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

Nick Sibilla

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.

Wall Street Journal: Partially-built mega-projects are overhyped.

The Wall Street Journal looks into “partially-built mega-projects [that] dot U.S. cities.” Spoiler alert: they’re overhyped and deliver little—if any—economic development.

One of the largest is Atlantic Yards, a $4.9 billion real estate development, including a billion-dollar arena for one of the worst teams in the NBA. But the development firm hasn’t broken ground on any of the apartment towers and hasn’t even chosen an auditor yet. The Institute for Justice worked with property owners to try to stop government official s from abusing eminent domain for the Atlantic Yards project, but in 2009, New York’s highest state court upheld bulldozing Brooklynites’ homes and businesses and handing them all over to mega-developer Bruce Ratner.

Some of the other lowlights from the Journal article include:

  • In New Jersey, a $1.9 billion mega-mall decadently named Xanadu has been stalled for the past three years.
  • What was supposed to be a $3 billion set of skyscrapers in Los Angeles is still a swath of vacant lots.
  • “In New London, Conn., a piece of land once eyed for a sprawling waterfront development with a hotel, office space and residential, is still fallow seven years after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court upheld the use of eminent domain to take homes on the site. The new mayor, Daryl Finizio, says now the city is hoping to start on a residential development on a portion of the 90-acre site by mid-2013, but for now the site is without the new neighborhood and the envisioned tax revenues.”

You can read the rest here.