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Columbia Missourian

Columbia voters approve amendment to restrict use of eminent domain, blight

By Valentine Lamar
April 2, 2013 | 10:50 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Residents voted heavily in favor of an amendment to the Columbia home rule charter Tuesday that would bar the city from using eminent domain to acquire property for private redevelopment.

The amendment also prohibits the city from using blight designations under state incentive programs as a stepping stone toward the use of eminent domain.

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The ballot measure passed by 70 percent to 30 percent. The final vote tally was 8,950 in favor to 3,851 against.

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe, who had proposed the amendment, said it was important to protect people's right to own property.

"There's a strong interest in protecting people's properties, businesses and homes," Hoppe said while celebrating at Third Ward council candidate Karl Skala's victory party. "These rights are fundamental and cannot be taken away from anyone through flimsy means." 

The charter amendment, called city Proposition 1, was placed on the ballot by the Columbia City Council last year after residents became concerned that an effort to establish an enhanced enterprise zone in Columbia would lead to abuse of eminent domain. EEZs are a state-authorized incentive strategy that offers state and local tax breaks for businesses that invest in expansions and create new jobs.

The initial proposal for a Columbia EEZ targeted 60 percent of the city.

Supporters of EEZs and other state and local tax incentives contend that those initiatives are needed to bolster the city's economy. They argue that such programs are necessary if the city is going to compete for business and industry that will create jobs and generate tax revenue.

Opponents, however, say that EEZs expose private property to eminent domain abuse, that blight designations exacerbate the threat and reduce property values and that the definition of blight is vague and open to misinterpretation.

Mayor Bob McDavid, who was elected to a second term Tuesday, said it was never the goal of the city to use eminent domain. 

"The approval is good," McDavid said. "But it doesn't change any policy. It was never the city's intention to use eminent domain anyway for economic development."

Adding the provision to the city charter renders it immune from future manipulation by the City Council. It can be overturned only by another vote of the people, Hoppe said before the election.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.