Bills advance on eminent domain use: Richmond VA Times-Dispatch, 2/23/07

Both houses' plans would limit condemnation power for development purposes

By Greg Edwards

Bills restricting use of government condemnation powers for economic development passed the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates yesterday.

Because they differ in one significant aspect, they likely are headed to a conference committee, which would look for middle ground.

A search for compromise runs throughout the bills, which by yesterday had the backing of most organizations allowed to exercise eminent domain in Virginia.

The only holdouts were city housing authorities that have used condemnation to revive blighted neighborhoods. Language in the legislation would have prevented the authorities from using eminent domain to acquire individual properties in a redevelopment area unless it was blighted, vacant, created a public nuisance or was beyond repair.

In a close vote, Sen. Martin E. Williams, R-Newport News, successfully amended the House bill in the Senate to allow condemnation to acquire all property in a redevelopment area as long as 85 percent of the area is blighted. Without the amendment, Williams argued, a single holdout property owner could hold up an entire project.

Sen. Ken Cuccinelli, R-Fairfax, who managed the bill on the Senate floor, argued that Williams' amendment would allow government to take someone's well-kept property. The policy intended by the bill, like the Constitution's Bill of Rights, is to protect individual rights, which may inconvenience the government, he said.

The legislation with Williams' amendment passed the Senate, 33-3. In the House, the legislation passed without the amendment, 87-9.

Martha Moore of the Virginia Farm Bureau said yesterday's action gives her hope the House and Senate will agree on a measure that will protect the public from eminent-domain abuse.

Richmond VA Times-Dispatch: http://www.timesdispatch.com