Salon on cutting edge of eminent domain: Miami (FL) Herald, 4/30/06

An eminent domain case in Hollywood could have statewide implications for the government's ability to force private landowners to sell their property; property-seizure rules could be tightened

By Todd Wright

When Rosario Sotomayor arrived in Hollywood from Peru in 1999, she only wanted to find a way to make a decent living in her adopted home.

Now, the beauty salon where Sotomayor has leased for the past three years in downtown Hollywood has become a symbol in a nationwide debate over the government's power to force the sale of private property for public use.

The city's redevelopment arm wants to take the building that houses the salon and give it to a developer as part of a high-rise condominium/retail development.

The case is now in the courts after Sotomayor's landlord, David Mach and his family, filed a lawsuit to block the condemnation.

Mach claims city officials approached his family to sell late in the process, years after a deal already was negotiated with developer Chip Abele. The agreement called for the city's redevelopment agency to use its eminent domain powers to force unwilling property owners to sell.

''A wrong is a wrong,'' Mach said. ``I equate property rights to human rights and civil rights. They should not be violated.''

Mach, a Hollywood property owner, took over managing the family's rental properties after his father, George, died last year. Despite standing to gain more than $1 million, his family simply doesn't want to sell, he said.

''The building has sentimental value,'' he said. ``We should have the right to say no.''

Last week, he traveled to Tallahassee to speak to committees in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Earlier this month, Mayor Mara Giulianti was on the witness stand, giving testimony in what could potentially become a landmark case in South Florida. Final arguments are expected this week.

Giulianti and other Hollywood city leaders say the Mach property at 1843 Harrison St. is needed for the project, which will serve a public use by increasing the tax base and improving a long-neglected area of downtown.

In recent years, Hollywood has been leading the way among local governments in Florida that have stepped up using eminent domain to push redevelopment.

Commissioners voted earlier this month to take several vacant lots and a small apartment complex by eminent domain to help Abele with another downtown redevelopment project, valued at nearly $325 million.

History is not on the side of the Mach family, although recent court rulings have started leaning toward private property owners, according to one expert.

Florida law allows government to take property for redevelopment as long as it's proved it serves a public purpose.

Sotomayor, 38, still is struggling to understand the complicated legal picture, but she knows her livelihood is at stake.

''I put all my dreams in this shop and nobody cares how I am feeling,'' said Sotomayor, who has run Mach 1 Beauty Salon on Harrison Street for the past three years.

``I never thought I'd be in this position.''

In 2004, Hollywood's downtown Community Redevelopment Agency agreed to use eminent domain if developer Abele had trouble securing all the lots necessary to build his 19-story condo and retail project, which will cost more than $100 million.

The Machs have owned the 2,500-square foot building for 34 years and refuse to sell.

Under the U. S. Constitution, the CRA must pay Mach fair market value, which according to court documents is around $750,000.

Plaintiffs are much more likely to win a legal battle if they fight the amount the government offers for the property, rather than the government's right to take it.

Still, Florida has some of the most stringent rules in the country governing the rights of property owners when it comes to eminent domain, said Michael Allan Wolf, University of Florida law professor.

Many lawyers point to a 1975 state Supreme Court ruling rebuking efforts by Fort Lauderdale's Downtown Development Authority to take private property for a new shopping mall. The court ruled the taking only benefited the private developer and not the public.

''People have a better shot of fighting it in Florida than in many other states,'' Wolf said.

Nationally, Florida is firmer than most states in looking after owners' property rights.

But courts historically have given cities a wide berth in deciding what constitutes a ''public purpose,'' said James W. Ely, professor of law at Vanderbilt University who specializes in eminent domain law.

''The courts have been increasingly receptive to let government do pretty much whatever it wants as long as they say it's for a public purpose,'' he said. ``Elected officials have drained the public use clause of much meaning.''

The trend may be shifting.

In recent years, courts in Michigan and California have sided with property owners who fought eminent domain, but both states have rules prohibiting eminent domain solely to push economic development, Ely said.

Michigan prohibits taking land for any economic development purpose, but officials in Detroit and Wayne County tried to condemn property for an office park.

In California, officials attempted to take a small business to pave the way for a Costco to expand a parking lot.

Fifteen states have beefed up their eminent domain rules in the past year following a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling on a Connecticut case that determined it was OK for government's to take private property for economic development purposes.

Despite the 2005 ruling, cities still may have to contend with lawsuits depending on the rules of each state, Ely and Wolf agree.

Florida law, for example, leaves much to interpretation because it has no specific statutory limit on cities taking land for redevelopment.

That soon may change.

The Florida Legislature has taken up the issue in the waning days before the session is scheduled to end Friday.

''It's big guy versus little guy,'' Ely said. ``And the little guy is left with no resort except lose their property or go to court.''

Miami Herald: http://www.miami.com/mld/miamiherald

Eminent domain turning into fight about money rather than property rights: Kansas City (MO) Star, 4/30/06

By Chris Blank, Associated Press

The specter of private homes and businesses being seized and given to others for redevelopment has lawmakers neck deep in property law statutes, textbooks and court decisions.

But deciding how much property owners should get paid, rather than what restrictions there should be on taking private property, has become the tipping point on efforts to deal with eminent domain.

More than 10 months ago, the U.S. Supreme Court sided with a Connecticut city seeking to seize homes to complete an inner-city redevelopment project. The ruling, which cleared the way for private property to be taken through eminent domain for private economic gain, has prompted a firestorm of action by state legislatures, including Missouri's.

With a cadre of citizens speaking from personal experience about the loss of their homes and properties to an assortment of projects - as well as a powerful group of businesses, economic developers and municipal leaders warning that the state could end most redevelopment through the state - the issue facing lawmakers from the get go was deciding when, if ever, private land should be allowed to be turned over to other private groups.

But rising out of that slugging match is a plan to boost compensation for property owners who lose their land. Some say the provision would make Missouri unique.

The plan calls for requiring anyone who takes private property to make a "heritage value" payment over and above what the land is worth.

Rep. Steve Hobbs said he included the extra payment in the bill because those who lose land to eminent domain aren't willing sellers.

"They should get more if their property is taken against their will," said Hobbs, R-Mexico.

Supporters of the idea said the parts of the state constitution that allow for takings through eminent domain also require "just compensation" - a standard they say has wrongly come to mean the price that the property would likely fetch on the open market.

Rob Korff, a landowner in Norborne, told a Senate panel considering eminent domain legislation that it's troubling that private property can just be taken but far worse that landowners get so little in return.

"When eminent domain can be used for a project, there ought to be a different set of guidelines," he said. "You do not want to move - you're forced out."

The heritage value payment started as simply as a factor that would have had to be weighed when considering how much money is awarded in exchange for property seized through eminent domain. As the bill now stands, it's a formula that would require the market value of the property to be calculated first, and then add up to 1 percent for each year a landowner's family has owned the property. The heritage bonus could go no higher than doubling the price.

That current proposal, expected to be considered in the Senate next week, has some people nervous.

"I agree with a premium that should be paid when a family has their property taken," said Sen. Chris Koster, R-Harrisonville. "I'm just not sure that heritage value is the fairest way to do that."

Although the bill has been revised numerous time, the heritage value payment has stuck - a bane for developers even when they generally liked the bill and a life raft for property rights groups when they didn't.

Developers and business groups say making condemners pay different prices for identical property based solely on how long it's been owned is bizarre at best and unconstitutional at worst.

Dale Whitman, a law professor specializing in property use at the University of Missouri-Columbia, said paying more for a piece of property than an identical one just because its owner has had it longer is "nonsensical" and isn't being tried by anyone else.

"It's just weird, and I don't think there's any justification for it at all," Whitman said.

Jeff Craver, a tax counsel with the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry, went even further.

He said the companies or local governments seizing the land would probably pass the extra payment on to consumers making it a burden on everyone. Even if the condemner ate the cost, he said, heritage value payments would violate constitutional requirements that everyone be treated the same by the law.

The Missouri Farm Bureau has pushed for the idea of accounting for how long a family has owned a piece of property since a special task force was appointed last year by the governor to study eminent domain.

Blake Hurst, the bureau's vice president, said the problem with only considering the literal worth of a piece of land to be taken through eminent domain is that "it will never be a level playing field," or "an arms length transaction."

Kansas City Star: http://www.kansascity.com

Eminent domain exacts high price: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 4/30/06


[The Norwood OH] Rookwood Exchange may be a financial "win-win" for former residents and developers if the proposed shopping/office/condo project is built.

Actually, make that a "win-win-win" if the city of Norwood gets its predicted $1.7 million-a-year tax boost from the project.

Everybody involved may get richer - but that's not really the point. There's much more at stake in this debate over how eminent domain - or even a government's threat to exercise the power of eminent domain to take your property - is used to help make these projects a reality here and across the nation.

Yes, we do need economic development. In particular, older urban centers should be able to reinvent and reinvigorate themselves. But at each step, citizens should be able to demand - and receive - solid answers to this question: Is it really worth the price?

Part of that price is intangible, but it's real nonetheless. Eminent domain, if unchecked and used indiscriminately to force residents to move, can destroy neighborhoods that bring stability to families' lives, help make a city livable and ultimately allow it to thrive. It weakens our sense of connection to a place and to one another. It chips away at the charm, character and historic value that make a city such as Cincinnati unique. And, as homeowners feel vulnerable to being displaced, it erodes a sense of trust in government that's supposed to be "of the people."

The key phrase is "private project." Historically, eminent domain is a tool of last resort, invoked for projects that fit a traditional standard of "public use" - such as a highway, bridge, school or post office. Those are things all the public can use and benefit from. But where is the public use in a luxury condo project that few of us could afford?

The answer, of course, is that "public use" has been broadened and stretched over the years into a malleable "public benefit." Now, if you can simply show that a new development will generate more tax revenues than the homes or small businesses it replaces, eminent domain can be justified. And with the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo decision last year leaving the standard-setting to the states, some fear it's open season on private property.

Eminent domain is one of the most awesome and irrevocable powers of government - they don't call them "takings" for nothing. Its use should not be business as usual. Even if it provides an economic boost, there's something unseemly about a government, in effect, acting as an agent for a private developer trying to acquire land for a project.

Two of the so-called "holdouts" in Norwood, Sanae Ichikawa-Burton and Matthew Burton, voice that principle. "(The developer) wants to take it. They are a business. They should do the business, not the government," Ichikawa-Burton told The Enquirer.

There may be times when an older neighborhood, because of shifting populations and waning fortunes, should give way to commercial development. But the process is best done by the free market. When government steps in, it invariably distorts market forces. It makes possible developments that may fill a political or social agenda but ultimately don't make economic sense. Ten years down the road, you may wind up with another empty strip mall.

Using eminent domain for private development does not foster good government, either. It can be an easy way out for a cash-strapped local government that doesn't have the expertise or discipline to use existing tax revenues wisely - or the creativity to find neighborhood-friendly alternatives.

Or it can be a political payoff for well-connected campaign contributors. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in her stern dissent to the Kelo decision, wrote: "The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power."

O'Connor warned that "all private property is now vulnerable," and we echo her concern. We cannot settle for a system in which everything is up for grabs if the price is right.

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

Eminent domain battle closes in: San Mateo County (CA) Times, 4/28/06

Campaign to limit land grabs nearing deadline for signature gathering

By Todd R. Brown

Maybe you've lived in your home for decades, raised your kids there, got to know the neighbors, finally paid off the mortgage. Maybe some issues have cropped up over the years — boarded-up houses, vacant lots, aging roadways.

But it's your home — something to hold onto, one constant in an amorphous world.

Then maybe the government steps in, saying your land could be put to better use. Maybe it offers you a price to sell your home, to demolish it and put in a shiny office park or a retail complex.

What can you do? As a property owner, you think you have a say in what happens to your neighborhood, but maybe the city invokes "eminent domain" and takes your home anyway.

Could it happen here? In a few commercial instances it has, but some residents want to guarantee that no land seized through eminent domain will pad a private developer's wallet.

"We worry about displacement of our neighbors who've lived here for years," said Annette Hipona, a Daly City resident and Democratic activist who is part of a drive to get the "California Eminent Domain Limitations Act" on the November ballot.

The act's supporters want to get 800,000 signatures by Sunday. The proposal, spurred by last year's Supreme Court decision to uphold a city's right to eminent domain for economic development, would in most cases outlaw property seizures to boost tax revenue.

"All they need is somebody that comes in and says, 'You could have an awfully nice shopping center there,'" Hipona said.

Hipona said she lives in the "redevelopment sandwich" between Junipero Serra Boulevard and Mission Street, which has seen the mixed-use Pacific Plaza spring up with a 20-screen cinema near the Daly City BART station — a lucrative development that nets big tax revenue for the city.

Not far away, Daly City used eminent domain to buy two auto-body shops along Mission Street so that 95 condominiums could be built there as part of the mixed-use Landmark Plaza, according to Richard Berger, assistant director of the city's Economic and Community Development Department. Construction began in the fall and should be completed within two years.

Berger said the city resorted to eminent domain only to get the last piece of the land for the project in an area that he called underutilized, with mostly vacant lots there "for many, many years." He said the city pursues mixed-use projects to create jobs and to provide affordable housing.

City Councilwoman Judith Christensen, who lives in Old Daly City — which she called "the meat in the sandwich for redevelopment" — said the matter is more complicated.

The devoted Democrat said she worries that "our core constituents are the target" of redevelopment, including minorities and immigrants, low-income workers and fixed-income seniors. She said the median income per household in Daly City is $70,000, a high benchmark for affordable housing.

Berger said affordable units among the Landmark condos have an income ceiling for resident families of $95,000.

"I'm very concerned about losing the actual working-class neighborhoods we have in the Bay Area," Christensen said. "People look at our land ... and it's just too tempting."

Hipona said the issue goes beyond traditional political lines.

"Real people live in these areas which are the new Gold Rush for developers," she said. "It's not a partisan issue, it's a people issue, it's a neighborhood issue, it's a city issue."

To that end, local Democrats have teamed with Republicans to push the cause.

"It's probably the one thing all Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, 'decline-to-states' agree on — that your property should not be taken for private use," said Loraine Wallace Rowe of San Jose, a Republican who chairs the coordinating committee for the eminent domain initiative [http://www.limiteminentdomain.org].

Wallace Rowe, who lived for a time in San Carlos, said one of her rental properties was threatened with eminent domain in 2001 as part of San Jose's plan to redevelop the downtown.

"If we would tell people this is happening, they would say, 'They can't do that, this is America,'" she said.

The plan for high-density, high-rise construction got the nickname "40 sites," and Wallace Rowe said eminent domain foes finally won an ordinance that the properties could not be taken without the owners' willing consent. She said the city used "drive-by blight surveys" to condemn the 40 properties for such problems as wet leaves on a home's tennis courts and garbage cans left on the street — on trash pickup days.

"This isn't what blight was supposed to be," she said.

More important, Wallace Rowe said forcing someone to sell violates the principle of a willing buyer and a willing seller. And there are some who would never be willing to part with their land.

"You get someone who's on a piece of property, they're in their 80s, they've lived there all their life. They want to die there," she said. "If you don't have a right to be secure in your property, what right do you have?"

Christensen ran for the Daly City Council in 2004 on an anti-eminent domain platform. She said the current drive has brought "boxes and boxes and boxes" of signatures in, and she hopes to have 600,000 of them verified to submit to county registrars by a mid-May deadline so people of all political stripes can have their say on the matter in November.

"We are united solidly on this topic," Christensen said of the non-partisan drive. "We really are much more similar than we are different. The issue of eminent domain is just such a powerful American issue, and just the idea that it's your hearth and home, it's your job, it's your ability to make a living, it's everything Americans believe in.

"And then what, the government takes that away from you? That strikes most people as highly un-American, whether you're on the right or left."

San Mateo County Times: http://www.insidebayarea.com/sanmateocountytimes

Local leaders support eminent domain bill: Gwinnett (County GA) Business Journal, 3/06

While opinions differ, officials believe bill solves problems of abuse

By James Palmer

As a bill spearheaded by Gov. Sonny Perdue that would address eminent domain works its way through the state legislature at press time, local developers and officials see the legislation as a step in the right direction.

"We need to do something to close the loophole and protect property rights," says Rep. Donna Sheldon (R-Dacula).

Protecting property rights is exactly what the proposed legislation is designed to do. The bill, called the Private Property Protection Act, would tighten the definition of "public use" in order to reduce governmental ability to force landowners off their properties. Eminent domain has come under increasing scrutiny in recent years as governments around the country have expanded their definition of public use, enabling them to seize property not just for infrastructure projects or park land but for redevelopment — knocking down existing homes to build more expensive communities and businesses, which in turn provide greater tax revenue. If owners don't sell their land at what is deemed to be fair market value, government has the option of condemning property and leaving owners with nothing.

The new private property bill specifically addresses the increased tax revenue issue. It also gives the former owners the right to repurchase their condemned property for fair market value within a five-year period if that property has not been put to the stated use for which the land was taken. The legislation also places the burden of proof regarding the legality of the property seizure on the entity condemning the property.

Gwinnett developers and officials are hopeful that the proposed amendment will stop future abuse of the eminent domain rules.

"I don't think what has happened in the past would happen under this bill," says development guru and former Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Wayne Shackelford. He adds that eminent domain is "absolutely essential" and, when conducted properly, can and should be used when necessary for "the common good" of the community.

Gwinnett County Commission Chairman Charles Bannister also supports the use of eminent domain but agrees that the bill will solve some abuses associated with it.

"In the process of doing business, I honestly believe local governments need to do it," he says. "In general, as I review the bill, it covers all points of contention." He adds, however, that the bill that is passed might be very different from the version that is making the rounds through the House now. "What goes in is not always what comes out," he says. "And we need to watch it closely."

Others are not so optimistic about the bill.

"We think the bill needs fine tuning," says Paul Radford, deputy director of the Georgia Municipal Association, an organization that supports municipal governments in Georgia. "The blight definition is narrowly defined. There is no provision for dealing with vacant property, and the provision that allows owners to buy back their property if it isn't put to the stated use is almost impractical and unworkable."

Perhaps the biggest misuse of eminent domain involves the almost arbitrary usage of the term 'blight', which the bill would more narrowly define. Under the new legislation, a property that meets any two of the following six conditions as shown by government statistics would be termed "blighted" if:
  1. The property is substandard, deteriorating, containing inadequate light, ventilation or air sanitation.
  2. The property is a threat to life or other property due to fire, flood, tornado, storm or other natural catastrophe.
  3. The taxes on the property exceed the fair value of the land.
  4. Development is hindered by airport or transportation noise.
  5. The property has been identified by any state or federal environmental agency as needing remedial investigation.
  6. The property is being put to illegal use or not being maintained according to government codes, resulting in crime, juvenile delinquency, infant mortality or ill health.

Property that is esthetically substandard would not be defined as blighted, unless the overall condition of the property resulted in crime, infant mortality or juvenile delinquency.

Radford said that his organization is a "strong advocate of property rights," and he agrees with the use of eminent domain as a necessary development tool, but only if "city officials use this tool as an absolute last resort."

Radford also credits Perdue for taking the lead on the legislation. "We're appreciative of the Governor addressing this issue," he says.

Whatever the final bill looks like, it seems that eminent domain is here to stay.

"I think it has its place and is necessary," says developer Emory Morsberger of the Morsberger Group, though he doesn't believe it should be used to increase tax revenue.

Gwinnett Business Journal: http://www.gbj.com


Eminent domain bill killed in Legislature: Auburn (AL) Plainsman, 4/27/06

By Bethany Kirby

When the Alabama Legislative session ended last week, so did the debate over the most recent eminent domain bill.

Eminent domain is the process by which the state can take private property and use it for governmental use, provided the owner receives just compensation.

The bill, which would have created a constitutional amendment further restricting the government in making land grabs, was killed as the session dismissed at 2:45 a.m. April 18.

Last August, the Legislature passed a law protecting Alabamians’ property rights. That legislation was in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in Kelo v. New London, which made it legal for states to take land and turn it over for private, residential or commercial use. The Alabama law made that illegal.

When the law was passed in August, many citizens expressed concern at the possibility of a loophole because of the blight exception. Blight means that if property is damaged or hindering growth in some way, it can be condemned, then turned over for private use.

Much of the content of the new legislation would have addressed the blight issue.

Sen. Jim Preuitt, D-Talladega, introduced the bill in the Senate, where it passed with a vote 24-1. But it came up nine votes short of the minimum 63 to pass in the House.

The bill would have created an amendment concerning eminent domain, then citizens of Alabama would have had the chance to vote on the amendment during an upcoming election.

“The reason for amendment is that statutes can be changed rather easily,” said Freddie Patterson, director of governmental affairs for the Alabama Farmers Federation. “It’s more difficult to change an amendment,” he added, explaining that the law in August was passed as a statute.

Patterson said farmers and forestry industries had high interests at stake in the amendment.

“We could be blighted on current law definitions,” Patterson said. “But it’s all in the eyes of the beholder. ... We wanted to make sure that blight is really blight.”

Rep. Dick Brewbaker, R-Montgomery, said the House wanted higher standards for the bill, especially in the area of compensation.

“I don’t think we ran out of goodwill, I think we ran out of time,” Brewbaker said, explaining that it was already late in the day when the bill was being pushed through.

Brewbaker said he didn’t think a bill proposing an amendment should be hurried through the way this one was.

“The Legislature needs to make sure it’s the best deal we can write,” he said.

Brewbaker said the real death sentence for the bill was an amendment added by the House at the last minute that changed the date of the election.

The citizens of Alabama would have been voting on the constitutional amendment on a day with historically low voter turnouts.

Patterson said the bill would have done more than strengthen the blight definition. It would have clarified about when property can be taken for public use.

“Public use and public benefit get cross-wired sometimes,” Patterson said.

Auburn Plainsman: http://www.theplainsman.com

State House committee endorses eminent domain legislation: New Bern (NC) Sun Journal, 4/26/06

By Barry Smith

A [North Carolina] state House committee on Tuesday endorsed legislation that would ban local governments from using their eminent domain powers to take land for private economic development.

However, the committee stopped short of proposing constitutional protection for property owners and decided to hold off, at least for now, on legislation that would require local governments that lowball land compensation offers to pay the property owners’ legal and appraisal fees.

The action is in response to what has become known as the 2005 Kelo U.S. Supreme Court decision, in which the high court said that a Connecticut town could seize private property for private development purposes.

The U.S. Constitution allows for eminent domain, where governments take private property for public use provided that the government provides “just compensation” for the property taken.

“We’ve even made it clearer,” said Rep. Wilma Sherrill, R-Buncombe, co-chair of the committee. “What happened in Connecticut, according to our laws, cannot happen in North Carolina.”

A provision in an earlier draft bill calling for governments to pay a property owner’s legal and appraisal fees if a court awarded significantly more money to the landowner than originally offered was stripped from the version the committee approved Tuesday. Sherrill said that the committee would continue to study that issue.

“We just haven’t had time,” she said, regarding the gathering of enough information to come up with a fair proposal. However, she said that if the information is gathered in time for the short session of the 2006 General Assembly to consider it, a bill could be filed.

The 2006 session of the General Assembly begins next month.

One committee member, Rep. David Almond, R-Stanly, said he’d like to see the protections go further.

“I’d also like to add exploring a possible constitutional amendment,” he said.

John Hopkins, a steering committee member of a Forsyth County citizens group called No Forced Annexation, said he’d also like to see an amendment to the N.C. Constitution.

“The statutes can change from year to year,” he said. “We feel that a constitutional amendment is a more permanent protection against this type of property abuse.”

Daren Bakst, a policy analyst for the John Locke Foundation, also said in a statement that a constitutional amendment would be the better way to go.

“A constitutional amendment is the only way North Carolinians will be protected from eminent domain abuse,” he said.

On assertions that lawmakers should shy away from a constitutional amendment to avoid unintended consequences, Bakst said, “It is better to err on the side of protecting individual rights than protecting government power.”

Rep. Lucy Allen, D-Franklin, said she felt the statutory change was sufficient.

“I think this takes care of the problem,” said Allen, a former mayor of Louisburg. She added that unless local governments are specifically authorized by the General Assembly to take certain actions, they can’t do it.

“We’re becoming clearer on the fact that if it’s not in the Constitution, you can’t authorize it,” Allen said.

New Bern Sun Journal: http://www.newbernsj.com

Bills curbing eminent domain could break Heart of Boynton plans: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 4/26/06

By Will Vash

As [Florida] state legislators tinker with bills to curtail the power of eminent domain for economic redevelopment, the city's first phase of the ambitious Heart of Boynton project is facing immediate deadlines and future phases are in question.

CRA staff will ask board members next month to consider requests for proposals from developers interested in rebuilding the "blighted" community along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard just east of Seacrest Boulevard so the city can use the present law, CRA Executive Director Lisa Bright said Tuesday.

An amendment added to a Senate bill this week would require governments using eminent domain to choose a master developer by Oct. 1 if they want to use the present, more lenient standards. A House bill, which would take effect July 1, would ban government agencies from taking property for privately owned development.

"We clearly want the public to know we are very committed to redevelopment in the Heart of Boynton," Bright said. "We feel very strongly the legislation would hinder us."

Debris-strewn lots, churches, older houses and buildings in the city's northeast district will be replaced under the first phase of the Heart of Boynton plan by shops and businesses topped with affordable condominium units if the city can seize key pieces of the land through eminent domain law. Single-family homes also are planned in future phases.

About 13 of the 30 lots in the 10.3-acre first phase are listed for eminent domain. The city has filed lawsuits on five of those lots and planned to use the law for future phases.

Development Director Quintus Greene said the legislature's proposals are "short sighted."

"We may be successful in phase one but if you can't exercise eminent domain, it poses a problem for future phases," Greene said. "It's going to condemn some communities to be blighted forever."

Mayor Jerry Taylor said the latest news from Tallahassee means the city and the CRA would have to work hard to meet a proposed Oct. 1 deadline.

"I don't know if we can pull it out by then," Taylor said. "At least we need to take a shot at it."

Andrew Brigham, an eminent domain attorney in Jacksonville who is representing several Daytona Beach residents, said the original Senate bill would have banned eminent domain for private development, but the bill has been watered down to give current CRA projects time to get their plans through before a cutoff date.

"The CRAs are going to be ramping it up all over the state," Brigham said. "They are being encouraged to put the pedal to the metal."

The stricter House bill would allow a city such as Boynton Beach to file eminent domain lawsuits until July 1, Brigham said. If all the lawsuits are in by then, Brigham said a judge probably would weigh whether the use of eminent domain was for public or private interest because of proposed legislative changes.

"Essentially the legislature is taking away a critical tool," Greene said. "It's going to adversely affect our redevelopment efforts."

Commissioner Mack McCray, who represents the northeast district, said he believes the CRA has been "dragging its feet" on the redevelopment plan for the past three years and as a result would not find a project developer for phase one to meet a proposed deadline.

"They have not a done thing for the Heart of Boynton except buying some empty lots," McCray said. "It's too little, too late."

But CRA member Al DeMarco said residents in the Heart of Boynton area have waited years for economic redevelopment.

"We can't wait," DeMarco said. "We have to do something."

Palm Beach Post: http://www.palmbeachpost.com

Topsail turns to eminent domain to get boat ramp: Wilmington (NC) Morning Star, 4/25/06

By Trista Talton

Topsail Beach [NC] is invoking its power of eminent domain – skipping a potentially long court battle – to obtain land for a public boat ramp.

“That procedure will allow us to take possession of the boat ramp in about 30 days, and we’ll be able to open it to the public for the summer season,” Mayor Butch Parrish said.

The property owner’s Raleigh-based attorney, Kieran Shanahan, calls the move “heavy handed” and “abusive authority.”

“It’s the ultimate trump card for the government,” he said.

Eminent domain is the right of a government to take private property for public use. Owners are compensated for their property.

In this case, a legal dispute between the town and property owner William Frank Lee began late last year when Lee filed a civil complaint against the town in Johnston County court.

By then, a contract to purchase the land at 912 S. Anderson Blvd., referred to as the old Bush Marina, had been drawn up and signed. The town had put down almost $400,000 as a deposit on the $2 million purchase.

But Lee stated the deal was off because he never received a signed copy of the contract and because the town didn’t hold up its end of the bargain by closing on the property by Nov. 4. The town filed a countersuit, saying Lee was in breach of contract.

“It appears that if we pursue the court case it will take two to three years to get it resolved, and we have no ability to keep that boat ramp open so we’re not willing to do that,” Parrish said.

Lee has owned the property for about two years and has allowed the public to use the boat ramp.

The town has agreed to pay him $2 million. But a jury trial will decide the final price for the property. The town is continuing its breach of contract suit in case the jury determines a higher price for the property. If that happens, the town will modify its suit to include damages to cover extra costs, Parrish said.

Shanahan said that, from day one, the town threatened to take his client’s property.

“It was Topsail who was unable to close the deal because they didn’t have the money,” he said. “My client has legitimate offers from third parties who are willing to pay twice what Topsail Beach is. They tied up my client’s property for almost a year. We think that it’s just unfortunate that they think they have to club him with eminent domain because they couldn’t close.”

Town officials say they did not have the blessing of the Local Government Commission or financing arrangements – $345,000 from the Coastal Resources Commission – by Nov. 4.

Shanahan said he’s going to regroup and research his client’s legal rights.

The town has been seeking land for a public boat ramp for more than a year. The closest public boat access is in neighboring Surf City.

Wilmington Morning Star: http://www.wilmingtonstar.com

Limits for Pa.'s eminent domain: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 4/26/06

The Senate approved stricter guidelines for taking property

By Diane Mastrull and Amy Worden

In an effort to better shield home and business owners from government land grabs, the Pennsylvania Senate gave final legislative approval yesterday to new restrictions on the use of eminent domain for private economic development.

As part of a compromise to get the bill through, the measure would not apply to some property already under the threat of condemnation. These exemptions are intended to protect revitalization work in Philadelphia, Norristown and Chester.

Still, some of the harshest critics of Pennsylvania's eminent domain laws praised the unanimously passed Senate bill because it would replace subjective criteria for condemnation with more quantitative measures.

A spokesman said Gov. Rendell wanted to see how well the legislation - which includes a separate bill dealing with reimbursements to owners of seized property - "balances the rights of property owners with the development needs of communities" before deciding whether to sign them.

Elizabeth G. Hersh, executive director of the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, in Glenside, said the bill represented "a lot of effort put into building consensus" as competing measures bounced back and forth in the General Assembly.

Pennsylvania becomes the 18th state to have passed legislation to curtail - if not prohibit - the use of eminent domain since June, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

That was when the U.S. Supreme Court, with its ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, triggered nationwide concern that any property was vulnerable to condemnation. The justices found that the Connecticut city could force the sale of houses and businesses in a neighborhood to make way for private economic development even without the "blight" designation that usually is required.

By the end of the year, legislative efforts had been launched in Congress and more than 30 states to try to prevent the kind of property seizures the high court had endorsed. Among those are pending bills to limit eminent domain in New Jersey.

In Pennsylvania, the focal point of months of debate has been how to define blight and how much of it needs to exist before an area can be designated a redevelopment zone and subject to eminent domain. The blight definitions have been often criticized as too vague and subjective. One of the region's most publicized debates over this issue flared in Ardmore over a failed attempt to use "blight" to justify a controversial revitalization project there.

Under the new bill, specific conditions such as a threat to health and safety, abandonment and tax delinquency would constitute blight.

"Before this bill, Pennsylvania law allowed condemnation of virtually any area by labeling it blighted," said Sen. Jeffrey Piccola (R., Dauphin), who wrote the bill. "Now we've tightened the definition of blight so that it applies to areas with real, objective concrete harms to the public. It can no longer be used to take ordinary neighborhoods for private development or to take neighborhoods just because the people who live there have less money."

Though she remains concerned that those who have the most difficulty finding housing - people of low income - are often "victimized" by eminent domain and the uprooting it forces, Hersh said the legislature's efforts this week to "tighten up" the definition of blight are "a step forward."

Meanwhile, Joel Johnson, assistant executive director of the Redevelopment Authority of Montgomery County, was relieved yesterday that Pennsylvania lawmakers had responded to the lobbying efforts of his agency and others to grant exemptions for older communities, such as Norristown, where revitalization is sputtering to life and eminent domain has been used to acquire property for a downtown parking garage.

Under the new legislation, the blight designation in effect in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Norristown and other places might not meet the new legislative definition, but it would be permitted through 2012.

At 10,000 Friends of Pennsylvania, a Philadelphia coalition of anti-sprawl advocates who consider eminent domain a valuable redevelopment tool, president Janet Milkman was not ecstatic but was far more content than she's been.

"It was a valiant effort to take a very powerful tool of government and make it more fair," Milkman said.

In December, she denounced an earlier version of the Senate bill as "detrimental to the state as a whole and particularly to our older communities."

Philadelphia Inquirer: www.philly.com

Senate panel approves restrictions on eminent domain: Belleville (MO) News Democrat, 4/26/06

By Chris Blank, Associated Press

A [Missouri] Senate panel has approved what its chairman calls "the toughest eminent domain bill" [HB 1944] of the session.

The chairman, Sen. Jason Crowell, said because of the significance of the power to take private property and the clear problems in the past, lawmakers need to approve a serious overhaul.

"What higher, more awesome power does government have than to take a man's home?" said Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau.

Concerns about the taking of private property have grown nationwide after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last summer upheld the right of local governments to condemn private property so it can be transferred to other private entities that could generate more taxes.

Before outlining the committee's changes to strengthen an eminent domain bill that had been watered down in the House, Crowell predicted that "the developers and those who want eminent domain will go crazy."

During two days of public testimony, several people representing groups that use eminent domain called for a bill that adjusts rather than overhauls the process.

Joseph Colagiovanni, a St. Louis lawyer representing the TransCanada pipeline company, said the most common complaint among property owners who have gone through eminent domain is that they didn't receive enough money - a complaint no amount of legislating is going to completely silence.

"The process of eminent domain is largely not broken, so please don't fix it," he said.

The reaction Crowell had anticipated came true as several lobbyists and economic developers in the room groaned audibly while he explained the additional restrictions the committee had added.

The most significant change would bar the taking of private property through eminent domain "for predominantly economic development purposes." The bill approved by the House earlier this month barred the use of eminent domain for "solely" economic development.

Crowell's version also turns back several changes made by the House earlier this month that had been heralded by developers, utilities and business groups and decried by property rights groups.

The Senate's changes include requiring each parcel in a large development project not only be evaluated for blight, but also actually be found blighted in order to be taken through eminent domain. The House version allows nonblighted property to be taken if the surrounding areas are blighted.

The Senate committee version also calls for additional factors, such as replacement costs and the availability and cost of comparable property, to be considered when determining what landowners are paid for seized property.

One of the most controversial provisions adopted by the House, however, stayed in - a "heritage value" payment for those who lose property through eminent domain based upon how long they have owned it.

A law professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia who specializes in property law called it the most troubling part of the bill and a "bizarre, nonsensical" attempt that likely would be unworkable.

Law professor Dale Whitman, who testified that the eminent domain procedure needs tweaking and not wholesale changes, urged legislators to keep provisions included by the House and later approved by Crowell's committee to tighten the use of blight and to require the courts to review findings of blight.

"Beyond that, frankly, I don't see much in the bill worth enacting," he said.

No matter what changes are enacted, Ron Calzone, chairman of a group that has sponsored two proposed constitutional amendments to sharply limit the use of eminent domain, said ultimately the state constitution would need to be amended to make the changes Missourians are demanding.

"Please don't make it sound like this is the end of the story, and we can now rest on our laurels," he said.

Belleville News Democrat: http://www.belleville.com

City ends 7-year fight for property: Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, 5/24/06

Coatesville Council and the Saha family resolved the eminent-domain dispute

By Kathleen Brady Shea

Amid raucous references to Rasputin, Romper Room and Desmond Tutu, Coatesville [Pennsylvania] City Council has plugged a multimillion-dollar hemorrhage of legal fees, ending a seven-year eminent-domain dispute with the Saha family.

Late Monday night - after a council meeting punctuated by discord, impassioned pleas for unity, and more discord - four council members signed a settlement agreement with Dick and Nancy Saha, owners of a 48-acre homestead and horse farm in Valley Township.

Amy Saha, the couple's daughter, responded tearfully to the 4-3 vote.

"I just want to thank every one of you," she said to council members and the standing-room-only crowd. "I hope this finally puts an end to this ordeal for my parents."

Council member Patsy Ray sought and received a round of applause for the Sahas.

"I thank God this is over and hope it doesn't happen to another person," Ray said.

Since 2000, the Sahas have battled Coatesville's effort to reach beyond its border and condemn up to 42 acres of their land for five holes of a municipal golf course. The course was planned as part of a $60 million recreation complex - an effort to revitalize the city of about 11,000 residents in western Chester County.

The resolution, which calls for five payments totaling $227,000, grants the city an easement to use five acres of the Sahas' land along an old railroad bed, likely as part of a hiking trail.

Dick Saha said the payments will not cover his legal costs, which topped $300,000. Legal fees for the city hit $3.5 million, according to city records.

The condemnation, viewed by many as an unjust but legal land grab, sparked outrage within and outside the city.

Saha and his supporters urged voters to speak through the ballot box and helped get opponents of the golf course plan elected in 2003 and 2005.

Now Saha believes the voter backlash has backfired, resulting in two polarizing groups. One, dubbed the block of four, consists of Council President Kareem Johnson, Robin Scott, Ray, and Kurt Schenk; the other is made up of Martin Eggleston, Ed Simpson, and Stephanie Smith-Dowridge

On Monday night, disagreements began even before the meeting as rival citizens' groups jockeyed outside City Hall and in the lobby to display placards promoting or dissing one of the two council factions.

Once the meeting began, clashes erupted over whether the signs could be displayed in council chambers and whether public comments could be limited to citizens of the city.

After Johnson ruled that signs could not be held up and that any Pennsylvania citizen could speak, council members continued sniping over multiple issues, including the alleged secret swearing-in of Harry G. Walker III, the new city manager, and the lack of municipal experience of Andrew G. Lehr, the new city solicitor.

But the council's primary topic was its own squabbling, which was periodically interrupted.

Several people lauded the tenure of departing Police Chief Dominick P. Bellizzie, whose last meeting included the eviction of a group of defiant sign-wavers. And Walker's announcement that benefactors had offered a bailout so the city could open its pools this summer produced cheers.

Then the finger-pointing resumed, motivating one spectator's loud whisper:

"It's a shame that adults are acting like this," he said.

Nearby heads nodded in a rare moment of agreement.

Philadelphia Inquirer: www.philly.com

Hercules vote goes against Wal-Mart: San Francisco (CA) Chronicle, 5/24/06

Council OKs using eminent domain to block retailer

By Patrick Hoge

The Hercules [California] City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to take the unprecedented step of using eminent domain to prevent Wal-Mart from building a big-box store on a 17-acre lot near the city's waterfront.

The vote caused most of the 300 people who had packed Hercules City Hall for the meeting to break out in cheers and applause.

"The city of Hercules is very unique. People from the outside have to understand that,'' said Hercules Vice Mayor Ed Balico just before the vote.

During a 90-minute public comment period that preceded the vote, nearly everyone who spoke urged the council to fight Wal-Mart.

"Throw the bums out," Hercules resident Steve Kirby said at the podium of Wal-Mart. "Wal-Mart will never understand what we want."

Another resident, Anita Roger-Fields, expressed concern for small businesses in the city, saying they could be driven out of business by the discount store. "(Wal-Mart is) the worst thing that could happen to our community. They want to crush the competition."

The vote is the latest twist in a battle between the city and the discount-store chain, which wants to build a store near the city's historic waterfront. The city contends Wal-Mart's plan to build a discount store does not fit with its plans to develop the waterfront into a pedestrian-oriented village with high-end shops and homes.

"I'm elated. This is the result we wanted. The fact that it was unanimous is wonderful. Our City Council really came through," said Brenda Smith Johnson, an information technology vice president with JP Morgan Chase in San Francisco who moved to Hercules in 1992. "I know this is going to be a hard fight but we're up to it."

Some residents were infuriated that Wal-Mart had warned that if the City Council voted for eminent domain, the move would cost the city millions.

"I don't like to be threatened and they threatened my community,'' Bob Steiner, a certified public accountant and magician who lives in Hercules, said after the vote.

Only about four people spoke in favor of Wal-Mart. "The city has no guarantees that anybody is going to develop the property if they take it away from Wal-Mart," said Hercules resident Andre Wilson.

The vote allows the city to begin proceedings to acquire Wal-Mart's property by force to achieve its redevelopment goals.

Following the vote, Wal-Mart spokesman Kevin Loscotoff said Wal-Mart will evaluate the situation and decide what to do next.

The city was once a company town, home to a dynamite plant that during World War I was the nation's leading producer of TNT, and some turn-of-the-century homes that used to house company officials have been restored. The city plans to continue developing land along the waterfront to fit its vision.

"Why should we have to sell ourselves short when we have this great waterfront," Hercules resident Valerie Wilgus said following the vote.

Some residents have said they would prefer grocery stores such as Whole Foods, Trader Joe's or Andronico's, and specialty shops like those in Berkeley's swank Fourth Street district.

The vote comes after Wal-Mart rejected a city offer to buy its property earlier this year.

Officials from the nation's largest retailer have said they are determined to open a store on the company's 17 acres overlooking San Pablo Bay. In a letter to the city on Tuesday, Wal-Mart attorneys argued that eminent domain was unnecessary because the company had tailored its project to meet the community's desires, downsizing the proposed store and garden center from 167,000 square feet to roughly 100,000 square feet and designing the shopping center to have "a very attractive, village-like appearance.''

But critics countered that Wal-Mart's latest plan was still more than 50 percent larger than a store plan approved for the site before the retail giant bought the property.

The city was the first in the state to adopt a redevelopment code that prescribes the design of streets, building dimensions and some architectural requirements, such as front porches. A key part of the plan called for a waterfront village with high-density housing and shops, a shoreline park, a train station, bus service and even a ferry stop.

San Francisco Chronicle: www.sfgate.com


N.C. House committee recommends restrictions on eminent domain: Myrtle Beach (SC) Sun News, 4/25/06

Gary D. Robertson, Associated Press

[North Carolina] Legislators should pass a law during the coming session that would prevent local governments from using eminent domain authority to clear the way for private economic development projects, a state House committee decided Tuesday.

The practice is not common in North Carolina, but such a law would calm public worries arising from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that said the practice was legal, according to members of the House Select Committee on Eminent Domain Powers. The committee stopped short of asking the General Assembly to approve a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit government power to acquire homes and businesses for private projects.

North Carolina law already limits local governments to nine conditions in which cities and counties can condemn private land, but some towns and cities have received exemptions over the years for economic projects. Committee members have said they believe the existing law is pretty strong, but have proposed a law that would close any loopholes.

"I don't think we need to be messing with the (state) constitution," said Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe, a committee co-chairman. "I think we can solve the problem and I don't see that anybody should have a concern."

Eminent domain gives government the authority to take private property for public use, usually in exchange for compensation to the property owner. The U.S. and state constitutions provide for eminent domain.

The panel began meeting three months ago in response a Supreme Court ruling last year that allowed the town of New London, Conn., to take houses on property that would be used for a hotel and convention center.

North Carolina and other states responded to the case by examining how to prevent a similar situation within their jurisdictions. At least five states have passed laws restricting eminent domain for private development and South Carolina lawmakers are considering a constitutional amendment limiting government power to take private land.

The bill recommended to the Legislature by the House panel would limit eminent domain exclusively to public uses already set out in law, such as the creation or expansion of roads, parks, sewer lines and government buildings.

Any laws granting additional condemnation authority to specific local governments beyond the statewide restrictions would be repealed July 1 unless condemnation proceedings were ongoing.

About 10 so-called local eminent domain laws have been passed since 1981, half of them for economic development projects such as industrial or business parks, according to legislative researchers. The proposed bill would prohibit towns and cities from condemning land for such parks in some cases.

Critics of the proposal argue any bill will be insufficient, since the General Assembly could repeal the law later. A constitutional amendment would provide more protection, they argue.

"A constitutional amendment is the only way North Carolinians will be protected from eminent domain abuse," said Darren Bakst with the John Locke Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank. "Even if a statute did protect us, it is ridiculous to think that a statute is proper protection for a fundamental right like property rights."

Some lawmakers are expected to file a proposed constitutional amendment when the Legislature reconvenes May 9. Three-fifths of each chamber must back such a measure, which then must be approved in a statewide referendum.

Boyd Cauble, a lobbyist for the city of Charlotte, said in a telephone interview that the Legislature should consider granting narrow condemnation authority for economic development projects when "someone can build a better case for a greater public good."

The General Assembly gave Charlotte condemnation authority in 2000 to remove a used tire dealer whose refusal to sell his land blocked a deal to help a nonprofit arm of the local chamber of commerce build a business park in a distressed area. The merchant left before the city invoked its authority, Cauble said.

Myrtle Beach Sun News: http://www.myrtlebeachonline.com

Illinois House Votes To Overhaul Eminent Domain: CBS-TV2 (Chcago IL), 4/25/06

By Corina Quinn, Medill News Service

The battle over whether local municipalities should have the power to seize private property may be winding down in Illinois.

Last week, the state House overwhelmingly passed a bill that would overhaul the state's eminent domain law by setting higher standards for municipalities that want to seize land for private redevelopment, such as shopping malls.

It also would require governments to increase the compensation they offer to property owners when land is taken for both private and public use, including roads and schools.

"What we've created is an eminent domain act that is one complete statute . . . where people can go and understand what their rights are," said state Sen. Susan Garrett (D-Lake Forest), who wrote the first draft of the bill. The measure passed 85-6 on April 18.

"What we have today is just case law, which is scattershot and depends on who your attorney is and what you can afford," Garrett added. "My goal was a law that people understood, one with transparency, and not making the process about who can hire the best lawyer."

Garrett said she introduced the bill after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision last year that broadened the power of local governments to take property and transfer it to private developers for economic growth. That decision allowed states to determine their own eminent domain statutes, and many states have restricted their laws in the aftermath, she said.

Illinois' bill will go back to the state Senate, which last month approved a more stringent version. The Senate reconvenes May 2, and if it concurs with the House version, the bill will be sent to the governor.

Despite its passage in the General Assembly, the bill was met with strong opposition from local municipalities, which say it poses a threat to their urban development plans. A number of cities, including Chicago, successfully lobbied to amend the bill.

The result is a measure that's "livable," said Roger Huebner, general counsel for the Illinois Municipal League, which originally opposed the legislation.

The revised bill sets higher standards for governments seizing private property. The government must prove the property is essential for a successful development project and provide a substantive renewal plan for the area.

In addition, when governments seize property for either private or public use, they are required to cover homeowners' relocation costs and, in some cases, their attorney's fees if the owners choose to fight the seizure.

Huebner said that the House amended the bill to ensure that development plans already underway — such as the $15 billion expansion of O'Hare International Airport — are not affected if the measure is passed.

"We also wanted to make sure those additional costs for attorney's fees and relocation are reasonable," he added.

Garrett said she agreed with the changes. "We did not want to deter economic development, so the difficult thing about this [bill] is striking that balance between economic needs and property owners' rights," she said.

But the compromise has not swayed all local officials.

"If the [city] administration had advised me to, I would have opposed it," said Chicago Ald. Bernard Stone (D-50th). "But unfortunately, I was never advised until the bill went before the Senate. Now I'm afraid it's too late."

Garrett praised the bill for being "extremely fair" and said she does not expect any additional opposition to it.

"States are grappling with how to handle this," Garrett said. "Many are going from one extreme to the other, and I think what we've done is strike a balance. I can honestly say that what we've done could be model legislation."

CBS-TV2: http://cbs2chicago.com

Eminent-domain measure euthanized: Denver (CO) Post, 4/25/06

The "Old Yeller" proposal would have restricted the power of governments to take private property for economic development

By Chris Frates

The sponsor of a [Colorado] constitutional amendment to prevent governments from taking land for economic development killed his proposal Monday but said he is willing to work with the House speaker on a proposed compromise.

Still, Republican Rep. Al White of Winter Park said the proposed deal being brokered by Democratic House Speaker Andrew Romanoff is "stopgap" because it is a statutory measure that would be much easier to change than a constitutional amendment.

The new proposal, White said, "may slow the avaricious cities in concert with the greedy developers in taking the private property of the poor citizens of Colorado" until a constitutional amendment by citizens initiative can be passed in November.

On Monday, White asked his colleagues to kill his proposed constitutional amendment, House Concurrent Resolution 1001, because it had been changed so drastically for the worse.

He said the situation reminded him of the movie "Old Yeller," which, when he was a boy, "made me cry like a baby."

"I'm calling this now the 'Old Yeller' (proposal) because it's been bitten by a rabid skunk and I've got to put it down. And it makes me cry like a baby," White said.

(In the movie, Old Yeller had to be shot because the dog had developed rabies after being bitten by an infected wolf.)

Romanoff said this newest proposal is modeled after a Michigan measure.

It would require "clear and convincing evidence" that the property is not being taken for economic-development reasons but to eradicate blight. It would also require governments to reimburse homeowners at least 125 percent of fair market value for their principal residence.

"I think it strikes the right balance between private property rights, which we should protect, and community interest that we should not ignore," he said.

But the problem with a statutory change, White said, is that powerful interests like municipalities and developers can easily lobby for changes to the law if they don't like it.

Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com

Senate weakens eminent domain bill: Palm Beach (FL) Post, 4/25/06

By Alan Gomez

[Florida] senators made a significant turnaround Monday on a bill aimed at limiting the ability of governments to seize private property through eminent domain by temporarily exempting ongoing projects like those in Riviera Beach and possibly Boynton Beach.

Legislators have been working for eight months to craft a bill that would no longer allow local governments to use eminent domain to take private property for economic redevelopment after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a law in June that allowed New London, Conn., to take people's homes for just that reason.

But on Monday, Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown made an impassioned plea to senators to allow him the chance to fulfill the $2 billion redevelopment of his city, which will require displacing more than 1,000 renters and homeowners to revitalize the city's waterfront.

Brown told senators he returned to Riviera Beach after college to attempt a "rescue mission" of his hometown, which he said leads the county in crime rates, AIDS rates, drug use rates and poverty rates.

"Without this (exception), we will be certainly relegating those kids and those families to a sure and complete and continuing poverty," Brown said.

Senators agreed to a change that would allow community redevelopment agencies that have entered an agreement with a master developer by October to use the old, more-lenient standard for eminent domain takings through 2010. Otherwise, the bill (SB 2168) would severely restrict takings geared toward economic development in cases filed after Oct. 1.

Riviera Beach has not signed a contract with Viking Inlet Harbor to develop the property, but the bill would give the city more than five months to complete those negotiations.

The bill could also affect Boynton Beach's redevelopment efforts, where city officials are trying to revitalize the Heart of Boynton partly through eminent domain proceedings. Without the exception, Boynton Beach's ongoing and planned eminent domain proceedings could be wiped out by the new law.

Boynton Beach Assistant City Manager Wilfred Hawkins said he doesn't know the city's time frame for finding a master developer, but he said of the Senate bill, "That language would be of concern."

The language also concerned the Rev. E.J. Maddox of Triumph the Church and Kingdom of God in Christ, which the city has sued to take by eminent domain for its Heart of Boynton project.

"I think a face-lift of Boynton is greatly needed and is good," Maddox said. "However, when you talk about taking people's property that have worked very hard all their lives... where are they going to go to afford housing?"

The House has already given a strong indication of its thoughts on the exception for ongoing projects.

The House version of the bill (HB 1567) that was passed unanimously two weeks ago would go into effect July 1 and contains no exceptions of any kind.

Reps. Anne Gannon, D-Delray Beach, and Priscilla Taylor, D-West Palm Beach, tried to amend that bill on the House floor to provide an exception similar to the one put in the Senate bill Monday, but withdrew the amendment when told that it would be voted down.

Property rights advocates called the exception a dangerous slippery slope that could open the door for other government agencies to take advantage of.

"If it's wrong to take people's property, it's wrong today and nothing's going to make it right six months from now," said Carol Saviak, executive director of the Coalition for Property Rights.

Palm Beach Post: http://www.palmbeachpost.com

Senate sends governor bill limiting use of eminent domain: Centre (County PA) Daily Times, 4/25/06

By Martha Raffaele, Associated Press

Local governments and other authorities [in Pennsylvania] would face stricter limits on seizing property for private commercial development projects under a bill passed unanimously Tuesday by the state Senate.

The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jeffrey Piccola, would generally ban the use of eminent domain for private development unless the property meets a narrower definition of "blight." The measure was passed Monday by the state House and now goes to Gov. Ed Rendell.

The legislation is in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that the city of New London, Conn., could take 15 homes to build a mixed-use waterfront development to boost the local economy. The ruling drew protests across the nation and prompted many states to consider changing their laws on the government's ability to take private property.

A companion bill sent to Rendell on Monday by the House of Representatives would increase reimbursements to property owners whose land is seized for public uses. The measure would increase maximum relocation payouts from $5,250 to $6,300 for renters, from $22,500 to $27,000 for homeowners, and from $10,000 to $12,000 for businesses and farming operations.

Piccola, R-Dauphin, said both bills "will provide substantive rights to protect property owners from government overreaching in eminent domain."

Piccola's bill would eliminate a portion of state redevelopment law that allows a local government or authority to declare eminent domain by citing "economically or socially undesirable land uses."

"It can no longer be used to take ordinary neighborhoods for private development or to take neighborhoods just because the people who live there have less money," Piccola said.

Under the bill, a property can be considered blighted if it is a health or safety hazard, abandoned, or has been tax-delinquent for two years.

Kate Philips, Rendell's spokeswoman, said Tuesday that the governor would review the legislation.

"The governor's main focus with this legislation is that the greater good of the community is properly balanced with a property owner's rights," Philips said.

Piccola's bill also would allow Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Delaware County, which is home to the city of Chester's rundown waterfront, to act until Dec. 31, 2012, on projects in areas those governments have already certified as blighted. The measure would also prevent one local government from condemning property within another jurisdiction without the other government's permission.

Centre Daily Times: http://www.centredaily.com

Eminent Domain: Who defines the greater good? Bradenton (FL) Herald, 4/22/06

By Brian Sokoloff, Associated Press

When [Riviera Beach FL] Mayor Michael Brown envisions the future of this hardscrabble city, he sees no poverty, no drug dealing and no prostitution.

Brown sees hope and high-paying jobs. But progress doesn't come without sacrifice.

The city's multibillion-dollar effort to remake itself could send to up to 6,000 residents packing in potentially one of the nation's largest eminent domain seizures, leaving many wondering who defines progress. The project has placed Riviera Beach at the center of a nationwide battle over whether government should be allowed to force people from their properties for construction of private development.

"You can't just take away from people what they've worked so hard for," said Princess Wells, 54, whose home and salon are slated for removal under the city's plan.

The proposed $2.4 billion project to revamp the marina district in one of Palm Beach County's poorest cities includes high-end condominiums, houses, shops, offices and yacht slips. About 1,700 homes and businesses are slated for condemnation to make way for construction.

Brown sees it as a catalyst for prosperity that will bring opportunities - and millions in tax revenue - to the rest of the city, where a quarter of the 31,000 residents live in poverty.

"(Italian philosopher Niccolo) Machiavelli said it best - the hardest thing to do is to sustain and change the order of things," Brown said. "I will use every ounce of energy I have to fight to make a better life for these people. There will be no more lower class.

"For all those who don't like it, tough."

Traditionally, governments have used eminent domain to build public facilities like schools, parks, prisons, airports and roads. But the Supreme Court ruled last year in a Connecticut case that local governments can use eminent domain to seize property for private developers if it will be used to raise the city's tax base and benefit the entire community.

The ruling left open the option for states to devise their own regulations.

An amendment and a bill are working their way through the Florida Legislature to severely limit condemnations of personal property for any private use.

"From the barbershops to the courthouse, all I've heard was 'Please don't let them take our property,'" Rep. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said after the House recently passed by a 116-0 vote a restrictive eminent domain bill (HB 1567). The measure now goes before the Senate.

"I don't think people's property should be taken for private use, period," Gov. Jeb Bush said following the vote.

In February, South Dakota became the first state to enact a law that prohibits government from seizing personal property through eminent domain for private use. Indiana, Georgia and other states have since enacted similar laws, among 47 states, including Florida, that are considering or have already enacted such laws.

Dana Berliner, a lawyer for the nonprofit Washington, D.C-based Institute for Justice, says Riviera Beach's plan is the largest current project in the country under which a city is attempting to recreate itself with the threat of eminent domain seizures.

"Once you allow eminent domain to be used for private development and for increasing taxes, you don't have limits anymore, and that means that people can lose their homes repeatedly," said Berliner, who represented the Connecticut homeowners in the Supreme Court case.

"This land is very valuable and the attitude is 'Why should we waste this prime real estate on low income people?'" she added. "It's a terrible thing."

Wells is holding her ground, refusing to sell. The developers who have offered some residents twice the market values for their homes have not approached her, leaving few options but to eventually accept the city's offer of about 30 percent above appraisal, plus relocation assistance.

"What, little people aren't important anymore? America is made of little people, small hardworking people," Wells said angrily. "Stability means a lot to people and to have that swept away, that's just devastating.

"In how many other American communities is so much being taken from people who have so little?" she said.

Mayor Brown, a lawyer who is serving his fourth term, says Riviera Beach is on the brink of bankruptcy and needs redevelopment if it is ever to thrive here in Palm Beach County, home to some of the world's wealthiest people. He says young adults, in particular, will benefit from the expanded economy.

"In order to be a vibrant city, the people who live here have to have decent jobs," he said. "Why should we continue to allow these kids to be guaranteed an early death or continued poverty?"

But there's an inherent distrust in government here, an idea that Brown and officials like him have lost their way.

Wells remembers the glisten in the mayor's eyes when he once called the town a "gold mine."

Her husband built their tidy single-story pink house 23 years ago, and the couple raised four children there.

"When we built our house, we didn't have much money. We prayed a lot," Wells said. "We love our house. Why would I sell?"

Wells has no idea where she would go, given the high price of new housing and the added costs of insurance on a more expensive home.

Floyd Johnson, director of Riviera Beach's Community Redevelopment Agency and the man in charge of administering the project, says the city will likely only have to seize some 30 properties under eminent domain. He says others will sell to developers or take the city's buyout, but they don't have much choice.

"We are uniquely positioned to do something that will launch a turning point in the lives of this community," said the former city manager of Fort Lauderdale and blighted Richmond, Calif., outside San Francisco.

Johnson compares Riviera Beach's plan to the construction of the nation's interstate highway system, a project that connected coasts and commerce and paved the way for economic prosperity but displaced thousands in its path.

"A rising tide will hopefully raise all ships," Johnson said. "There are those who are reminiscent of the good old days here. The greater good extends beyond them."

He predicts the project will move forward regardless of any new laws, but admits it could make the situation difficult.

"It could potentially slow down projects if the power of eminent domain were completely removed," he said. "It would empower the people and delay the whole shooting match."

Viking Inlet Harbor Properties, a joint venture between Viking Yacht Co. and resort-development firm Portfolio Group, is overseeing and developing the project.

Viking CEO Robert Healy notes that he'll build up to 800 affordable homes in Riviera Beach, bring in 1,500 new jobs and create a 400-student maritime vocational academy.

"Now I'm no saint. I'm a good businessman," Healy said, adding that the plan will benefit him and residents. "That's good business."

Painter Martha Babson, 58, sold her $220,000 house in the redevelopment zone for $732,000 to billionaire H. Wayne Huizenga, founder of Blockbuster Entertainment and owner of the NFL's Miami Dolphins. Huizenga is also working with Viking.

Babson says she only sold under the threat of eminent domain, and would never have left her home of 13 years. She's now considering moving inland to find affordable housing.

"I'm outraged. This is so un-American. It's legalized stealing," Babson said.

"Unless the state changes the law, people of my echelon, the financially challenged, will always be the people who get moved. Is there ever an end?" she said. "What is to stop the same thing from happening to me again somewhere else?"

Bradenton Herald: http://www.bradenton.com

Eminent Domain Battle Rages in Bedford: Lynchburg (VA) News and Advance, 4/22/06

By Janet Nguyen

The city of Bedford played a rarely used card last week in a long-running battle with a landowner near the city’s old leaking landfill.

When the city asked Bedford County Circuit Court to use eminent domain to acquire the 44-acre tract, it was only the second time in more than 20 years that the city has sought to exercise that power, according to the city’s attorney, William Berry.

The action was one of two taken by the city last week in the dispute; it also filed its response to a $2.5 million lawsuit filed by the landowner, Mike Schrock, in February, denying many of his complaints.

Under eminent domain, the government can seize private property for public use. In this case, the city is asking the court for permission because it maintains that ownership of the land is necessary to monitor the groundwater, remediate the contamination and prevent any further spreading.

Schrock says the city’s use of eminent domain is just a ploy.

“(The city) is trying to use eminent domain as a bargain wedge against me to drop my suit against them,” said Schrock. Schrock’s lawsuit claims the city’s now-closed landfill, which operated from 1960 to 1994, has caused him to suffer from damages to his property and business operations as well as the loss of value, profits and use of his property.

The city’s response to his lawsuit requests that the court “dismiss the complaint with prejudice” and award the city its attorney’s fees and costs incurred.

Berry, who has worked as Bedford’s city attorney for more than 20 years, said that eminent domain was sought after negotiations with Schrock failed.

“Before a municipality can exercise the right of eminent domain or condemnation, the law requires that you make a bona fide offer to the person owning the property,” Berry said.

“If you cannot come to some agreement for purchase of the property and it’s needed for public purposes, then the law provides that you can go to the court and through the eminent domain statutes obtain the property for the public,” said Berry.

“And my experience is most people have felt that they’ve been treated fairly by the city and have been willing to convey their property.”

Schrock said the city initially offered him about $300,000 for his entire property, but was unsatisfied with the offer.

“My property is worth considerably more than they offered me, and they know it’s worth considerably more than they offered me,” said Schrock, who added that he has made counter offers.

In a news release sent out last week, the law offices of Troutman Sanders, which represents the city, stated that Schrock had refused to respond to the city’s offer.

Court documents filed by the city indicate that it has attempted to acquire the property, including furnishing Schrock with a written statement explaining the factual basis for the city’s offer, a copy of the appraisal on which the offer was based, and a copy of a title report.

Schrock has 21 days from the date of the filing to respond to the petition for condemnation. Afterward, either party may ask for a trial date, said Berry.

“I think the city intends to try to draw this to a close as soon as it can,” he said.

“I wasn’t surprised by their response … and I’m not surprised by any of the things that they’re asking for,” Schrock said Friday.

“I always hoped Bedford would take the high road and do something in a business-like fashion, and I haven’t seen that.”

Schrock said he plans to sell his property once the case is settled.

“I’d like to get as far away from Bedford as I possibly can and never return here.”

Lynchburg News and Advance: http://www.newsadvance.com

Meeting On Use Of Eminent Domain In Flats Gets Heated: Newsnet5.com (Cleveland OH), 4/21/06

Board Passes Resolution For Use Of Eminent Domain In Flats Development

Tempers are flaring about a new plan aimed at revitalizing the Flats.

The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County [OH] Port Authority Board met Friday morning to discuss the use of eminent domain. Ownership of the 21 pieces of property owned by 11 companies would be transferred to developer Scott Wolstein.

The land would be used for Wolstein's $225 million proposed residential and retail development.

But the use of eminent domain is not sitting well with some members of the community, and tempers boiled over during the meeting.

Norm Edwards, of the Black Contractors Association, was one of those who object to the plan, and he made it clear during the meeting.

His outburst prompted him to be escorted out of the meeting.

The board passed the eminent domain resolution, which now goes to Cleveland City Council.

Newsnet5.com: http://www.newsnet5.com

City Of Tuscaloosa Could Use Eminent Domain To Take Property: NBC-TV13 (Birmingham AL), 4/20/06

Business Owners Reject City's Offers To Buy Buildings

The city of Tuscaloosa is trying to buy out many downtown business owners as city leadership works to revitalize downtown.

City leaders plan to build a federal courthouse, public plaza and upscale retail space in the heart of downtown. The city is taking the land for the courthouse and plaza using eminent domain, but it is trying to buy out 13 business owners whose properties would be used for private development.

Tuscaloosa Blue Printing is one of the first businesses to move. Shirley Crowder's former landlord accepted the city's offer to buy the old Tuscaloosa Blue Printing store. Now, Crowder and her sister have relocated just a few blocks from their original shop.

Crowder and her sister said the benefits of having a renovated downtown outweigh the trouble of needing to relocate.

Not every business owner agrees, however.

"We've been here nearly 70 years. My grandfather opened this store between 1935 and 1940," said Ed Barton, of Tuscaloosa Furniture.

Barton said Tuscaloosa Furniture is not on the market, regardless of the offer.

"We have no interest in selling the building whatsoever," Barton said.

Legally, the city could force Barton to sell using eminent domain, but Barton pledges to fight back if the city tries. He said the amount the city is offering is a fraction of what the buildings are worth.

"The offers are extremely low," Barton said.

The owners of several downtown businesses, such as Cabiness Paint, Norris Radiator and AESC Superstore, are rejecting offers from the city.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox said that even though the city could legally take the businesses using eminent domain, he will work out mutually acceptable deals with any business owner whose property would be used for private development, such as condominiums or coffee shops, around the public courthouse and plaza.

NBC-TV13: http://www.nbc13.com

Eminent Domain Case A Watershed, Opponents Agree: Arkansas News (Little Rock AK), 4/21/06

By Doug Thompson

A property condemnation case from Connecticut has become a surprising watershed in efforts to "curb judicial activism," conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly said Thursday.

Elliot Mincberg, legal director for People for the American Way, agreed Thursday the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. New London has had a surprising and largely negative impact on citizens' view of the judicial system. People for the American Way is a non-profit group that opposes efforts by Schlafly and other conservative to gain more appointments of conservative judges or bar courts from hearing certain cases.

The Supreme Court's ruling in the Kelo case upheld a state court decision the city of New London could condemn property, including private homes, to make way for commercial development. The June 23 ruling divided the court in a 5-4 vote.

Schlafly came to Rogers on Thursday to speak at an issues forum of the Eagle Forum, held at 6:30 p.m. in the Pinnacle Country Club. The Eagle Forum is a conservative grassroots group founded by Schlafly in 1972. About 100 people attended the forum, which could become an annual event, according to Arkansas Eagle Forum executive director Peggy Jeffries of Fort Smith. The Arkansas chapter has held meetings on an as-needed basis since it was formed in 1977 and has never gone a year without an issues forum, Jeffries said, but is considering more regular meetings.

"I've fought the mischief of activist judges for more than 20 years, including judges who ban the pledge of allegiance and display of the Ten Commandments," Schlafly said in an interview before Thursday's meeting. She said those issue are vital concerns to most citizens, but often resulted in resolutions passed by Congress "which did nothing."

The Kelo decision, however, is having a lasting effect, convincing many doubters courts have gone too far, Schlafly said. She said she didn't expect an eminent domain case to have such a deep resonance, but is glad it does.

Mincberg said Schlafly's description of the Kelo case's effect was accurate, and that was particularly surprising "considering that the court was upholding a local legislative decision" to condemn the property. "I think it's still too early to see how this will shake out, though," Mincberg said. "Much of it appears to be resulting in action in state legislative bodies that are concerned with powers in state constitutions, and on the decisions of local zoning commissions. However, there's a good deal of anger and concern."

"It's ironic that Schlafly and others complain about courts overruling local decisions, and here we have a case where the court did exactly what they say they want: Upheld local authorities," Mincberg said. "They want judicial activism. They just want activist judges that will do their bidding."

In other issues, Schlafly said in an interview that immigration policy has brought about a clash between conservatives and the Republican Party's campaign donors. "What happened is that conservatives are demanding a bill to secure our borders," she said. "The House passed a bill because of that," a tough immigration bill that 88 percent of the Republican members of the House support.

The bill stalled in the Senate, and conservatives are "mad as hops" about it, Schlafly said: "Follow the money. The people who give contributions want money. Look at H-1B visas," visas that allow high-tech companies to bring in foreign nationals if there is a shortage of skilled labor in a particular field. "There's no shortage of engineers and computer specialists in this country. There are 100,000 to 200,000 people in those professions who are unemployed or under-employed. The visas keep getting granted so companies can pay immigrants half price."

Arkansas News: http://www.arkansasnews.com

Eminent domain the main topic at committee meeting: Torrington (WY) Telegram, 4/21/06

By Jerry Abbott

On Wednesday morning, the Joint Agriculture, Public Lands and Water Resources Interim Committee met at Eastern Wyoming College to discuss several important topics with the most hotly contested being Wyoming’s legislation of eminent domain.

An overview panel of four individuals addressed the joint committee on Wednesday with their view of eminent domain in Wyoming. The committee members were: Tom Toner of Yonkee and Toner, LLP; Matt Micheli of Holland and Hart, LLP; Jim Magagna, vice-president of Wyoming Stock Growers Association; and George Parks, executive director of the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.

In the discussion that followed, it was apparent that there is a wide variance of opinion regarding the appropriate use of the power of eminent domain. The majority felt that eminent domain in Wyoming should be changed/clarified with new legislation.

A number of terms brought different views from the overview panel. One such term was “just compensation.” Micheli felt that the value of land taken exercising eminent domain should be determined by looking at comparable property. He said, however, that companies often end up paying a premium for private land because they want to avoid the cost of court proceedings.

“They get more because we pay more to stay out of legal negotiations,” Micheli said.

According to Micheli, the problem with a 20-year lease is that after the utility, like a pipeline, is in place, the landowner has you over a barrel. At that point, the landowner knows you do not want to take out the pipeline and is prone to charge some exorbitant price for the new lease agreement.

Another method of determining just compensation is a licensed appraiser. In this case, it was noted that land values change over time and change with the installation of telephone poles or railroad lines. Sometimes the land may only be suitable for grazing.

One approach to fair market value used a jury of peers. The idea was that peers would know what land is worth in a given area. Several land owners proposed rental or lease agreements for fair compensation over a lengthy period of time.

“This is just the initial discussion on an issue that will be looked at for a long time,” Parks said. “The Legislature will be addressing eminent domain in a way that makes it fair to all the parties.”

After the overview panel discussion, the joint committee heard from the public. The majority of testimony was from landowners or their representatives who alleged that companies had not treated them fairly and had abused their eminent domain authority.

Several presenters stated that the big companies were not willing to negotiate and had a “we are doing you a favor” attitude. One presenter said to him it wasn’t just dollars and cents. It was mentally draining.

One landowner said he had five days to “take it or leave it.” He has spent $10,000 in legal fees fighting and the case is still not settled. He said there should be some compensation for time spent in negotiations, even if a settlement is not reached.

There was great concern that the impacts to private land are kept in a single corridor. Also, owners stressed that needed electric lines, pipe lines, railroad tracks, etc., should run through federal land before condemning private lands.

Testimony by an electric company representative stressed his company’s fair use of eminent domain. He noted that electric lines could not go for miles just because a landowner did not want the lines on his land. The representative also noted that if the electric company had to pay periodic fees to land owners for the use of their land, it would be a logistical nightmare and would increase electric rates. His company provides electric service in several states.

“I would like to see land owners paid for the total time that land obtained through eminent domain is in use,” said Rep. Jim Hageman, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and vice chairman of the joint committee. “A mutual agreement is fine but if they go through the courts, the land owner needs to be paid for the rest of time the agreement is in existence. We need to give the land owner a bit more balance.”

Hageman said that he could identify with landowners who face the realities of eminent domain. His ranch has railroad, power lines and highways through it.

“We need to strengthen our subdivision side of eminent domain,” said Gerald Geis, chairman of the joint committee. “We will have a September meeting of the joint Ag committee and use a whole day to draft legislation. Once we have the draft there will be a lot of public debate. Right to minerals supersedes other people. The constitution is pretty clear regarding mineral rights.”

Each of the legislators interviewed said there must be a fair balance of power.

“I look at eminent domain as taking away private property rights,” Sen. Curt Meier said. “It takes away personal freedom but without it there wouldn’t be any sewer, electric, water or other necessities. As a legislative body we need to strike a balance. It is not a necessary evil; it is just necessary. Yesterday I made a motion to draft a bill for public eminent domain and a bill for private eminent domain. In those bills we need to clarify six things: good faith negotiation process, allowance for leasing of land for indeterminate time periods, public purpose, just compensation, put the burden of proof on the condemner and allow for easements only for the original use. (If the easement is used for other purposes, the landowner gets a “bite of that apple” too.)”

Regarding eminent domain, the Wyoming constitution provides that: Private property shall not be taken for private use unless by consent of the owner, except for private ways of necessity, and for reservoirs, drains, flumes or ditches on or across the lands of others for agricultural, mining, milling, domestic or sanitary purposes, nor in any case without due compensation.

The Wyoming Eminent Domain Act permits the state, counties and municipalities to exercise the power of eminent domain. Also, water companies, railroad companies and utility, petroleum and pipeline companies are authorized to exercise the power of eminent domain as specified in statutes.

Under Wyoming law, “any person, association, company or corporation authorized to do business in Wyoming” may condemn for “a way of necessity over, across or on so much of the lands or real property of others, as necessary for reservoirs, drains, flumes , ditches, underground water pipelines, pumping stations, canals, electric power transmission lines, railroad tracks, sidings, spur tracks, tramways, roads or mine truck haul roads.”

Torrington Telegram: http://www.torringtontelegram.com