COLUMBIA — A proposed charter amendment would prohibit the city from exercising eminent domain for economic development with the intention of transferring the property to a private developer.
The measure, proposed by Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, is scheduled for a final vote at the City Council meeting on Monday night. If it passes, the amendment will be subject to voter approval on the April ballot.
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.
Opponents of an EEZ fear that it will put private property at risk of eminent domain. They're worried the blight designation might make it too easy for the city to use eminent domain to acquire land and turn it over to private developers.
"Eminent domain is an apparent likelihood of blight in many cases," Monta Welch, head of A People's Visioning and an EEZ opponent, said. "I don't think they'd be providing for (the amendment) if it wasn't likely."
Welch referenced a recent Supreme Court case, Kelo v. City of New London, as an example of her skepticism regarding a proposed EEZ.
In 2005, New London, Conn., condemned Susette Kelo's home to make way for a redevelopment initiative. The initiative promised 3,000 new jobs and an additional $1 million in tax revenue.
Kelo sued, and the case reached the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the court upheld the governmental practice of acquiring private land and reselling it to private developers, so long as the redevelopment creates a public benefit, such as an increased tax base.
Last March, Hoppe asked city staff about a possible amendment to the city's charter that limits the use of eminent domain for economic development. She suggested the amendment to assuage fears of eminent domain in the manner of Kelo v. City of New London, according to city documents.
An amendment proposed by the council in September attempted to ease the public's worries. The amendment's language, however, created concern that the council was laying out a process for exercising eminent domain — something the council didn't intend, Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp said.
"This one takes a more generalized approach," Trapp said. "This offers some protection. If we can help people be less afraid of their government, that's all to the good."
Supervising editor is Zach Murdock.