Once More With Feeling: Texas and Delaware to Attempt Meaningful Eminent Domain Reform Again

In 2007, Texas Gov. Rick Perry vetoed House Bill 2006, which would have tightened the state’s definition of “public use” to mean a use that “allows a state, a political subdivision of the state, or the general public of the state to possess, occupy, and enjoy the property.” However, with Susette Kelo standing by his side, Gov. Perry indicated last week that he would like to see eminent domain reform enshrined in the Texas state constitution.
Coincidentally, the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter just released its report for Texas legislators, entitled They Want to Erase Us Out: The Faces of Eminent Domain in Texas, which brings home the point that throughout the state Texans are still very much targets of eminent domain abuse.

IJ’s report highlights situations in three of Texas’s major cities: El Paso, San Antonio and Houston.
One of those “faces of eminent domain” is Harper Huddleston, a San Antonio property owner, who had his own plans for developing his property in the city’s River North area. His entirely privately funded development plans were denied by city officials because his plans might conflict with the city’s development plans, which it drafted without public input.
Huddleston describes his experience in today’s San Antonio Express-News:

We, the property owners, simply asked the Planning Commission for an opportunity to review and comment on the plan in more detail. The commission obliged, and since then we’ve spent the better part of a year trying to make sense of the River North Master Plan and its intentions.
The Master Plan showed parking garages, parks, schools, roads, markets, cafes and other changes to private property whose owners knew nothing of the intent of the plan to remake their property into something other than what stands there now. Somewhere, somehow, someone made the decision that our property would be better suited for someone else’s use and that our use didn’t conform to some central planners’ idea of how our neighborhood should be.
We learned that every property in the entire River North plan area is vulnerable to eminent domain for economic development — taking our private property for someone else’s private gain.

So far, the city of San Antonio has tried to back-track on its threat to use eminent domain, but meanwhile, property owners in the River North area are stuck in the usual limbo wondering if their properties will be seized to be handed over to a private developer.
While putting the 2007 reform into the constitution is good thing, the “blight loopholes” in Texas remain the most immediate concern to property owners. The Waco Tribune-Herald sees the threat and at least one legislator is vowing to work to develop substantial eminent domain reform this year, but first he has to find out how many entities in the state have been given the power of eminent domain by the legislature.

Meanwhile, reform legislation moves apace in Delaware. Last year, substantial reform was vetoed by then-Gov. Minner. With a new governor in office, there are hopes that a bill similar to last year’s will once again make it through both legislative houses unscathed but this time be signed by the governor.
The usual suspects are opposing reform in Delaware, namely the city of Wilmington, whose threats against Ed Osborne were the catalyst were the current reform efforts, and cities’ lobbyists from the Delaware League of Local Governments.
SB 7 would exclude economic development from the state’s definition of “public use” thus preventing cities in Delaware from taking private property for private development. Like last year’s SB 245, this year’s SB 7 passed the Delaware Senate this week with a vote of 19-0. It now heads to the state House.