Residents in Sugar Creek, Mo., a town outside of Kansas City, are watching the case of Homer Tourkakis very carefully. IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock wrote a guest column for The Examiner this week. In it, he explains why the case before the state supreme court is so important for the citizens of Sugar Creek and why Sugar Creek officials should reconsider their plans:
In the 1920s, Penelope Marth’s grandfather built several homes on her street in Sugar Creek. She now lives in one of the homes, the same one in which her mother was raised. Up the street from Penelope lives widow Josie Webster, a charming lady struggling with health problems but still maintaining her upbeat spirit. She has lived in her home for more than 20 years.
But Penelope and Josie may lose their cherished homes because Sugar Creek has made a deal with a private developer that would replace their block and surrounding property with the Sugarland Center, a new, big-box retail complex.
Fortunately, for these homeowners, a case that will be heard on Jan. 17 before the Missouri Supreme Court, City of Arnold v. Tourkakis, could stop Sugar Creek from this abuse of eminent domain. The specific issue in the case is what type of city has the ability to use eminent domain in so-called blighted areas. The Missouri Constitution permits the use of eminent domain for the removal of blight but limits that power to “constitutionally chartered” cities. Constitutionally chartered cities are basically large cities such as Kansas City and St. Louis. This is so because, at the time of the approval of the blight provision in the 1940s, the concern was to engage in blight removal and “slum clearance” in large urban areas often, tragically, with disastrous results. Now, however, cities across the state, including small cities such as Arnold and Sugar Creek (third and fourth-class cities respectively under Missouri law), are using eminent domain not because they are genuinely concerned about blight but because they want to gain the tax dollars generated by private commercial development.