Eminent domain limits outlined

The Missouri task force suggests a two-tiered ‘blight’ model.
Friday, December 2, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:37 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 1, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — The state no longer would be able to take private land for economic purposes, under a new proposal by the governor’s task force on eminent domain.

“You can’t strictly take a property based on economic conditions, meaning increased tax revenue, increased tax base. Clearly you can’t take a property for those purposes,” said Chris Goodson, a member of the task force and St. Louis developer. “What you can take it for is when it has been blighted.”

The task force’s recommendations follow a U.S. Supreme Court decision made earlier this year. In Kelo v. New London, the Supreme Court ruled that states could use eminent domain to seize private property for economic development because it qualifies as public use, but gave states the option to create their own legislation.

The task force decided the state still can seize blighted property for private use. Although members did not agree on a definition of blighted property, they agreed to create a two-tiered model to help define blight in an effort to prevent eminent domain abuse.

“I think what we ought to do is identify the concepts that we think should be included in a blight definition, and then the legislature can reflect those in a statute,” task force member Gerard Carmody said.

The task force wants to give landowners the right to a hearing to determine whether their property is blighted. A judge would then decide whether a property meets the criteria. Developers and municipalities could request a similar hearing.

“Developer, municipality and property owner will know up front, day one in the process, ‘Is this blighted?’ before they go forth,” Goodson said.

Rep. Steve Hobbs, R-Mexico, and also a member of the task force, said the state needs to do a better job of protecting property owners and making them aware of their rights. The task force will suggest legislation requiring a condemning authority to give landowners more information about the eminent domain process. The task force also supports a law allowing property owners to recover attorney’s fees and expenses when a developer pulls out of a project.

Missouri law does not require condemning authorities to pay relocation costs to landowners in all instances. The task force recommends establishing a relocation policy that would cover moving costs for people whose land has been taken.

“Everyone you talk to, in St. Louis, Missouri, and America, believes in personal property rights — developers and lawyers, too. And so they’re glad to see some clarity added to the situation,” Goodson said.

Next week the task force will finalize the remaining proposals and submit its recommendations to Gov. Matt Blunt by Dec. 31.

Gov. Blunt created the task force in June in response to the Kelo v. New London decision. The committee was appointed to study the use of eminent domain in Missouri and make recommendations for future legislation.

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