Public Power, Private Gain: Oregon




 Oregon cities rarely use eminent domain. News reports show only one condemnation for a largely private development project in Hillsboro. Even in that project, the City apparently tried to mitigate the private nature of the taking by including a City civic center within the residential, retail and office space. That condemnation case began in late 2002. Other cities seem to have refrained from condemning property for private parties.



Private Use Condemnations



The City of Hillsboro has teamed up with private developer Specht Development to build a new, $33.7 million civic center. Part of the facility will serve as City Hall, but most of the planned five-story development consists of residences and offices, with retail shops and other businesses occupying the ground floor and street-level storefronts. The developer and the City will jointly own the civic center, while the developer will manage the 113 affordable-rate apartments and 27 market-rate apartment units, as well as the commercial space. In order to gain ownership of a choice site in the middle of the Hillsboro business district, the City would have to remove the two stable, thriving businesses that already operate there. Terrance Hall owns the building from which he runs a law office, while the Christian Science Reading Room occupies the building next door.577 In October 2001, the City Council was set to condemn both properties, but decided at the last minute to delay the resolution after both owners vowed to challenge the takings. Among the deficiencies in the City’s development plan was that the City did not even bother to do a feasibility study looking at the need for the residential, retail and office space in the development. Also, the City made no formal offers to negotiate with either owner before threatening condemnation and made no provision to provide space in the new civic center for occupancy by existing businesses.578 In September 2002, the City Council finally voted to begin eminent domain proceedings. Both Terrance Hall and the Christian Scientists plan to take the City to court to protect their right to stay put.579  


*These numbers were compiled from news sources. Many cases go unreported, and news reports often do not specify the number of properties against which condemnations were filed or threatened.

†Oregon Judicial Department’s Office of Court Administration (includes condemnations for traditional public uses).

577 “Community Snapshot; Owners Argue Against Taking Properties for New City Hall,” The Oregonian (Portland, OR), Oct. 4, 2001, at B2.

578 William E. Dunn, “My Turn; Condemnation for City Building Bad Policy,” The Oregonian (Portland, OR), Oct. 11, 2001, at West Zones 13.

579 David R. Anderson, “Hillsboro Negotiates Deal to Build Civic Center,” The Oregonian (Portland, OR), Sept. 4, 2002, at C2.