and parking lots create more tax revenue."

Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling, a member of the Colorado Farm Bureau's Board of the Directors, testified on behalf of Gardner's bill that farmers and ranchers are worried about protecting their property rights.

"Our private land can be taken and given to another private party just because that private party might be able to make more money and pay more taxes from the property than we did," Sonnenberg said.

"Agriculture lands on the fringe of urban sprawl are especially at risk of Kelo-type condemnations."

Taken to the extreme, Sonnenberg said, eminent domain could be use to take water from agriculture or other entities to promote economic development.

The committee, chaired by Rep. Paul Weissmann, D-Louisville, took testimony last week but no action on Gardner's, Lundberg's and a third bill from Rep. Lynn Hefley, R-Colorado Springs, which sets strict conditions under which a new special district could exercise its power of eminent domain.

"I pulled them off the table because I wanted to make sure what we do, if anything, makes sense and doesn't conflict with existing statutory provisions," Weissmann said. "If we had voted on them right away, I don't know that any of these three would have been successful. I might have done them a favor by not killing them."

One proposal for a constitutional amendment has been introduced by Rep. Al White, R-Winter Park, and another is expected from Sen. Bob Hagedorn, D-Aurora. Both would require two-thirds approval from the Legislature before they could by placed on the November ballot for a statewide vote.

White said he wants to make it more difficult for anyone to take property for the purpose of economic development unless it's for the public's health, safety or welfare.

"Because of the high (two-thirds) threshold, it's not likely to pass the Legislature, so we are taking a parallel approach to collecting signatures and put it on the ballot that way," White said. "Citizens truly are repelled by the Kelo case."

"My (constitutional) amendment would make it very clear that eminent domain is a power solely given to a government entity and not a private sector or private sector entity," he said. "I also want to try to reduce the local government's use of eminent domain solely for economic purposes."

Hagedorn said his proposal, which he expects to introduce later this week, differs from White's in that it would leave the definition of blight in the statutes.

"As times change, the use or need for eminent domain will change so it's better not to lock it into the constitution," Hagedorn said. "Mine is an alternative to the citizen's initiative which, while well intentioned, is too extreme."

The Senate State Affairs Committee took testimony Monday on two other eminent domain bills. No action was taken a bill from Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, (SB169) to limit blight as a condition that allows urban renewal, but the committee approved a bill from Sen. Ron May, R-Colorado Springs, (SB154) to create a central reference point for all eminent domain statutes.

The only eminent domain bill to achieve any success so far this session is SB78, sponsored by Sen. Tom Wiens, R-Castle Rock. It eliminates condemnation powers for privately-owned toll roads, such as the highly-controversial "super slab" project on Colorado's eastern plains.

After an agreement was reached with Gov. Bill Owens to allow for privately-funded toll roads authorized by the Colorado Department of Transportation, the Wiens bill unanimously passed the Senate and is awaiting a hearing in the House Transportation and Energy Committee.

Journal-Advocate: www.journal-advocate.com

House goes overboard on eminent domain: The Roanoke (VA) Times, 2/21/06

Editorial: Senators offer a wiser, more prudent means for localities to condemn property for public use

Reactionaries in the Virginia House of Delegates did what they do best to a reasoned bill to protect property owners from an overbroad U.S. Supreme Court decision: They amended all the reasonableness right out of it.

In its infamous Kelo v. New London decision, the U.S. Supreme Court broadened the already expansive definition of "public use" and allowed local governments to take private property solely to stimulate economic development and increase tax revenues — with just compensation, of course.

The original House bill would have clarified that — in Virginia, anyway — governments aren't free to force unwilling sellers to give up their property just so the local governments can reap more taxes after the property is redeveloped.

That wasn't good enough for some delegates, even though Virginia governments don't have a history of abusing the eminent domain process.

On the House floor, Del. Johnny Joannou, D-Portsmouth, rallied support for amendments that would hogtie local governments.

Under the House bill, eminent domain could be used only to buy property that would remain — forever — in public ownership. And that property could be put to use only for purely public purposes, like roads, schools or parks.

The Senate passed a more rational bill tightening procedures, but recognizing the public purpose behind acquiring blighted property and conveying it to the private sector for redevelopment.

Already blocked from expansion by an ill-considered ban on annexation, Virginia's hamstrung cities would have one less redevelopment tool — albeit one that should always be a last resort.

The Kelo decision highlighted the absurd lengths to which some localities across the nation have gone to serve purely private interests under the guise of the Fifth Amendment's "public use" clause.

But in Virginia, the more serious problem has been the attempts by penurious local governments to ignore the "with just compensation" portion of the amendment.

When the House and Senate reconcile their bills, the Senate's more realistic approach should prevail.

The Roanoke Times: www.roanoke.com

Rethinking eminent domain: Bradenton (FL) Herald, 2/21/06

Lawmakers want to curtail the power of local governments

By Stephen Majors

A special [Florida] House committee striving to form a consensus on how to change the state's eminent domain laws enters its final scheduled meeting today, hoping to recommend a new policy in time for the start of the legislative session on March 7.

The Florida House Select Committee to Protect Private Property Rights was formed in the wake of a controversial U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that upheld a Connecticut city's effort to take private property for the purposes of economic development.

Fearing that the court's ruling could pave the way for similar outcomes in Florida, state lawmakers have set out to reign in the powers of local governments to take private property for other uses. While some experts said after the ruling that Florida's laws were already more strict than those in Connecticut, legislators decided to take a broad look at the eminent domain laws on the books.

"We all agreed there should be no taking for purely economic development," said state Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, a member of the committee.

But the 15 committee members left their last meeting deadlocked on one important matter and hope to reach a compromise today, said Galvano, who practices eminent domain law at his firm in Bradenton.

Lawmakers who wanted to maintain a limited power of eminent domain have agreed that property should be treated on a parcel-by-parcel basis instead of in larger groups. They have also said that eminent domain should only be used to improve areas of slum and blight that meet strict definitions, and that local governments should have to prove the existence of slum and blight with "clear and convincing" evidence. Current law requires that proof to be met with the "preponderance" of the evidence.

Another group of seven members, including Galvano, wanted local governments to deal with areas of slum and blight with their police powers and without the power of eminent domain. Governments have the authority to maintain communities for the public's safety, health and welfare.

The committee's chairman, Speaker-designate Marco Rubio, R-Miami, could have cast the deciding vote but wanted members to reach a consensus.

Local governments have the authority to vote on resolutions classifying an area as slum or blight, and can create Community Redevelopment Areas, or CRAs, to develop the area. Eminent domain is one of the tools that CRAs can use for redevelopment. CRAs can also use financing measures such as bonding and negotiating with private interests, tools that the committee does not want to restrict, Galvano said.

Michael Allan Wolf, a professor at the University of Florida's Levin College of Law, who specializes in local government law, said state lawmakers are being prudent in revisiting eminent domain statutes in the wake of the Supreme Court ruling, which encouraged states to take matters into their own hands.

"I believe there have been many instances in which communities have been revitalized by the purchase of blighted properties and the use of eminent domain to acquire them," Wolf said. "I'm also aware that there have been abuses. It boils down to the capability of local officials. Does the state legislature trust local officials to do the will of the people?"

Manatee County officials are satisfied with the current law, and wouldn't be in favor of taking private property for the purposes of economic development, said County Commission Chairman Joe McClash.

Manatee currently has two CRAs, McClash said, but has not used eminent domain in either case.

"However, there needs to be the flexibility. The line needs to be carefully crafted so we don't need to be afraid of government," he said.

The Florida Association of Counties maintains that current statutes would already prevent local governments in Florida from taking private property for economic development, said spokeswoman Kris Vallese.

But counties are in favor of more specific definitions for slum and blight with regard to the actions of CRAs, Vallese said.

While Galvano previously voted in favor of local governments only using their police powers, he said he was willing to take a look at a compromise.

"This is probably the last meeting to decide whether we'll have a consensus," he said.

Bradenton Herald: www.bradenton.com


Eminent domain abuse is a threat: Ft Wayne (IN) Journal-Gazette, 2/20/06

By Jason Shelley

Americans have long understood the concept of eminent domain. Without it, we would not have a national interstate highway system, effective electrical energy grids and similar public benefits.

While the concept of eminent domain, rooted in the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, is not a new one, the way in which it is being used in towns and cities across the country is alarming many small-business owners and homeowners.

Increasingly, local governments are using eminent domain powers to seize property from independent owners, only to turn it over to private developers in order to construct manufacturing plants, shopping malls and condominium complexes – all in the name of promoting economic development and job growth.

Debate surrounding this disturbing trend reached a boiling point last June when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a Connecticut town that used eminent domain authority to seize homes in what had been a historic neighborhood in order to make way for a pharmaceutical manufacturing plant. The case, known as Kelo v. City of New London, sent shockwaves around the country and has resonated here in Indiana.

The Indiana legislature is currently considering House Bill 1010, sponsored by Rep. Dave Wolkins of Winona Lake, to specifically prohibit governments from taking private property for the sole purpose of increasing the local tax base. The National Federation of Independent Business/Indiana strongly supports this legislation as a means of protecting small businesses from government and big-business intrusion.

As a matter of fact, the 2006 NFIB/Indiana State Ballot confirms that 87 percent of respondents support efforts to restrict the government’s power to seize private property for economic development purposes.

Unfortunately, the Institute for Justice has documented more than 10,000 condemnations for private gain in the U.S. between 1998 and 2002 alone. Indiana has not been immune to these controversies, with disputes arising over specific properties in Mishawaka, Fort Wayne, Michigan City and Fall Creek, to name just a few.

These abuses place small businesses at a greater risk of being seized, since they cannot produce the volume of new jobs and property tax revenue that large corporations can promise. The bottom line is that we can’t stand quietly and watch as governments take the property of small- or medium-sized businesses in order to hand it over for large corporate development. NFIB/Indiana is working with lawmakers for the passage of HB 1010 because as long as private property is permitted to be seized simply because there is an (allegedly) better economic use for it, then no business or home is safe.

Ft Wayne Journal-Gazette: www.fortwayne.com

After court ruling, lawmakers debate eminent domain: Concord (NH) Monitor: , 2/20/06

Two different states, two different paths

By Kristin Fountain

Lawmakers in New Hampshire and Vermont moved a step closer last week toward setting new rules for how cities, towns and state government agencies can wield "eminent domain," the power to take over private property for public use.

The proposed policies are as different as the states themselves and their historical pattern of handling the balancing act between individual rights and community needs.

Always controversial, eminent domain came under more intense scrutiny in states across the country last summer after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which some thought gave the government too much power and stripped private property owners of their rights.

In New Hampshire, the issue became more than theoretical last week when the city of Claremont began proceedings to take over the property beneath the incinerator on Grissom Lane. The land was sold by the area's municipal solid waste district to incinerator operator Wheelabrator Technologies Inc. City officials say they envision establishing a waste transfer and recycling center on the property.

The Supreme Court ruled in Kelo that there is nothing in the Constitution that forbids a municipality like New London, Conn., from taking nine homes in order to replace them with a research and office complex that would be privately owned and developed. (One of the homeowners is named Kelo.)

"There was clearly public outrage," said New Hampshire state Sen. Bob Odell, a Republican from Lempster who served on a legislative committee formed in the wake of the decision. "People were really upset across the country, including in New Hampshire."

In essence, the Supreme Court left the issue to each individual state to resolve, said John Echeverria, a lawyer and takings law expert, before addressing a packed audience at Vermont Law School in Royalton on Thursday.

'Go ahead andchange your laws'
The decision told state legislatures, "If you want to make sure that this doesn't happen in your state, go ahead and change your laws and be more restrictive," said Odell, which is just what the New Hampshire committee set out to do.

The legislation it crafted would restrict the use of eminent domain to situations in which the new owner of the property would be the public or a governmental entity; the land would be used for a public or private utility; or if the property is abandoned and its structures are beyond repair. The bill also explicitly states that no private property can be seized for "the public benefit resulting from private economic development and private commercial enterprise."

All 24 state senators have co-sponsored the bill, making approval all but certain when it comes to the Senate floor this week.

But for Echeverria, New Hampshire's response to the federal court ruling raises another question about fairness.

Development projects that are part of a municipality's overall plan for economic growth can improve employment prospects and the general well-being of residents in the town or city, said Echeverria, who directs the environmental law clinic at Georgetown University Law Center. "Should one homeowner (who does not want to sell) be able to derail a project that is vital to a particular community?" he asked.

Odell said that if the New Hampshire bill is approved, the leaders of a community that supports an economic development project would simply have to negotiate and persuade the property owner. "If someone holds out, that just makes it more difficult."

'Not a bad thing'
But last week in the Vermont Senate, the answer to Echeverria's fairness question was no.

On Wednesday, all but three Vermont senators in attendance rejected an amendment to an eminent domain bill that would have taken away a municipality's power to use eminent domain for a planned urban renewal or economic development project.

"Eminent domain is not a bad thing. I look at it as a tool that should be used only under certain circumstances," said Sen. John Campbell. "If we strip our governmental entities of its total use, then what we are doing is hurting our communities as a whole."

The Vermont bill, which the Senate approved on Thursday, clarifies that no area can become a target of eminent domain "solely or primarily" because the land would be more valuable for tax purposes after a community redevelopment project. For example, a lakeside camp cannot be taken simply to build high-end condominiums.

With its bill, Echeverria said, Vermont is struggling to address a problem that arises from the use of eminent domain in economic development projects. In many states, the law by definition limits the kind of property subject to taking for economic purposes to deteriorating structures likely to be occupied by lower-income residents, he said. "Why should Park Avenue be categorically exempt?"

Vermont property owners are protected from a municipality's overuse of eminent domain by the state constitution and its 18-part takings process set out by statute, which requires that a judge ultimately determine the taking to be necessary and unavoidable, said Campbell.

"(The process) is extremely protective of private property rights,"he said. "I don't think that Kelo could happen here in Vermont."

Rarely used
Municipalities and municipal groups in both states said last week that the potential changes to eminent domain law would be unlikely to have a major impact on their activities.

The use of eminent domain is rare, and its use for economic development purposes is even more rare, said Cordell Johnston, a policy analyst and lobbyist for the New Hampshire Local Government Center, which represents municipalities. The last example his organization could find of the power being used that way in New Hampshire was by Portsmouth in 1969, he said.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns told the Senate in hearings on the bill that it could find at most five examples of the use of eminent domain in any circumstance by a municipality in the last two decades, said Campbell.

"We only consider it as a very, very last resort," said Hartford Planning and Development Director Lori Hirschfield, "after several years have passed when we have tried to negotiate."

Over the last 10 years, Hirschfield remembers Hartford coming close to beginning eminent domain proceedings twice: for the construction of the Wilder bicycle path and for the municipal park along Railroad Row in White River Junction. But the town eventually reached agreements with the property owners, she said.

Officials with the Local Government Center have a number of concerns with New Hampshire's bill as written, said Johnston. For example, they are worried that it would make it impossible for a municipality to use eminent domain for a facility like a waste transfer station or recycling center that it wants a private company to own and operate on its behalf, he said.

The group also is worried about limiting the power completely in cases of economic development, but it is not pressing that point. "We are not convinced that this is the right result," said Johnston.

But, he said, "the political reality is that it's such a hot issue, and the public is so overwhelmingly on one side that even if we wanted to make an issue out of it, I don't think there is any chance of preventing it from passing."

Concord Monitor: www.concordmonitor.com

Canterbury group — Limit domain use: Norwich (CT) Bulletin, 2/20/06

By Jessica Durkin

A five-person, non-partisan committee wants the town [of Canterbury CT] to adopt an ordinance to prevent the use of eminent domain to seize property for private development.

The proposed ordinance would act as a layer of protection, according to Eminent Domain Committee Chairman Robert Noiseux, after a Supreme Court ruling last year that allowed the city of New London to seize private property for private economic development.

Noiseux will propose the ordinance Tuesday at the Board of Selectmen meeting.

The draft stipulates the town and its elected officials shall not authorize to propose, approve or spend money on the power of eminent domain to take private property unless the property is for public use.

The proposed ordinance defines public use as property owned by the town and set aside for projects, such as streets, bridges, parkways, transfer stations, schools or preserving open space.

"It would provide another layer, one additional hurdle that they would have to clear," Noiseux said. "Number two: It puts us on the map saying this is a bad idea. Both Hartford and Washington have been saying 'We'll take care of it,' but they haven't."

Noiseux said Canterbury's large land parcels and lack of road frontage make them particularly vulnerable to eminent domain seizures for private industry.

"Say a Lowe's-type of company comes along and they want to build a distribution center and they want a property piece they don't have access to, they can take it by eminent domain," Noiseux said.

George Younger of Woodchuck Road said he would support a local ordinance that restricts eminent domain. He said he would worry about any level of government taking his property.

"I don't think the government has the right to take our land for public (or private) use," Younger said.

Norwich Bulletin: www.norwichbulletin.com

Document indicates OSU planned eminent domain use: KTEN-TV10 (Denison TX), 2/20/06

A confidential document on Oklahoma State's strategy for building an athletic village indicates officials planned to use eminent domain as early as December to acquire property.

The plans are in opposition to O-S-U's contention that using eminent domain was always considered a last resort. The document outlines a strategy by O-S-U and its private foundation and sets a timeline for buying properties, including using eminent domain.

But foundation Vice Present Gary Clark says the document was quickly dismissed because it was too aggressive.

Controversy erupted in November after O-S-U's consultant told owners their property would be bought by June first, using eminent domain if necessary.

Since then, O-S-U officials have described the comments as miscommunication and say eminent domain always was considered a last option.

Clark says eminent domain was mentioned as a possible boost to rental property owners who could avoid capital-gains taxes if they sell under the threat of eminent domain and reinvest the money in similar rental property within three years.

KTEN-TV10: www.kten.com

Ohio community tests eminent domain: USA Today, 2/20/06

By Dennis Cauchon

Joe Horney used a small inheritance from his grandparents to make a down payment on a $63,900 house [in Norwood OH] in 1991.

He lived in the house for a while, fixed it up and rented it out for 10 years. He went on to manage construction of luxury homes and own other rental properties.

Then came Sept. 28, 2002. In a penthouse office overlooking Horney's rental property, a developer told local residents that he wanted to buy all the homes on the block, tear them down and build condos, retail shops and parking garages.

A PowerPoint presentation made clear what would happen to those who refused to sell: eminent domain. The city of Norwood would use its governmental power to transfer ownership of the property from uncooperative owners to the developer.

Horney, 36, got angry and left the meeting. "From that moment on, my mind was made up," he says. "They can't take my property just because they want to. That's not right."

Now, his case is before the Ohio Supreme Court in an important test of how far governments can go in using the power of eminent domain. It's the first such case to reach a state's high court since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision in June that the Constitution did not prohibit New London, Conn., from confiscating waterfront homes to promote economic development.

State and local governments traditionally have confiscated private land to build roads, schools and other public facilities. In return for what the Constitution calls "just compensation" to the property owners, governments in recent years have used eminent domain to turn over property to private developers to rebuild neighborhoods with shops, office buildings and new homes.

The neighborhoods are often economically depressed, but sometimes they are not. Cities have labeled farmland, waterfront homes and middle-class neighborhoods as "blighted" and subject to eminent domain.

Highway split town in two
Norwood is a town of 21,000 residents tucked in 3 square miles entirely surrounded by Cincinnati.

It has become a focus in the nationwide debate on eminent domain because the battle moved to state courts and legislatures following the Supreme Court ruling.

Mayor Tom Williams says the city would suffer if it didn't use its condemnation powers for the shopping and condo development.

"We're an old industrial town that has to reinvent itself to survive," says Williams, 66, a lifelong resident and former police chief.

Norwood lost a General Motors plant in 1987. It has been losing population and was fundamentally changed 35 years ago, when Interstate 75 was built through the middle of town. The neighborhood on one side of the highway started to deteriorate, becoming home to bars and auto repair shops, Williams says.

A developer built two successful upscale shopping centers — including stores such as Ann Taylor and Gap — and an office building in the struggling area in the 1990s. Now, he wants to expand onto neighboring blocks — and that's where Horney's property stands.

"We've never used eminent domain for this before," the mayor says. "We don't sit back and say, 'Hey, how can we get national publicity about what bad guys we are?' This is good for all of Norwood."

Three owners hold out
Sixty-five of 77 properties were sold to the developer before the city began using eminent domain. Only three of the dozen resistant property owners have refused to settle. "We followed the law," Williams says. "We've been upheld in the courts. We paid people more than their property would sell for on the open market."

A jury ruled that Horney's property — a three-story house built on one-tenth of an acre in 1925 — was worth $233,000. The money sits in a court bank account, not collecting interest, because Horney has refused to collect his compensation.

"This is a matter of principle. I wouldn't sell for $1 million," says Horney, who has spent $70,000 in legal fees and received free help provided by the Institute of Justice, a libertarian public-interest law firm that has led the fight against eminent domain.

A court injunction prevents the developer — who now holds the title to Horney's vacant property — from tearing down the house and another one nearby. The two-block area used to lie in a working-class neighborhood of single-family homes. Now it has been surrounded by a metal fence. The street is closed.

Other than the construction zone, the neighborhood doesn't appear blighted. A piano shop has opened in a newly renovated brick building. Two local lounges serve customers. There are occupied homes, a wine store, a hairdresser and other businesses.

"The developer wants my property for the same reason I do: It's in a good location," Horney says.

The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule this summer.

USA Today: www.usatoday.com

Eminent domain fight still on: The Facts (Brazoria County TX), 2/18/06

By Velda Hunter

The state [of Texas] already has approved legislation limiting government’s eminent domain powers to take private property when it comes to certain uses, including economic development.

But Wright Gore III, backed by a petition with more than 400 signatures, wants to prohibit eminent domain for private business, including its use to seize property deemed blighted. State law, approved last year, allows use of the tactic for municipal urban renewal activities to eliminate blighted areas.

The petition attempt has drawn some concern from Freeport city officials.

“I’m concerned from the standpoint that what they have proposed is pretty far-reaching,” Freeport City Manager Ron Bottoms said, and using eminent domain for economic development purposes already is prohibited. “We can’t do that anyway. That’s state law and we’re OK with that.”

The petition calls for an initiative in Freeport to prohibit eminent domain, the power of a government to take private land for public use by offering compensation. Gore aims to have the issue put before voters May 13, he said.

“The previous petition was on whether the EDC should be dissolved,” Gore said, referring to the city’s economic development corporation. “We spent a lot of time listening to Freeport voters.”

Some wanted to see the EDC dissolved, while others wanted to see economic development, yet some were divided on the issue, he said.

“But everyone agreed that eminent domain shouldn’t be used to take property from one owner and give it to another,” Gore said. “The issue is much bigger than Western Seafood. … It’s not too late for the rest of Freeport.”

Gore is the son of the president of Western Seafood. The company has been fighting the city and its economic development corporation, which are trying to take the 330 feet the company says are vital to its business. The land would be used for a proposed marina to be built by a private developer with a $6 million loan from the city.

A federal court has granted the city’s request to move forward with condemnation proceedings on the waterfront property, pending the company’s appeal. Currently, the company and the city are in mediation.

“It’s probably the courts that’s going to decide whether the city will take our property,” Gore said.

However, his concern is with the city labeling property as blighted — something he wants to prohibit.

The petition requests an election be called to determine whether Freeport “shall use or authorize the use of eminent domain to take private property without the consent of the owner to be used for private commercial, financial, retail, recreational or industrial enterprise, except for property to be transferred or leased to private entities that are public utilities or common carriers.”

It states City Council could either call an election or pass, without altering, a proposed ordinance, which essentially accomplishes the same thing.

But the move would prohibit the city from using eminent domain to obtain lots as part of its urban renewal project, Bottoms said. In the 1900s, there was a land sale in which five acres were given away and divided into 25-foot lots; however, the land has been passed down through generations and in some instances a single lot has 30 owners, he said.

“The people don’t even know they own it anymore,” Bottoms said, noting the land is vacant. The city has been buying property in that area.

“It’s too far-reaching,” Bottoms said of the petition. “I understand on the surface taking someone’s property just reeks, but there are circumstances when it’s in the greater good of the public.”

Urban renewal is one of them, he said.

Sometimes eminent domain is necessary, Mayor Jim Phillips said. However, he also has an issue with taking people’s houses using eminent domain, something he said Freeport hasn’t done. But it has been used for commercial property, he said.

“They haven’t planned to take any houses or domiciles through eminent domain,” Phillips said. “I think it’s just another attempt by Western Seafood to delay the proceedings going on right now between Western Seafood and the city.”

But not every city official feels the same.

Councilman Larry McDonald hadn’t read the petition, but knew it had been circulated.

“Honestly, I think that would be good,” McDonald said of prohibiting eminent domain for private business. “I don’t believe we should be taking other people’s property and giving it to another private development.”

If the city uses eminent domain to get private property, it should be for public use, McDonald said.

By either passing the proposed ordinance or putting the issue before voters, “City Council now has the chance to prove to Freeport homeowners they have no plans to take their homes,” Gore said.

However, Gore will have to make some corrections to the petition presented this week because Bottoms said it wasn’t valid.

Bottoms wouldn’t give specifics, saying those who filed the petition hadn’t received official notification and he didn’t want them to read about it first in the newspaper.

However, Bottoms said he believes the situation could be corrected quickly enough for the referendum to be placed on the May 13 ballot.

The Facts: http://thefacts.com