Charter amendment sets blighted land requirements to limit Columbia's eminent domain

Friday, September 28, 2012 | 5:56 p.m. CDT; updated 9:18 p.m. CDT, Saturday, September 29, 2012

COLUMBIA — A proposed charter amendment would prevent the city from using the power of eminent domain to acquire a property for development, unless it was blighted.

The amendment, which will be formally addressed by the Columbia City Council on Oct. 8, would define "blighted property" as land that meets the following three requirements:

  • The land contains a structure that was found to be a public nuisance following an administrative hearing.
  • The owner of the structure has failed to resolve the problem within a reasonable period of time after the hearing.
  • The cost to reduce the nuisance exceeds 50 percent of the market's value of the structure.

The amendment also defines the city's acquisition of property for economic purposes as having the intent to transfer it to a person or entity for private use.

Declaring an area blighted is one of the requirements to establish an enhanced enterprise zone — a measure that has been heavily discussed over the past year.

Jeremy Root, a local attorney who serves on the EEZ Advisory Board, said the proposed amendment, which must be passed by the council and then approved by a public vote, wouldn't have been considered by the council unless there was public concern about eminent domain abuse.

"If the council or the public at large is uncomfortable with establishing an EEZ without these protections, it may make sense to postpone the ultimate decision on the EEZ until after the proposed amendment has been presented for a public vote," Root said in an email.

Monta Welch, head of "A People's Visioning", said the proposal could be an attempt to help calm worries regarding blight and its association with enhanced enterprise zones. 

"In at least one sense, they're trying to get rid of peoples' fears with eminent domain and the EEZ," Welch said. "Presumably, they think that changing this blight designation is going to make people think they don't have to worry about it."

A public vote will be held April 2, 2013 if the amendment is approved.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.

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Mike Martin September 29, 2012 | 8:12 a.m.

This bold, brash, brazen attempt to make Blight a direct precursor to Eminent Domain is a major new power grab on the part of folks who control City Hall. Unlike the EEZ/Blight Decree, it will involve fewer steps, and be directly encoded into the City Charter.

In other words, "Blight leads to Eminent Domain" will be part of our local constitution!

This move represents an astonishing reversal of course. For months, what have you been hearing from City Hall, REDI, and Hank Waters at the Trib?

That Blight and Eminent Domain are NOT connected.

How a blight decree could NEVER lead to eminent domain.

How blight is NEVER used as a precursor to eminent domain. That worried citizens claiming otherwise were crazy "conspiracy theorists."

Why, even local legislators took up the call in Jeff City to separate blight from eminent domain.

Now, we have the city boldly stepping out to make blight a MAJOR precursor to eminent domain, and not for projects that involve the public good, but for private development.

In other words, a direct route to what has had everyone so worried about EEZ.

Seems the good ol' boys are tired of fooling around with that shifty attempt to swipe property, so they're going this far more direct -- and dangerous -- route.

I mean, where did this come from: a City Charter amendment making blight and eminent domain not just kissing cousins, but blood brothers? Whose priority is this, anyway? A City Charter amendment -- for this?!

Area voters will either see through this latest nonsense, or hand a big part of their basic property rights over to the development industry.

Mike Martin

(Report Comment)
Mike Martin September 29, 2012 | 12:56 p.m.

BTW, the story title here is terribly misleading. It should read "Charter amendment sets blighted land requirements to EXPAND Columbia's powers of eminent domain."

But I am glad the Misssourian caught this, buried away in the city's meeting agenda for Monday.

Blight is not presently mentioned at all in the City Charter, and the only mention I can find of eminent domain defers entirely to the state:

Section 158. Condemnation Proceedings.

"All proceedings for the condemnation of property or in the exercise of the right of eminent domain shall be in accordance with the laws of the state now or hereafter applicable to cities of the third class, or with such laws as may be provided for constitutional charter cities."

This amendment will change that entirely, giving City Hall much broader powers of condemnation, and purely on behalf of private interests.

Folks -- Wake Up! You are losing your city, and at an ever-accelerating pace.

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice September 29, 2012 | 1:08 p.m.

This is an inaccurate headline. If passed, this charter amendment will facilitate & rationalize the use of eminent domain, not limit it.

Who in the City has worked on this? Who's office is it coming from? City's do this as a precursor step, a form of setting the stage & CYA, when they're looking to commit enormous &/or unpopular land grabs from poorer people to give to richer people. This is a PR-gambit for the old cronies' network. It's a tool & gift from the city to the development community. The process of defining people's homes & businesses as 'blighted' is intended to undermine & vilify poorer people in order to make them unsympathetic & easier to strip of their lives' worth & work.

More importantly, who in city government & the community have NOT been included in planning this attack on residential & small-scale property owners? How many residential property owners, small business owners, & neighborhood association representatives have had input into the formation of the charter amendment?

My questions are not rhetorical. The public deserves to know who is driving this & with what short- & long- term intentions.

What private individuals, organizations, & representatives of other political subdivisions have been involved in planning how to use local government to reassign wealth from one class of property owners to another?

Has the city discussed this proposed amendment formally or informally with any staff, officer, or committee at the Chamber of Commerce? Has the city discussed this proposed amendment formally or informally with County staff, elected or appointed representatives? What about the CID, TIFs & TDDs? What's REDI's role in this process? Has the staff had formal or informal conversation with registered lobbyists, such as the Central Missouri Development Corporation, about this proposed amendment?

Have ALL city council members been equally involved & informed of the development of this proposed policy change that will disproportionately negatively affect citizens with less wealth & income than those with more?

Has the city asked for input from any of its own citizen task forces or commissions charged with land use planning & economic development? What work has P&Z done on this? The Downtown Leadership Council? The Historic Preservation Commission? The Columbia Imagined committee?

Is the publics' only opportunity for input a single hearing after all the word-smithing & impact analysis has been done?

Has there been a citizen's task force appointed to consider the impact of this charter? Has the city spent staff FTE &/or public dollars on consultants to analyze the potential impact of forcing people out of their homes to give their property away to land developers? If so, how was that analysis constructed? Is it all about ways to increase the tax base or is the emphasis of analysis on fostering the capacity for all citizens to build wealth through investments small & large?

(Report Comment)
Tracy Greever-Rice September 29, 2012 | 1:23 p.m.

Each of the proposed stipulations for defining 'blight' heavily favor those with greater wealth, institutional resources & access to credit and political capital - particularly the 50% rule which will inevitably be interpreted to assume the need to purchase the most expensive materials & labor available, making it possible to condemn any structure in Columbia south of the interstate, north & east of Stadium, & west of Old 63 (roughly).

That this stipulation is included right now while property values are still considerably depressed makes me wonder if this amendment is being floated for a specific big project... Put on your thinking caps, gang, & activate those memory chips - anybody remember any precious little butterflies floating around looking for opportunities to upend big sections of the central city??? Just a thought.

'Public nuisance' is a 'soft' concept, a subjective & historically variable concept - thus, it's ripe for abuse & expensive (particularly if you're already poorer than people who've decided they want what you've spent your whole life investing in) to challenge if there's any corruption or favoritism in a system. Is there anything in this charter amendment that will freeze the definition of 'public nuisance' at a given point in time or will the City get to redefine 'public nuisance' whenever it wants in order to facilitate a crony's project?

The term 'reasonable' is also squishy in the supposed amelioration opportunity for property owners under attack by their own government. A 'reasonable' amount of time for a big construction company with a line of credit & back-slapping relationship with local bankers is far different than a 'reasonable' amount of time for a working class family - obligated 40++ hours a week to employers - who have invested everything in what is likely their greatest asset, their home. How will the city fairly account for the value of 'sweat equity' as well as variation in opportunities to access credit by the attacked property owners vs. the attacking wannabe property owners?

Do we really want our city to adopt in its charter the ideal and value that individuals & families cannot invest in their own homes by doing the hard work themselves & paying as they go???

We vote as individual citizens from our neighborhoods for our families' well-being & to be safe in our homes & secure in our investments. Why in the world are Columbians tolerating a city leadership (both hired & elected) that holds most of its citizens & neighborhoods in such contempt & is always willing to throw them under the proverbial bus (FatCats!) to facilitate crony capitalism in general and any crony's project du jour regardless of its value to our local economy and quality of life?

(Report Comment)

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