City denies Rep's eminent domain claims: United Press International Newstrack, 8/18/06

The city of Monrovia, Calif., has denied U.S. Rep. Gary Miller's claims that he was forced to sell property under eminent domain rules.

The California Republican's claims allowed him to avoid a 31 percent capital gains tax on a $10 million profit he made from a property sale in Monrovia, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday. In a financial disclosure form he filed in Congress, Miller claimed the city forced him to sell the property under threat of eminent domain.

However, city officials have denied Miller's claims, saying the sale was made willingly by the congressman and no threats of eminent domain, a rule that allows the government to force a property sale if it is deemed to be in the public's best interest, were made.

Monrovia Planning Commissioner Glen Owens said the city could not have forced Miller to sell the property because the state rules would not allow it.

"The state doesn't go along with eminent domain," he said. "You have to have a willing seller."

IRS and the state Franchise Tax Board officials said they do not comment on individual cases.

United Press International Newstrack: http://www.upi.com/NewsTrack

Ruben Chapel subject of eminent domain proceedings: Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo MS),8/13/06

By Lena Mitchell

Negotiations have been under way for more than a year between Prentiss County [MS] and a church that stands in the path of lengthening the Booneville-Prentiss County Airport runway.

Having reached an impasse, county officials have begun eminent domain proceedings to acquire property where Ruben Chapel CME Church and a small cemetery now stand.

Trustees of the church have received papers summoning them to court in September, said the church’s pastor, Rev. Henry Damons Sr.

“We’re praying we do not have to go to trial, and that this be settled without going to court,” Damons said.

At issue is conflicting appraisals of the property by representatives for the county and the church.

The church’s appraiser, Jack Sabely of Pontotoc, has said the fair market value of the property is $285,000, although to rebuild will cost the church $340,000.

The latest offer the church received was $180,000 from attorney Tyler Moss on behalf of the county, and members of the church voted to not accept the offer.

“All we’re asking for is a fair market value, and they claim they don’t have the money to give us what we have as the appraised value,” Damons said.

Information was not immediately available as to what other property owners may be subject to the eminent domain proceedings.

However, Chancery Clerk Travis Childers said Friday that settlement had been reached with at least one other property owner earlier in the week.

Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal (Tupelo MS): http://www.djournal.com

City pursues eminent domain of shooting range: (Ashtabula OH) Star Beacon, 8/11/06

By Margie Trax Page

Major steps are being taken by the city [of Geneva OH] in the eminent-domain proceedings to acquire the Ohio Rubber Co. Sportsman's Association's Gun Club, even as gun club members resist any land sale.

City Council has long had it's eye on ORCO's land, which adjoins a proposed community park along Romeo Road.

The proposed 100-acre community park cannot move forward without the purchase, or acquisition by eminent domain, of ORCO's 40-acre outdoor shooting range. Council has determined that the club's outdoor shooting range, in the middle of the property, would deter families from using the nearby park.

The proposed park would include a soccer field, football field, six baseball fields, a playground, swimming pool, community center, exercise trail, cross-country skiing, an obstacle course, bicycle track, walking track, track and field area, nature classroom, dog run, rollerblade park and an outdoor water park.

Last week, council officially expressed it's interest in the land with the passage of an ordinance that sets a price goal for the ORCO property at $2,000 per acre for 40-plus acres, including an indoor shooting range. Failing the outright sale of the land, the city will pursue eminent-domain proceedings, Councilman William Buskirk said.

"This just means that we are moving ahead and trying to negotiate with (ORCO). This step is needed because ORCO's representatives have refused to negotiate in the past," Buskirk said.

ORCO President Geoff Kotzar called the city's offer "a ridiculous low ball."

"Right now, land in rural areas is going for $5,000 an acre," Kotzar said. "There are 2.4 acres of land between Eagle and Swan streets with an asking price of over $100,000. How is it that our land that is only a one-half mile farther west is worth so much less? It boggles the mind," he said.

Kotzar said the indoor shooting range alone cost more than what council is offering for the land.

Buskirk said council is only trying to "make lemonade out of lemons" on a sweet land deal gone sour.

Geneva purchased the 100-acre property on Romeo Road originally to develop an industrial park, but it was deemed unsuitable for industrial use.

Kotzar said the public should question the actions of a government that has made so many planning mistakes.

"This reflects bad planning from the get-go," Kotzar said. "They have not done a traffic study. The land backs up to (Geneva Township) land that is used for hunting, and there is no zoning to regulate the hunting in the township," he said.

"It sounds illogical because it is illogical," Kotzar said.

(Ashtabula OH) Star Beacon: http://www.starbeacon.com

The hammer is smaller: My Web Times (Ottawa IL), 8/12/06

Cities, property owners mull impacts of new state law

By Jonathan Bilyk

Tim Jobst is glad the rules have changed.

He only wishes he could have played using the new set.

"Would things have been different? I don't know," said Jobst. "But down the road, I hope this will spare other people some of the headaches we went through."

Last week, [Illinois] Gov. Rod Blagojevich signed into law new legislation that supporters say will make it more difficult for cities and other local governments to seize private property for private development.

The law comes in response to a controversial ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court last year, which declared that governmental bodies can use eminent domain to take property from one private owner and give it to another when a project might benefit the larger community.

But the high court invited states to impose their own restrictions.

And in Illinois, beginning Jan. 1, local governments will face a more stringent process when attempting to use condemnation powers to combat economic blight or when seeking to aid a developer in building a new hotel, retail complex, industrial building or other private venture.

And Jobst, for one, welcomes the changes.

In 2004, Jobst felt eminent domain first hand, when the city of Ottawa filed a condemnation suit against him to compel him to sell his restaurant, Jimmy John's sandwich shop, to a developer seeking to build a hotel on the 100 block of West Main Street, which lies adjacent to Jobst's store.

The block, known locally as the Jordan block, has stood largely vacant and decaying since it was ravaged by fire in 1998.

The threat of eminent domain alone compelled Jobst to settle out of court, at a price he believed too small.

Ultimately, the hotel plan was scrapped in favor of a new proposal by a new developer to find an investor willing to develop retail stores, restaurants and condominiums on the block.

And, while the search for that investor continues, Jobst has been allowed to continue to operate his sandwich shop.

But Jobst said the process still troubles him.

"To allow something like this is wrong on a lot of different levels," said Jobst. "So I'm glad there have been some corrections."

Most notably, the new law shifts the burden onto the city or other entity desiring to take the land to prove that the property in question actually is blighted, meaning that it is no longer economically productive.

And that, said Anita Kopko, an attorney for the city of Ottawa, is a key provision.

Previously, she noted, a city council could simply pass a resolution declaring a property to be blighted.

Then, it was essentially up to the property owner to prove to a judge that the city's assessment was wrong.

"This will place a heavier burden on the city or unit of local government," said Kopko. "There is no question that this will make our job harder when using condemnation proceedings."

That appraisal of the law was shared by local state legislators.

State Rep. Frank Mautino, D-Spring Valley, one of the bill's co-sponsors, said he believed Illinois law was already stringent concerning eminent domain.

But he said the new law strengthens the balance between private property owners and the public good.

And State Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Peru, also praised the law.

"Before, municipalities could use eminent domain as a hammer against private property owners in negotiations," said Dahl. "But now that hammer is a lot smaller."

Steven Anderson, an attorney with the Washington, D.C.-based libertarian public interest law firm, the Institute for Justice, described the Illinois law as "a good start."

He praised the law for prohibiting the seizure of farm land for economic development and for requiring cities to prove blight.

But Anderson said the law still would allow municipalities to abuse eminent domain, as the law does not spell out a clear definition of economic blight.

He said Illinois would have been better served to follow the example of Florida, which enacted a law prohibiting cities from using eminent domain to cure blight.

"Florida stands as the example of a state that takes the property rights of its residents businesses seriously," said Anderson.

Kopko said the new rules, if they had been in place in 2004, would have likely slowed the city's task of accumulating the properties that were ultimately sold to the Jordan block developer last month.

"There would have been more hoops for us to jump through, definitely," she said.

But she predicted that cities will likely continue to use eminent domain to aid developers seeking to redevelop areas city officials believe to be in need of work.

"There are some parts of the law that are vague, yes," said Kopko. "And cities will still move forward with ridding areas of town of blight and non-productivity."

My Web Times: http://mywebtimes.com/ottnews