Dispute Over Eminent Domain Sign Headed To Court: KSDK, St Louis MO, 6/26/07

By Cordell Whitlock

The city says it's simply too big, but supporters say a sign in St. Louis is protected by free speech. Now, the issue may be settled in court.

The Land Clearance For Redevelopment Authority in St. Louis also known as the LCRA ruled a mural critical of eminent domain on South 13th Street violates a city ordinance. But, the owners say they have no plans to remove the artwork.

Jim Roos says two weeks after a mural reading "End Eminent Domain Abuse" was painted on the side of a building in March, a building inspector told him he needed a permit. The giant mural is visible from Interstate 44. Roos' organization believes eminent domain, the state's ability to seize private property for public use, needs to be abolished.

"We have supporters of MEDAC who say they will support our legal costs to defend the sign," said Roos.

The Missouri Eminent Domain Abuse Coalition or MEDAC may need that cash. Tuesday afternoon, the LCRA ruled the organization's giant mural does not comply with a city ordinance because of its size and location in a residential neighborhood. MEDAC argues the sign is an expression of free speech.

"The sign dissents and opposes city action which includes their eminent domain practice," said MEDAC's attorney John Randall. "It's an intent to communicate that viewpoint. Political speech is the purest form of speech under the constitution," Randall said.

Dale Ruthsatz, a member of the St. Louis Development Corporation and a spokesperson for the LCRA, says the Authority's decision had nothing to do with the Constitution. "The board's only job is to make sure the ordinance approved by the board of alderman is upheld. They are not in a position to evaluate a freedom of speech issue," said Ruthsatz.

That may be decided in circuit court, the next stop for MEDAC when it files an appeal. In the meantime, Roos says the mural will stay. MEDAC will go before the City Zoning Board Of Adjustment July 11th for further discussion of a permit for the sign.

KSDK, St Louis MO: http://www.ksdk.com