Jury awards $215,000 in eminent domain case: Mt Vernon (OH) News, 8/3/06

By Dylan McCament

On Tuesday evening, a jury awarded Juston Waite, owner of Waite Auto Resale, $215,625 for a portion of property that the city took in 2003 through eminent domain, according to Knox County Court of Common Pleas Judge Otho Eyster. The property was used to complete the 2004 South Main Street project.

According to the Ohio Department of Transportation, the purpose of the project was to improve traffic safety in the area on Ohio 13 (Newark Road), from the intersection of Ohio 586 (Martinsburg Road) north to the south side of the bridge over Dry Creek. It included the construction of the new intersection at Ohio 13 and South Main Street, as well the widening of Ohio 13 from Ohio 586 to allow for center left-turn lane, and left-turn lanes at the new intersection.

The city acquired parcels from 21 properties in the area to complete the project, according to safety-service director Dave Glass.

Waite, whose property is located at 5 Newark Road, and Larry and Linda Helzer of Mount Vernon, who own property at 10 Newark Road, refused to accept the amounts offered by the city.

In May 2006, a jury awarded the Helzers $18,790 for 2,450 square feet taken from their property at 10 Newark Road. The original offer was $10,795, an amount based on a 2002 appraisal.

In a previous interview, Waite said the portions of the property taken from him and used for the project was worth more than the $65,200 the city offered. He said this amount was not comparable to the amounts given to other property owners who settled and sold the city portions of their property for the project. Waite also said he not only lost the property, but an eight-room home and an operating body shop which had been located on the property.

Waite had no comment about the amount decided upon by the jury.

Glass said the city administration is not happy with the decision.

“We thought we were doing the right thing for the people of Mount Vernon,” he said. “Unfortunately, the jury decided to award three times what it was appraised for.”

He said the administration will be looking into the various legal options that are available.

Mt Vernon (OH) News: http://www.mountvernonnews.com

County to use eminent domain: Orlando (FL) Sentinel, 8/2/06

Efforts are under way to acquire land through eminent domain for a new parking garage that will serve the Lake County [FL] Judicial Center and the property appraiser and tax collector's offices.

County commissioners voted 4-1 Tuesday to direct their legal staff to start condemnation proceedings for the land where Beef O'Brady's Family Sports Pub sits off North Texas Avenue as well as an unoccupied office building across the street from the restaurant.

County officials say they need the space to build a parking garage that could contain up to 1,500 spaces to help accommodate more traffic at the judicial center, which is being planned for expansion. The project will coincide with construction of new offices for the tax collector and property appraiser.

County Attorney Sandy Minkoff said the county is also looking to acquire Belton Bail Bonds, 322 W. Main St., to make room for the garage. County officials are negotiating a land swap with the owners.

Commissioner Debbie Stivender cast the lone vote opposing eminent domain. She said the county had promised to accommodate business owners by building the garage so that the businesses could operate at the bottom level.

Beef O'Brady's owners could not be reached for comment Tuesday but have previously expressed unhappiness about the idea of the county taking over the property. Stivender called it a "very viable business. A lot of people from the county and county employees come here for lunch."

Orlando Sentinel: http://www.orlandosentinel.com

Newark to rethink blight designation for Mulberry Street: newark (NJ) Star-Ledger, 8/1/06

Developer planning 2,000 condo units

Jeffrey C Mays

After more than three years of back and forth, the Newark City Council may consider removing the blight designation from a 13.5-acre area surrounding Mulberry Street where developers want to build 2,000 market-rate condominiums.

Councilman Augusto Amador, who represents the East Ward where the project is located, said he will bring the item up for discussion during today's special council conference meeting and possibly for a vote at Wednesday's session.

"If they want to negotiate with property owners they should do so on their own without the threat of eminent domain hanging overhead," said Amador. "I'm not against the project. I just want it to be built on its own merits."

The redevelopment area covers nine city blocks, a mix of residential and industrial uses, small shops, parking lots and private homes near McCarter Highway and the federal courthouse.

Amador said he was also concerned about infrastructure improvements such as water and sewer upgrades and street reconfigurations that the administration of former Mayor Sharpe James promised to the developers of the $550 million market-rate project.

Pat Smith, a spokesman for the project's developer, the Mulberry Street Urban Renewal Co., said his clients were unaware of any changes to their plans.

This would be the second time the development, designed to at tract middle- and upper middle- class residents to live downtown, has faced major alterations. The previous city council asked the planning board to investigate whether the area was blighted in 2003 before rescinding the order. They then restarted the process to have the area declared blighted and approved a redevelopment plan for the area in September.

But with a new mayor and seven new council members, things have changed. The new council also deferred a 20-year tax abatement for the project.
Amador placed an item on the agenda that would rescind the redevelopment plan but said that was not his intention and that the item will be removed from consideration. Amador said his goal is not to end the project, just to rescind the blight designation.

George Mytrowitz, a spokesman for the Mulberry Street Coalition, a group of residents and property owners who formed to oppose the use of eminent domain for the project, applauded the latest development.

The group filed a lawsuit chal lenging the blight designation and accused the former mayor and council of being swayed to approve the project because of campaign contributions. One of the developers, Emilio Farina, was a former aide to former Councilwoman Bessie Walker, who said the connection was not enough to make her abstain from voting.

"There is so much property here they can develop without hurting anyone," said Mytrowitz, whose family owns an auto body repair shop on McCarter Highway. "Eminent domain is a very powerful tool once it's on the table. It's a loaded gun pointed at a property owner's head."

The first phase of the project has already received approval from the Central Planning Board. That portion of the project is slated to be built on land already owned or under contract by the developers. John Buonocore Jr., an attorney for the Mulberry Street Coalition, said the recent planning board approval shows the project is viable without eminent domain.

"We said all they had to do was rezone the area and there was land to build the project," Buonocore said.

But the James administration, the developers and city officials ar gued the best way for the project to be successful was to create an entirely new neighborhood. The project was billed as Newark's first attempt to create a new neighborhood downtown.

Newark lags behind Jersey City in creating downtown housing. Cogswell Realty is completing 1180 Raymond Blvd., a former office building that that will have 317 apartments.

Councilman-at-large Carlos Gonzalez said he wants to discuss the blight label with his colleagues but that he doesn't think the city should provide the developer with infrastructure.

"This project is being sold at market-rate so by providing infrastructure we are enhancing his profit. It has to provide benefit to citizens," Gonzalez said.

Despite his reservations, Gonza lez said he believes that providing housing downtown is a necessity.

"We need to bring residents downtown so the city is not a ghost town after 5 p.m., but it has to be done right," he said.

Newark Star-Ledger: http://www.starledger.com

Eminent Absurdity: Institute for America's Future, 7/31/06

By Matt Singer

One of the things that we take for granted in the United States is that we have the political freedom to prevent our next-door neighbor’s house from being sold and the new owners turning it into a tire-burning plant. And we like to think that we can protect open spaces and farmland, rather than having our remaining scenic landscapes turned into strip mines and strip malls.

If you thought these values were universal, you have probably never heard of New York developer Howard Rich. And while Rich’s name is hardly well-known, the impact of his actions is being widely felt. Rich sits at the center of a vast operation of organizations working in states across the country to gut communities’ ability to steer their own futures.

His organizations have so far directed at least $4 million into ballot campaigns to turn right-wing legal theory into law in a half-dozen states by bamboozling voters. In so doing, Rich’s operation is a case study in how the right operates — combining populist rhetoric with Trojan horse legal language to advance horribly destructive policy.

In November of 2004, anti-government zealots succeeded in passing a ballot measure — Measure 37 — in Oregon that would make their theories the law of the land. For three decades, Oregon had the nation’s strictest land-use planning rules. These rules encouraged dense growth and protected Oregon’s farmland and scenery, but also helped prompt a backlash. Combining some genuine populist outrage with a little propaganda to cover the far-reaching impacts of the proposal, Measure 37’s backers won a majority of the vote.

Since Measure 37’s passing, Oregon has come to know the true cost of the radical right’s legal theories. Local governments are completely overwhelmed with requests for compensation for various regulations. And in some cases, the requests border on the absurd. Landowners literally are demanding millions of dollars in compensation if local governments refuse to let them build huge, environmentally-disastrous mines on their land.

In short, communities are being held hostage. A single landowner can now demand of his neighbors that they either accept his new strip mine or buy him off to not build it.

Measure 37 would have been simply Oregon’s problem were it not for two other factors: the deep pockets of the far right and an opportunity quickly seized. At the same time that Oregon’s voters were considering Measure 37, a legal dispute was working its way to the Supreme Court. In Kelo v. New London, the libertarian right had found a perfect case for the media. The town of New London had decided to use its eminent domain authority to stoke development in a blighted area of town and promote economic development. The Institute for Justice, a laissez faire-minded legal foundation, represented the homeowners and lost.

But the Institute and their allies were ready for the real battle, which took place in front of TV cameras. Poised with a populist tale of homeowners evicted to hand property to wealthy developers, these well-heeled libertarians created momentum for legislation to drastically alter eminent domain authority. And their allies got a new opportunity to advance their far-right “takings” theory.

The Reason Foundation quickly laid out the strategy: talk publicly about the need to protect people’s homes while advancing measures that would prevent the public from protecting their communities from corporate developers.

With the strategy mapped out, the major donors went to work. Howard Rich quickly used multiple organizations in his control — Americans for Limited Government, America At Its Best, and the Fund for Democracy — to steer money to fake grassroots groups across the country pushing ballot measures modeled on Oregon’s Measure 37.

These astroturf operations claim grassroot support even as the vast majority of their funding comes from Rich’s organizations — over $4 million laundered through multiple layers of non-profit bureaucracy in an attempt to hide the funding sources from reporters and campaign finance watchdogs.

The price tag is extremely high, but what the right has purchased is simply astounding: They have turned a measure to literally destroy communities’ ability to fight unwanted development into what is being perceived as a populist crusade for change. The cynicism of the maneuver is obvious — a developer-backed strategy using faux outrage at development that actually makes rich developers' jobs easier.

Fortunately, hard work and good disclosure rules are exposing Rich’s operation for what it is: a sham house of cards. When voters find out these measures are being pushed from a New York townhouse, it is much less likely that these efforts will be successful.

Institute for America's Future: http://www.tompaine.com

Utah Cities Want To Tweak Eminent Domain Law: New West (Missoula MT), 7/31/06

A U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that said government could use eminent domain powers to clear the way for private development created a landslide of legislation in states across the nation, including the West, to restrict local government’s use of eminent domain for private development.

In response to the high court’s decision in Kelo v. New London, which also said states could enact legislation to establish limits on eminent domain use, the Utah Legislature passed a law in 2005 that restricted government's use of eminent domain to standard public projects such as roadways, schools and power plants.

But the Salt Lake Tribune reported on Sunday that that law may get another look. The Utah League of Cities and Towns, along with some of the state’s most influential cities, are asking lawmakers to revamp that law to allow governments to use eminent domain for private development, particularly in areas considered blighted by those cities.

At ground zero of this drive to reinstitute some uses of eminent domain is Ogden’s effort to clear the way for a Wal-Mart in an area that city officials consider to be blighted. Residents in the little neighborhood were relieved when Utah lawmakers passed the eminent-domain law currently in place, putting an end to the two-year effort by the retail giant to get the land despite residents’ refusal to sell.

But now those residents are once again worried they’ll lose their land if the Utah League of Cities and Towns are successful in their efforts to get lawmakers to expand the law. The League’s efforts aren’t aimed at Ogden’s situation, but instead is focused statewide on cities’ abilities to redevelop blighted areas.

League officials said they envision a trio of provisions contained in the new law that would protect property owners: requiring the agreement of two-thirds of the private property owners, obtaining approval by a supermajority of the city council, and forcing cities to meet a “necessity” requirement to prove the project is truly needed.

New West: http://www.newwest.net

Task force refines eminent domain regs: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 7/31/06

By Gregory Korte

Recommendations from a[n Ohio] state task force studying eminent domain could allow private entities – like utilities and cemeteries – more leeway in taking private property than government agencies.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R- Green Township, successfully derailed a recommendation that would have required private companies and organizations to hold public hearings before using eminent domain.

The task force voted 19-6 to require public involvement early in the process for government agencies that take land, but did not extend that requirement to non-governmental entities.

The issue came during the final hearing today of the Eminent Domain Study Task Force, which is recommending a comprehensive rewrite of the state takings law to the Ohio General Assembly.

“I don’t want to sit here on the last day of a multi-month task force and make changes to long-settled law about the ability of private entities to take land for purposes that have been around since the invention of gas lights,” Seitz said. “It’s not our job to tell private entities with eminent domain powers for public use how to go about it.”

A recent Legislative Service Commission report listed 94 different categories of unelected agencies – including such private entities as telegraph companies, railroads, cemeteries and even dinosaur-bone museums – that have eminent domain power in Ohio.

The task force will also recommend that the Ohio General Assembly consider shifting the burden of proof in an eminent domain case from the property owner to the government.

That recommendation came out of last week’s Ohio Supreme Court decision in Norwood v. Horney, which arose out of the city of Norwood’s attempt to take homes off I-71 for an office and shopping complex. The decision reversed more than 50 years of precedent and found parts of the state’s eminent domain law unconstitutional.

Specifically, the court said that cities cannot use a vague definition of “deteriorating area” to justify taking properties for a developer.

The task force – which is expected to meet all day today in order to keep a Tuesday deadline – also adopted several other recommendations made by Hamilton County Probate Judge James C. Cissell this morning. They include:
  • Government agencies should be required to share their appraisals with property owners before initiating court action.
  • Property owners should have the right to repurchase property from the government if the project is abandoned.
  • Courts should allow an expedited appeal on the government’s right to take – replacing existing law that a taking cannot be appealed until after a jury trial on amount of compensation.
  • No changes to the “quick-take” provision that allows the state to take property immediately for roads or other public emergency. That was the mechanism Cincinnati City Council used to take the home of Emma Dimasi, an 80-year-old widow who lived in her home for 47 years, for a $4 million Dixmyth Avenue widening project. Her case is still on appeal.

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


Eminent domain misundertood: Cape Coral (FL) News-Press, 7/30/06

City part of redevelopment education project

By Pete Skiba

Despite Florida's laws against taking property for the elimination of blighted areas, people still believe that it can be done, said a state redevelopment organization spokeswoman.

"People thought we could just go in and take their homes in a Community Redevelopment Area," said Carol Westmoreland, executive director of the Florida Redevelopment Association. "We weren't taking people's homes and we can't take people's homes or businesses."

The statewide organization of 178 redevelopment areas plans to use Cape Coral as a pilot project to educate people on eminent domain and the purpose of a redevelopment area.

A state law signed by Gov. Jeb Bush on May 11 specifically restricts eminent domain or the taking of property for the community's welfare. Usually eminent domain is used to obtain land for roads, public facilities and water and sewer line installation.

The new law restricts eminent domain from being used to improve slums and blighted areas — an objective of Community Redevelopment Agencies.

The Florida redevelopment organization chose Cape Coral because it is considered to be making significant progress in rebuilding he blighted downtown and in educating investors, business owners and residents about its goals, said Westmoreland.

The state redevelopment organization hired RB Oppenheim Associates to review the Cape's public relations campaign and get the word out.

"Actually Cape Coral has been so effective, I'd say we are going to use it as a model for our manual rather than as a pilot project," said Rick Oppenheim, the public relations firm's owner.

The redevelopment agency hopes to turn the downtown into a thriving area where people can live, work, attend shows and dine out, among other activities, in a pleasant walkable area.

The redevelopment area covers Cape Coral's downtown from Tudor Drive to the west along both sides of Cape Coral Parkway to the Cape Coral Bridge at the east. A section runs north along Del Prado Boulevard to Southeast 44th Street.

Several projects with retail stores, restaurants and residential condominiums have been acquiring land and navigating the government regulation ocean to become reality. A couple others such as the proposed Piazza Di Venezia project could bring in a billion dollars of offices, restaurants, hotels and a possible convention center.

The manual outlining how redevelopment areas could effectively promote their goals should be finished by October in time for a statewide conference of redevelopment agency officials.

Costs for the project will be taken out of the state organization's $152,629 total budget. Because the program is just beginning there has been no estimate of the program's full cost, Westmoreland said.

The state organization collects dues from more than 600 members, including but not limited to the state's redevelopment agencies. A larger portion of the total budget comes from conferences, conventions and educational programs the organization hosts.

"I consider myself lucky to work with people who helped make our good work come to the attention of the state association," said Suzanne Kuehn, redevelopment agency executive director.

Cape Coral News-Press: http://www.news-press.com

Talk of eminent domain stirs fears in Ogden: Salt Lake (Salt Lake City UT) Tribune, 7/30/06

Humble but proud: Some residents of a neighborhood just west of Wall Avenue aren't ready to move

By Jacob Santini

This pocket of Ogden probably isn't the vision of the American dream.

It's old. Two sets of bone-rattling railroad tracks cross the street. Some yards are unkempt, and several homes are deteriorating.

For Christina Rodriguez, this is home. She has no plans to leave.

But Rodriguez could be vetoed in months to come. The Utah League of Cities and Towns, along with a handful of the state's most influential communities, is studying a way to bring back the power of eminent domain - the tool that allows government to force sales of land - to spur private development.

"It makes me sad to even hear that," Rodriguez said. "If we had wanted to be rich, we'd be up there negotiating, negotiating and renegotiating."

The little neighborhood that sits just west of Ogden's Wall Avenue, between 2100 South and 2200 South, is ground zero for the eminent-domain battle.

Two years ago, Wal-Mart wanted the land. City officials sided with the world's largest retailer and believed the 21-acre development would help fill city coffers and spur a wide swath of economic develop- ment.

Residents balked.

Some, like Rodriguez, said they weren't interested in selling.

Utah lawmakers scuttled that development in early 2005 when they stripped cities of the ability to condemn land for such purposes. Eminent domain was allowed only to make way for standard public works projects, such as roadways, electrical plants and schools.

And when the redevelopment agency (RDA) law was retooled earlier this year, lawmakers were more precise in their definition of what constitutes blight in a community.

"Nothing's happened," Ogden Mayor Matthew Godfrey said about the neighborhood. "That's the real issue. The area is still blighted."

Be clear: The league isn't moving with an eye on Ogden. It has its sites on urban cores that have deteriorated over the decades and now are blighted.

Eminent domain, city officials argue, is needed to help compile land for redevelopment.

"Use of eminent domain is very important when one property owner is holding out to jack up prices," said Salt Lake City Councilman Eric Jergensen. He heads a league committee looking at the issue.

Jergensen notes that the capital doesn't have anything to gain because its RDA project areas are too old to implement eminent domain.

The move to bring back eminent domain has support beyond urban communities. The state's Legislative Auditor General issued an analysis that supports bringing back condemnation powers for private use. The U.S. Supreme Court also has upheld the doctrine.

League officials argue they don't plan to try to bring eminent domain back as it was. They suggest language that would add more protection for property owners.

For instance: Two-thirds of the property owners within a project area would have to be willing sellers, cities would have to comply with a "necessity test" to ensure a project's need, and a supermajority of a city council must endorse the use of eminent domain.

"These are some ideas that were thrown out to discuss," said Lincoln Shurtz, a policy analyst for the league.

Shurtz understands the movement back to allowing condemnation works against what the public perceives about the issue.

"The perception [is] that government comes and takes their property and they don't get just compensation," Shurtz said.

That worry has the league toying with the concept of upping the payment price from market value to the cost of replacement.

Talk about reintroducing condemnation ignites new worries in the Ogden neighborhood.

"Some of us are happy with what we have," Rodriguez said. "I don't think the eminent-domain statute was made for this purpose."

Salt Lake Tribune: http://www.sltrib.com

Eminent domain initiative slammed: In Business Las Vegas (NV), 7/28/06

By Stephanie Tavares

A large group of Nevada business organizations, government agencies and individuals has filed suit in Clark County District Court to get a popular eminent domain constitutional amendment thrown off the November ballot.

The group — which includes the Las Vegas and Henderson chambers of commerce, Nevadans for the Protection of Property Rights, Southern Nevada Home Builders Association, Nevada Contractors Association, Clark County, the three regional water and flood control agencies and Clark County Commissioner Bruce Woodbury — filed the claim on July 20.

It has called on the court to void the proposition, prohibit the secretary of state from placing it on the ballot as well as attorneys fees for the costs of filing the suit.

"We've been seeking legal opinions as to the likely effect this would have on government and quality of life in the community, and the advice that we've received is that it would be devastating," Woodbury said. "Legal action is necessary because we feel the provision violates several laws about what can qualify, and the effects of the petition would be so harmful that action needs to be taken."

The proposal is aimed at limiting the scope of the government's use of eminent domain to public works-type projects. It is in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision one year ago that allowed governments to seize "blighted" properties (often in well-kept middle class and blue-collar neighborhoods) through eminent domain to give to developers.

The highlights of the proposal are:
  • Property must be valued at the use which yields the highest value (Nevada currently uses "probable price," which is often lower).
  • Transfer of land from one private party to another private party is not public use.
  • Government actions causing economic loss to property require the payment of just compensation.
  • Property taken but not used within five years for the purpose for which it was taken must be returned (sold back at the original price) to the owner.

The proposal also states that an elected judge must approve the use of eminent domain, that the property owner can disqualify one judge at each judicial level and that the property owner would not be liable for paying the government's attorneys fees or court costs.

Proponents say it is necessary to ensure Nevadans' property rights are protected for generations to come. They say there is nothing illegal about the petition since it all pertains to eminent domain and that it will not cripple the government.

"The main thing is we want to add a necessary section in the Nevada Constitution that deals exclusively with eminent domain provisions," said attorney and PISTOL supporter Don Chairez, a Republican candidate for Nevada attorney general. "Since the Kelo (v. City of New London) decision, eminent domain proceedings have tripled. And the government never takes the properties that are actually blighted. They take the desirable properties."

But the group suing PISTOL says it goes way beyond helping Nevadans keep their homes and businesses. The proposition would also allow them to sue the government any time it does something that could decrease the value of their land (examples cited were road widenings, public facilities being moved, and not allowing zoning changes). The threat of endless lawsuits would effectively halt future development of public infrastructure like roads and aqueducts.

"Businesses should be deeply concerned because if businesspeople are looking for orderly stable growth, this proposal will destroy that for the future," Woodbury said. "There will be a chaotic situation in this community where business locations will not have the kind of protections they need from incompatible uses next door."

"What we're trying to do is prevent the abuses," he said. "I think that people believe the Kelo decision violates their concept of fundamental fairness. Nobody is against an eminent domain project for a legitimate public use but they saw how the U.S. Supreme Court was willing to stretch that to take away Kelo's home and give it to a developer to sell it to rich people."

In Business Las Vegas: http://www.inbusinesslasvegas.com

Aldermen retain eminent domain use: The Connecticut Post, 7/29/06

By Matthew Higbee

The [Derby CT] Board of Aldermen has rejected an ordinance proposed by a businessman inside the city's redevelopment zone that would have barred the use of eminent domain for private developments.

The vote came on Thursday, the same night as an anti-eminent domain rally that attracted activists from around the state and representatives from a Washington-based property rights organization. After the meeting, city officials said that they had no desire to use eminent domain. But at the same time, they said, some of the remaining property owners had not negotiated in good faith with the city or the city's preferred developer, Stoneridge Partners and Ceruzzi-Derby LLC.

"The developer wants to sit down with them. At some meetings, he has told them 'You have my phone number. Let's talk.' But these people don't do anything," Mayor Anthony Staffieri said Friday.

Staffieri said successful settlements with four properties inside the redevelopment zone demonstrated the willingness of the city and the developer to treat the property owners fairly. In the latest deal, the city has agreed to pay the owners of Derby Jewelers $180,000 for its building and $50,000 for relocation costs. Carl Yacobacci, a cabinetmaker who owns several parcels inside the redevelopment zone, said that city officials had abandoned the property owners and were unfairly painting them as greedy troublemakers. "What is the fair market value of our property when we don't want to sell?" asked Yacobacci, adding that with the threat of eminent domain, he was at a severe disadvantage in the negotiations. "We want a reasonable profit. But how do you negotiate when the other party has a maximum limit."

Richard Dunne, a member of the Redevelopment Agency, said that eminent domain was a necessary tool to make sure that taxpayers do not overpay for property.

"The power exists nationwide," Dunne said, adding that without eminent domain, the city would be at a disadvantage in competing for economic development.

Staffieri said that the city had received two separate appraisals for the remaining properties and the corporation counsel would sit down with the owners in the next two weeks.

Connecticut Post: http://www.connpost.com

Blagojevich signs eminent domain law: Bloomington (IL) Pantagraph, 7/28/06

By Matt Adrian

Property owners will have more power to oppose local government attempts to seize their land under a new law signed Friday by Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The rewrite of Illinois eminent domain laws make it harder for local governments to take property and will require relocation costs be paid to displaced people.

“This law goes further than anything we’ve ever done to protect the rights of property owners while making sure that important public projects can still move forward," Blagojevich said in a prepared statement.

The law is a reaction to a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that allowed a Connecticut city to condemn six homes to make room for an office complex.

In the wake of the ruling, politicians nationwide have scrambled to address the issue. This year, 42 states are considering similar legislation.

Government can still take property to build roads, bridges and airports, said state Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, the measure’s House sponsor.

"People understand you gotta have railroads. You gotta have interstates," he said. "Where people really have problems … is where the government comes in and takes your private property and gives it to another private landowner."

The measure also allows property owners to get more money when government takes their land.

"It’s also another disincentive for the government to take your property, because it is going to cost more," he said.

The law also requires local governments to pay a property owner’s legal fees in cases where the condemnation request is denied.

The Illinois Municipal League opposed the changes, but chose not to fight its final passage earlier this year. Opponents of the eminent domain rewrite argued it would make it more difficult for communities to attract new business.

The new law takes effect Jan. 1, 2007, and does not apply to any property seized before that date. Bradley doesn’t believe this will cause municipalities to accelerate condemnation proceedings to beat the deadline.

"These cases take so long to do, you can’t really rush out and attempt to get one conclude by then," he said.

The legislation also exempts tax increment financing district redevelopment plans adopted by April 15 and expansion surrounding O’Hare International Airport in Chicago.

The Pantagraph: http://www.pantagraph.com

Vilsack won’t challenge eminent domain law: Mason City (IA) Globe Gazette, 7/28/06

By Dan Gearino

[Iowa] Gov. Tom Vilsack said Friday that he will not go to court to challenge a new law that limits local governments’ power to seize private property.

Vilsack vetoed the property-rights measure early last month, but the Legislature passed on override of the veto two weeks ago in a special session. At the time of the override, backers of the bill said a legal challenge was likely, either from the governor or from a city or county government.

Vilsack said he won’t make a challenge because he won’t be in office long enough to see a case through to its conclusion. He isn’t seeking re-election and his term ends next January.

“It is unlikely that the case would decided in the time I left as governor, so it really doesn’t make much sense for me to pursue it,” he said, speaking to reporters following the taping of the Iowa Public Television program “Iowa Press.”

He said he doesn’t know if a city or county government will go to court.

The new law bans local governments from seizing private property for private economic development, with few exceptions.

Globe Gazette: http://www.globegazette.com

Land use watchdog alert — support Romney veto on eminent domain: The Bridge (Somerville MA), 7/29/06

By John Andrews and Jill Stein

Stop the new Massachusetts eminent domain law and its threat to local democratic government! Please call your state Senator and urge him or her to sustain the Governor's veto of Chapter 40T.

Over the past year, citizens' calls have helped stall a series of harmful bills advanced through secretive, backroom Beacon Hill channels. Now, yet another alarming measure has suddenly surfaced that strikes at the heart of local democracy. It is Chapter 40T (which is contained in Section 41 of H5057).

The secrecy surrounding Chapter 40T has prevented a full analysis or understanding of its complicated provisions. But several respected community leaders have expressed their concerns to us that it represents an unprecedented power grab by the real estate development lobby.

Chapter 40T amounts to the privatization of local government. It allows real estate developers to, in effect, secede from a local municipality and to set up their own government with the goal of making profits from the land within Special Development Districts. They can even include unwilling property owners within the district, depriving them of many protections and rights.

Such a basic attack upon democratic principles demands public clarification and debate before it is implemented, not after.

Chapter 40T was vetoed by Governor Mitt Romney based on a lack of due process, but that veto was narrowly overridden in the House yesterday.

Please call your state Senator and urge him or her to stop Chapter 40T (Section 41 of H5057) by supporting Governor Romney’s veto. To find your Senator's contact information, see

Concerns raised about Chapter 40T:
  • Chapter 40T allows real estate developers a way to form “Special Development Districts” which are essentially private municipalities within a larger city or town. Powers normally reserved for local government would be put in the hands of a Prudential Committee composed of real estate developers.
  • The Prudential Committee could establish their own bylaws and initiate eminent domain proceedings against property owners within the district.
  • The Prudential Committee could exact taxes and assessments against property owners within the district.
  • The Prudential Committee could be controlled with as few as two votes. A quorum of only three members can conduct business, and all decisions are by majority vote.
  • Taxpayers in the surrounding municipality would still be responsible for paying for services demanded by property owners within the district. But there would be a separate system of taxation within the district that could not be tapped for municipal use, such as supporting schools.
    Members of the House quoted in today's State House News underscore these concerns:
  • It's never been given a number, heard, and sent through our process. It was a section written outside of the state legislature by special interests and placed in the economic stimulus bill.
  • There are too few checks for the town government over the power of these developers.

The Bridge: http://bridgenews.org

For more on Chapter 40T: www.masschc.org.

John Andrews is President of the Massachusetts Coalition for Healthy Communities

Jill Stein is candidate for Secretary of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Begging for billionaires — a documentary on eminent domain, 7/31/06

Begging for billonaires is a documentary about two family buinesses fighting eminent domain, and others trying to preserve what they view as their Constitutional property rights.

Begging for billionaires: www.beggingforbillionaires.com

For information, contact Philip Klein: awiester@ustoyco.com