Ban on Eminent Domain Abuse Heads to Ballot in Columbia
The city council for Columbia, Mo., voted unanimously on Monday to put on the ballot a charter amendment that prohibits eminent domain abuse. Come April 2013, citizens will have the opportunity to bolster their private property rights by voting to approve the amendment.
As noted previously, Missouri has very broad definitions of blight and abysmal property rights protections, earning a “D” from the Castle Coalition. In fact, as the Columbian Missourian points out, in February, the council once approved a resolution that “declared 60 percent of Columbia as blighted or having conditions that lead to blight.” But after a public backlash, the council was forced to rescind the blight resolution in May.
By Nick Sibilla
Columbia, MO votes on eminent domain abuse ban
Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe has proposed a new charter amendment to restrict eminent domain abuse in Columbia, Mo. The amendment would prevent authorizing eminent domain for private gain and for “economic development,” as well “for programs related to economic development such as jobs programs, poverty alleviation, or area, community or neighborhood revitalization.”
This charter amendment is solely needed for Columbia. Missouri earned a “D” from the Castle Coalition for its lax eminent domain laws and notoriously vague blight criteria, including factors like “inadequate street layout,” “unsafe conditions,” and “obsolete platting.”
Indeed, as the Columbia Missourian reports,
The measure comes in response to citizens' worries about the city's potential establishment of an enhanced enterprise zone program. An EEZ is a state-run program that provides tax incentives to spark expansion of existing businesses or manufacturing companies and the development of new small businesses. An area must be declared "blighted" to qualify for an EEZ, according to state statute.
The Columbia City Council will vote on this amendment tonight. If it passes, it then will go before the voters in a special election in April 2013. Ballot initiatives against abusing eminent domain are very popular. Earlier this month, Virginia overwhelmingly passed a constitutional amendment to ban eminent domain abuse, by a margin of 3:1.
--By Nick Sibilla
Prince William County Supports Virginia Ban on Eminent Domain Abuse
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted 7-1 on Tuesday to support a proposed constitutional amendment that would strictly limit authorizing eminent domain. So far, Prince William County is the largest locality to support the amendment and is the only county in Northern Virginia to do so.
Chairman Corey Stewart, who introduced the resolution, argued supporting the amendment was vital to protect property rights:
“This will strengthen property rights protections in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This has been controversial. I personally believe that principle comes first. One of the things that distinguishes America and one of the reasons we've had such economic growth over the past 200-plus years is our commitment to property rights.”
Stewart also invoked IJ client Bob Wilson’s current struggle against eminent domain abuse in Norfolk: “While I trust this Board that we would not do something similar, we cannot be certain that a future Board wouldn't abuse its authority.”
As noted in September, the amendment is winning 43-19, with a wide margin of support among Democrats, Republicans, and independents. The proposed ban on eminent domain abuse also won a high-profile endorsement from Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli: “We're all for economic development, but not politically favored economic development…Crony capitalism is going to take a hit on Nov. 6 when the people of the Virginia pass this amendment.”
Victory at Last for Richmond Heights Homeowners
Alice McGee and JoAnn and Arthur Bailey can finally rest at peace in their beloved homes. Pace Properties has relented in their pursuit of “redeveloping” the Richmond Heights neighborhood, which would have meant using eminent domain to seize and bulldoze these homes to make way for upscale retail development.
This was the third time Hadley Township had threatened to use eminent domain if homeowners didn’t sell to a developer that would wipe out the historically black community. Each time homeowners told the developer that they wanted to remain in the homes they rightfully owned. But this time, the city truly listened. City officials have dropped plans to force “redevelopment” onto a neighborhood that doesn’t want it.
Family business of 40 years fights eminent domain
For almost 40 years, the Hiatt family has owned a copy center and printing store in Muncie, Ind. In 1985, Dave and Jane Hiatt added a satellite store on the Ball State University campus—open 16 hours a day, 364 days a year—to better accommodate students. Their son, Chris, now runs Hiatt Printing and also heads Citizens of Delaware County for Good Government, a local taxpayers' rights organization. But now Chris is getting steamrolled by Ball State.
On September 5, 2012, the university’s Board of Trustees authorized using eminent domain against Hiatt Printing. The largest employer in Muncie, Ball State wants to seize Chris’ print shop to build the McKinley Commons, a $25.9 million hotel, dorm, and conference center. If built, the commons would house 51 students and 112 hotel rooms. Since it’s a hybrid hotel-dorm, it would also act as a “living-learninweg laboratory” for hospitality and food management majors. The project would be funded by issuing tax-exempt revenue bonds.
To defend eminent domain, the university argues that since Hiatt Printing is close to the center of campus and two parking garages, it’s needed to build the commons. Ball State also claims the hotel-dorm serves a “public use,” because Muncie has a lack of hotel space, while Ball State needs more dorm rooms. In addition, McKinley Commons would create new jobs and generate income by leasing out space to restaurants.
In response, Chris criticized the university for using eminent domain as “a convenient vehicle” to satisfy “their own ‘capitalistic wish-lists’”:
Condemnation and the seizure of private property is, as it should be, reserved for the most serious of circumstances for which there are no reasonable alternatives and is absolutely necessary for the overall general public welfare or good. It is not a convenient vehicle for psuedo-government entities such as Ball State to use to seize private property for their own “capitalistic wish-lists” for which there are many alternatives. Therefore, we strongly disagree with Ball State’s assessment that they can successfully meet the “public use threshold” in this proposed project.
Hiatt was also concerned that the university already dominates the local economy:
Ball State competes with the hotel industry. They compete with the food and beverage industry. They compete with the housing market. They compete with the local economy in at least all those arenas and more. If they had their way, they would control the whole market.
Moved by Chris’ plight, State Senator Doug Eckerty (R-Yorktown) introduced SB 54 to reign in this sort of eminent domain power. This bill would have mandated state universities to pay business owners not only the fair market value, but also compensation for the loss of estimated future earnings. But after pressure from Ball State, the bill died in committee.
Back in 2006, Indiana’s legislature overwhelmingly passed HB 1010 to limit eminent domain, earning a B from the Institute for Justice. The bill redefined “public use” and explicitly states that “the term does not include the public benefit of economic development, including an increase in a tax base, tax revenues, employment, or general economic health.”
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