Respect new eminent domain law: Miami FL Herald, 1/13/07

The [Hollywood FL] City Commission is again considering using eminent domain, this time to clear a blighted city block for an affordable-housing project. If the commission votes to use eminent domain in this case, it would challenge a new state law restricting local governments' use of eminent domain. The commission should seek more legal research before taking a deciding vote.

Public purposes
Eminent domain used to be Hollywood's preferred tool for obtaining properties to spur redevelopment. Before the law changed, cities could force property sales to clear land for private developers. But last spring the Legislature restricted cities' use of eminent domain to public purposes, such as schools or roads. Last November, state voters bolstered that law with a constitutional amendment.

Also, in June of last year, Hollywood lost an eminent-domain case when a circuit court judge upheld a property owner who challenged the forced sale of his business. The judge ruled that the property wasn't needed as part of a proposed $100 million condominium-retail complex.

Proponents of the new plan argue that this would be a ''friendly'' takeover, which the new law allows when the property owner doesn't object and is properly compensated. And, they say, the land wouldn't be transferred to a private developer but given to owners who buy the planned homes. Some legal experts warn that even though the city's intent is worthy - replacing blight with reasonably priced homes - it isn't a public use. The law prohibits the transfer of condemned property to any private party, which presumably includes individual homeowners.

Two more lots
The lots on the block were involved in a property scam. When the scam collapsed, the 14 properties had numerous owners, often with conflicting claims. For four years the city has been painstakingly tracking down owners to buy them out, and it has successfully used eminent domain to take nine properties. There are just two more lots to obtain, which is why the city is considering eminent domain again. But the new rules complicate this plan. The commission should do its homework before taking on the new law so that the city doesn't end up in another costly lawsuit.

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