Ozark, Mo. – Part 3

“It was a total stealth election,” said Claude Kinser, an Ozark, Mo., resident and member of the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.[1]

Without even realizing it, the residents of the small town between Springfield and Branson voted for a grandiose redevelopment project that would replace many middle class homes with new condos and fancy retail shops.

In February 2004, by a relatively small margin, Ozark residents established a Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.[2] As they approached the ballot box, many of the voters thought they were approving an effort to clean up a specific section of the city, a dilapidated trailer park known to cause numerous health and safety issues in the area.

What they did not realize, however, was that the approved measure gave license to the Ozark City Council to purchase, condemn, redevelop and sell “blighted” properties—which didn’t meant just the trailer park.[3]

Residents did not fully realize that “blighted,” under Missouri law, could mean virtually anything, from the design of a house to the absence of rain gutters—characteristics that could easily be found in any neighborhood in America. And who could blame them? They voted in good faith to turn a tiny part of their community around, and wound up completely blindsided.

The original plan, as sold to residents, was to assist tenants in a trailer park that had been experiencing problems with trash, sewage and nesting critters.[4] The tenants as well as surrounding residents were looking forward to a clean up, but what they got instead was a kick-out.

In the end, the LCRA had the power to acquire properties in some 47 acres,[5] for reasons such as trash in gullies, weed-covered drainage ditches and a faulty storm water system[6]problems that are supposed to be fixed in the first place by the local government, funded by tax dollars.

Within a year, residents of the trailer park found themselves looking for another place to live, through no choice of their own.

“It’s such a cute community,” said resident Marcy Gibson. “Why do you tear it down and make it a metropolitan area?”[7]

Luckily for some residents in Ozark, many people became active in fighting the proposed development. So far, 10 homes (though none in the trailer park) have been saved from the government’s wrecking ball.[8]

As for the residents of the trailer park, they were forced to move and look for affordable housing elsewhere. According to Claude Kinser, many of them had to move as far as St. Louis just so they could afford shelter—and just so some developers could make more money for the tax hungry City Council.

“‘Blight’ taints the whole system,” said Kinser.[9]

Sadly, this story of low-income residents being kicked out of their homes is nothing new in the world of eminent domain abuse. Across the country, home and small business owners are blindsided by their own city governments—and must fight hard to stop them. Though a success story for the activists who fought to save the 10 homes, we mustn’t forget those who get left behind because of eminent domain abuse. The Castle Coalition will continue to fight for everyone who may fall victim to such abuse.

[1] Note: Quotation based on a personal interview with Claude Kinser, conducted by Melanie Harmon, November 30, 2006.

[2] Jenny Fillmer, “Ozark to create board for blighted properties,” Springfield News Leader, February 4, 2004.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Did Tang, “Ozark board tours ‘blighted’ property,” Springfield News Leader, June 25, 2004.

[5] Did Tang, “Design firm gets job of redeveloping blighted Ozark area,” Springfield News Leader, August 26, 2005.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Note: Based on a personal interview with Jane Carpenter, conducted by Melanie Harmon, November 30, 2006.

[9] Note: Quotation based on a personal interview with Claude Kinser, conducted by Melanie Harmon, November 30, 2006.