Williamson highway commissioners choose not to fight eminent domain ruling: The Tennessean, Nashville TN, 1/3/07

By Mitchell Kline

Williamson County highway commissioners voted this morning not to appeal a judge’s ruling that the county can’t use eminent domain to acquire land for a road-widening project.

The Highway Commission has long discussed widening a section of Temple Road in northern Williamson County. The mile-long section is narrow and crumbling apart. Many residents want the road fixed, but some don’t want the road widened. The owners of five pieces of land objected to the county’s attempt to condemn part of their land for the project.

Circuit Court Judge R.E. Lee Davies ruled that the Highway Commission failed to consider or vote on whether or not Temple Road should be improved. He stated this amounted to an “arbitrary and capricious act.”

County Attorney Jeff Mosley said the Highway Commission can still take action to improve Temple Road, as long as it follows state law. Highway commissioners are working on the adoption of a new policy to follow when deciding whether and how to improve roads. Mosley said the new process would be “transparent” and include documents the public could access.

The Tennessean, Nashville TN: http://www.tennessean.com

Visalia loses eminent domain case: Central Valley Business Times, Stockton CA, 1/3/07

Jury verdict ends years of litigation
Must pay $600k for seized building

A Tulare County Superior Court jury has decided that the city of Visalia overstepped its bounds when it seized a downtown building housing the Main Street Theater and paid the owners about half of its market value.

The city had used its powers of eminent domain to acquire the building for $385,000 in 2004. But the jury this week said it must pay owners Jerrold Harrah and Lillian Martin $600,000 for the property.

That’s the amount the owners had been offered for the building by a church before the city stepped in to acquired the property.

Appraisers for the owners had put a $650,000 value on the property which has been the location for a Visalia children's theater group known as Enchanted Playhouse.

The cost of lawyers and other legal fees could add another $300,000 to the price the city pays.

Central Valley Business Times, Stockton CA: http://www.centralvalleybusinesstimes.com

House Takes on Eminent Domain: WTOK-TV11, Meridian MS, 1/4/07

By Wendy Suares

The Mississippi House of Representatives passed its first bill of the 2007 session, limiting the government's right to take your property through eminent domain.

It's the second year in a row lawmakers are taking on eminent domain. They're acting against a Supreme Court decision ruling your land can be taken by the government for private use.

"To make sure big corporations like Wal-Mart and others don't come in and take your home, take your church, take your business, take your cemetery. This is to protect property owners of this state," said Rep. Jamie Franks of Mooreville.

The House bill restricts eminent domain for economic development use and allows the original land owner to buy the land back if it sits unused for ten years.

Eminent domain gained attention in Mississippi back in 2001 when the state acquired land in Canton for Nissan. Franks says his bill would not have stopped Nissan from building its plant, but there are other concerns about the bill that flew through the House so early in the session.

"We've been here two days. It hadn't had time to be thought through," said Rep. Jim Simpson of Pass Christian. "There are a lot of technical problems with the language."

Simpson warned fellow lawmakers the bill would hurt communities that try to recruit new industrial parks. Still, he says the idea behind the bill is a good one and it stands a shot of passing this year.

"If people will work on it in good faith and put some work into it and not just try to get political mileage out of it, yeah, it's got a good shot," Simpson said.

The House easily passed the Eminent Domain Bill just as it did this time last year, but last session both Chambers ultimately killed it the last week of session.

Sen. Charlie Ross also introduced an Eminent Domain Bill in 2006. He said he plans to do the same again this session.

WTOK-TV11, Meridian MS: http://www.wtok.com


Eminent domain tussle near Soulard: St Louis MO Post-Dispatch, 12/30/06

By Robert Patrick

St. Louis' redevelopment agency sued a convent, a saint, a nun and an elderly woman in a wheelchair who has a 999-year lease on Friday, seeking to use eminent domain to condemn a property in the Ice House District north of Soulard.

City officials hope the area will be a hip entertainment district one day, but first they have to remove stubborn landowners and tenants.

The suit, filed in St. Louis Circuit Court, says the city's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority has been unable to agree on a price for 1119-1127 South Broadway, owned by the Convent of the Sacred Heart.

The land and buildings have been leased for no rent to Salvatore and Mabel Inserra for a 999-year term, according to an appraisal supplied by the Inserras' lawyer, Francis X. Duda.

The Inserras have leased the 13,660-square-foot property since at least the early 1980s. Salvatore Inserra, a longtime Soulard Market produce seller, died at work in 1985 at age 60.

The suit also names property owners from centuries ago and their heirs, including John Mullanphy, said to be St. Louis' first millionaire, a nun and "Philipini Duchesne." The suit appears to be referring to St. Rose Phillipine Duchesne, who founded a school for the Society of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in a cabin in St. Charles in 1818, according to the Vatican. She died in 1852 and was canonized in 1988.

The lawyer who filed the suit, Alan Pratzel, said the defendants were based on the property's title records.

Representatives of the convent or Ice House District Redevelopment Co. LLC, the designated redeveloper, could not be reached for comment Friday.

Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court voted 5-4 that cities can use eminent domain for economic development.

An outcry after the decision prompted new laws in Missouri and Illinois seeking to curb the practice, but a provision awarding a 50 percent bonus over fair market value doesn't apply. That applies only to those who have owned the property for more than 50 years, and for suits filed after Dec. 31, 2006.

The city assessor's office said the convent has owned the property since the 1880s.

"My poor aunt, I think, is being taken advantage of," said Mabel Inserra's nephew Mariano Favazza, who is the St. Louis circuit clerk. "But she's one of thousands being displaced from their property … on behalf of someone who has more friends and more power. It's just not right."

Pratzel said that the agency had bargained in good faith for the property and that the eminent domain process would establish fair market value.

Duda disagreed, saying there had been no good-faith attempt to reach an agreement. Mabel Inserra barely had time to hire a lawyer, said Duda, who was hired Thursday.

"We were told suddenly that the lawsuit would be filed this week," he said.

Duda said the filing may be an attempt to avoid the new eminent domain law.

St Louis MO Post-Dispatch: http://www.stltoday.com

Better notice on eminent domain: Centralia WA Chronicle, 12/27/06


Private-property owners absolutely should be given direct, personal notice by government entities about to take their property through the eminent domain procedure.

Notification by simply putting it on a Web site or through some other indirect method leaves it to chance whether an affected property owner will be informed in advance.

Yet the [Washington] state Supreme Court has ruled that Sound Transit in the Puget Sound area could use its agency Web site to satisfy the notice requirement on eminent domain. Under existing state law, the court apparently had no other choice in its ruling.

Accordingly, we welcome the bipartisan push by state Attorney General Rob McKenna, a Republican, and Gov. Chris Gregoire, a Democrat, for legislation to require local governments to give direct notice to affected property owners when an eminent domain decision is approaching. Eminent domain is allowed by our U.S. Constitution for condemnation of private property for the greater good of a public project, such as a highway or school.

But a majority of local governments are relying on Web sites for eminent domain notice, as the court is allowing Sound Transit to do, or on notification simply in published general meeting agendas. That's not adequate notification, McKenna said.

Average persons don't scan government Web sites to determine if their property is threatened by an eminent domain taking and they shouldn't be expected to do that.

The McKenna-Gregoire legislation would require a certified letter be sent to the affected party when a governing body is about to take property. The government entity would also be required to publish in the largest area newspaper notification of the meeting to decide on the eminent domain.

McKenna promised when he ran for attorney general in 2004 that he would be a strong advocate for open government on behalf of the people. He has kept that promise not only with this proposed legislation, but also in other ways. That includes, recently, another bipartisan effort with Gregoire to push for legislation to create a "Sunshine Committee" to promote better disclosure of public records. Exemptions to disclosure approved by the Legislature have unreasonably made it increasingly more difficult for the public to obtain information on government activities.

Access to public records is hugely important to newspapers such as ours in their role as watchdog for the public.

We hope that Gregoire will use her bully pulpit as governor to influence her Democratic colleagues who control the Legislature to pass these important legislative proposals.

Centralia WA Chronicle: http://www.chronline.com