Eminent Domain gearing up in Texas......


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hillbilly
June 28, 2005, 10:57 AM
Two seafood companies are targeted by government in Freeport, TX.





http://www.chron.com/cs/CDA/ssistory.mpl/business/3240725


Economic hype clouds judgment
By LOREN STEFFY
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

IN the late 1980s, an elderly blind widow in Arlington frustrated the city's plans for a grand shopping mall.

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She refused to surrender the small plot of land where she had lived for decades, choosing to live out her days in the familiar surroundings of her wood-frame house.

The mall was built around her property, her faded white home jutting into its parking lot.

She held out for years. After she died, developers bought the property and paved it over, melding it into the glaring sameness of suburban retail like the last reluctant piece of a jigsaw puzzle.

In light of last week's Supreme Court decision, a similar battle today would end differently. Developers, with the city's help, could simply put the old widow in the street and level her home in the name of better shopping.


Fixing crime-ridden areas
Some cities have, of course, used the municipal powers to seize land, known as eminent domain, to combat urban blight by replacing rundown or abandoned buildings in crime-ridden areas with new development such as ball parks and condos.

We need look no further than Freeport to see how this process goes awry.

Just hours after the Supreme Court's decision Thursday, Freeport officials began efforts to seize waterfront property from two seafood companies as part of an $8 million marina development, according to a report by Chronicle correspondent Thayer Evans.

The action was accompanied by the usual economic development blather. The marina will lure $60 million worth of hotels, restaurants and shops, create hundreds of jobs and revitalize downtown.


Hitting a home run
"It's all dependent on the marina," Lee Cameron, the city's economic development director, told the Chronicle. "Without the marina, (the hotels) aren't interested. With the marina, (the hotels) think it's a home run."

Therein lies the flawed logic that too often creeps into economic development programs: Success is assumed. Build the marina and the hotels will be a "home run."

It ignores questions developers don't ask, but cities should. What if they strike out? What if, even with a marina, no one stays at the hotels? How long will the hotels stay in business if occupancy rates trail their forecasts?


Which is preferable?
Is a shuttered hotel development preferable to a waterfront of small, if aesthetically unappealing, businesses?

I'm not predicting failure for the Freeport development. But developers by their nature are optimistic. Every project will succeed until it doesn't.

The 5-4 split in the Supreme Court's decision focused on what constitutes "public use" in the Bill of Rights. The court's majority opinion argues that the economic hype, in the end, justifies the means. Higher taxes from development will benefit all.

It ignores the other component in such deals. Taxes too often are waived, abated or offset with grants and loan guarantees.

The court, in essence, asks us to trust the government, to rest assured that local officials know what's best in pitting other private interests against our own.

In her dissent, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said the ruling has such a broad definition of public use that "the specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the state from replacing ... any home with a shopping mall, any farm with a factory."


Not the same thing
It's not the same thing as condemning land for roads or parks or public buildings owned and managed for the public benefit.

In the case that sparked the ruling, the city of New London, Conn., wants to raze a working-class neighborhood and replace it with office space, a hotel, condos and a "riverwalk."

Growth by condemnation is becoming popular. A developer in Columbus, Ohio, recently asked the city to condemn 200 private homes so she could build a shopping mall, according to The Columbus Dispatch. She withdrew the request last month.

Michigan has used eminent domain to acquire land for casinos, stadiums, private housing and auto plants, according to the Detroit News.

In Texas, Rep. Frank Corte Jr. of San Antonio already is calling for a state constitutional amendment that would put restrictions on the use of eminent domain.

It's a strange day in America when we rely on state laws to clarify the U.S. Constitution. Yet that's all that stands between our little white houses and the parking lot.

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Standing Wolf
June 28, 2005, 07:49 PM
Years ago, I used to work for a real estate development company that condemned land to put up a shopping center in downtown Minneapolis, complete with city-guaranteed financing.

It was a club of poor little rich boys with big plans and friends in high places.

They put up the shopping center.

Nobody came.

longeyes
June 28, 2005, 09:28 PM
The Unholy Five would turn the Fifth Amendment into the Dog-Eat-Dog Amendment: there is always a bigger, badder, richer, hungrier developer. Welcome to the foodchain.

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