Leader of push for change in eminent domain resigns: Dallas TX Morning News, 3/30/07

Official with nonprofit was criticized for legislative proposal

By Scott Goldstein

A lead official with the nonprofit that is lobbying for controversial legislation to allow the use of eminent domain for private development in South Dallas resigned this week.

Nat Tate, president and chief executive officer of Frazier Revitalization Inc., the development arm of the Foundation for Community Empowerment, was the public face of the push for eminent domain in the Frazier Courts neighborhood in recent weeks.

The plan was met with staunch criticism from community leaders who said they feared that eminent domain would be misused to displace longtime residents.

But the resignation also follows criticism from some who said Mr. Tate and his organization failed to include the broader community in discussions about their proposal.

Mr. Tate and his boss, FCE founder and chairman J. McDonald "Don" Williams, vowed until recently to continue their push for legalizing the use of eminent domain in objectively defined "blighted" areas for residential and commercial redevelopment.

Mr. Tate and Mr. Williams, former chief executive of Trammell Crow, did not return calls seeking comment Thursday evening.

Victoria Loe Hicks, senior writer for FCE, said she was unaware of a reason for Mr. Tate's resignation.

"I could only speculate that he didn't want to continue working on the project," Ms. Hicks said.

The Foundation for Community Empowerment had hoped to broaden eminent domain powers in the Legislature. The organization was pushing for changes in law that would allow a municipality to designate a wide area as blighted based on objective criteria, including the male unemployment rate, crime rate, property value and percent of unfit and undeveloped parcels.

After public hearings and in accordance with a City Council-approved development plan, the local government could initiate eminent domain in the designated blighted area to acquire commercial property, vacant and abandoned lots, rental property and multifamily units. Eminent domain, however, could not be used to acquire single-family, owner-occupied residences.

Mr. Tate defended the plan to sometimes raucous crowds at two town hall meetings on the topic, including one hosted by state Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, a week ago.

Mr. Tate continued to defend the Frazier Courts project as a way to clean up the community while protecting homeowners' rights. He gave no hint of any intention to resign during his public comments at that March 23 meeting.

"I ask the one question: Are you satisfied with what you have now, and do you want to see change?" he asked the hundreds of residents who attended.

But after the proposed changes met with community resistance, project supporters had vowed to go back into the community to better frame the issues at stake.

"I think it goes back to having discussions with the community," said Antong "Kiddo" Lucky, an ex-gang member who sits on the Frazier Revitalization Board.

Frazier Revitalization Incorporated Board members received official notice of Mr. Tate's resignation Thursday.

Though legislation probably would have applied to broader areas of the state, the proposal was prompted by the organization's development plans for the Frazier Courts neighborhood of South Dallas. The area comprises over 1,100 acres, roughly bounded by Scyene Road, Fitzhugh Avenue, South Haskell Road and Parkdale Lake.

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