Cook holds out eminent domain as last resort: El Paso TX Times, 5/10/07

By Darren Meritz

Downtown El Paso revitalization can be accomplished without the use of eminent domain, Mayor John Cook said Wednesday at a luncheon of the Central Business Association.

Cook, however, said after the presentation that he would not propose removing from the Downtown plan the potential use of eminent domain - a major sticking point for some opponents to the redevelopment project.

Eminent domain "is not going to be taken off the table because we're going to follow what the state law prescribes," Cook said before an estimated 100 members of the association.

"We'll find other ways to get the project done."

Cook said the results of an El Paso Times/NewsChannel 9 Poll published Wednesday - which indicates 62 percent of city voters oppose use of eminent domain for Downtown revitalization - should temper any city efforts to use it if it ever came up.

State law allows Texas cities to use eminent domain in blighted areas. The state Legislature is considering a measure that would more specifically define blight as abandoned, unsafe or uninhabitable properties that could be polluted, unsafe because of the threat of natural disaster, environmentally contaminated or the site of repeated illegal activity.

Walter Kim, an opponent of the Downtown plan and president of the Korean Chamber of Commerce of El Paso, said the city should make clear what it considers blighted or remove eminent domain from consideration.

"Nobody in El Paso knows what's going on, exactly," Kim said. "They don't even tell us the definition of blighted."

Cook said he expected the city to begin the residential component of the Downtown plan - which calls for subsidized and market-rate housing around the Magoffin district just east of the El Paso County Courthouse - sometime this summer.

"I hope they'll take note that we didn't use eminent domain to get (the residential component) accomplished," Cook said.

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