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Thread: Abuse of eminent domain

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    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Abuse of eminent domain

    From ULI-the Urban Land Institute
    Weekly News Roundup April 13, 2004

    "Pushing the Limits of 'Public Use'"
    USA Today
    4/1/2004
    Cauchon, Dennis

    Cities across the country are employing eminent domain to free up land for retailers, manufacturing plants, housing, hotels, and parking lots. Eminent domain laws allow cities to seize public land for private use, provided that owners are fairly compensated and that the seizure is for the public good. National Conference of State Legislatures environmental program director Larry Morandi says cities are using this tactic to boost tax revenues. However, projects on land acquired through eminent domain must benefit the public, and critics are unsure whether economic development meets this requirement. Officials in Riviera Beach, Fla., for instance, plan to displace 5,100 homeowners to make way for upscale retail, high-rise condominiums, and larger single-family dwellings. Residents are worried about losing their prime waterfront properties, but Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown insists the move will eliminate poverty locally by hiking assessed property values from $80 million to $2 billion and providing money for new schools and road upgrades, among other things.


    Anyone else find this outrageous?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian ludes98's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Mud Princess
    Anyone else find this outrageous?
    Which part? I agree with the principle of eminent domain, but its practice of late has been pretty bad. I have seen recent examples where fully functioning businesses that have been in the community for years are simply ousted because they aren't what (image) the city wants. Taking land and turning it over to developers for another power center isn't good use of eminent domain.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Terrible abuse. Hard to believe that the courts have not stepped in yet.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    It seems when courts are involved they back up the government saying that as long as the city has a plan for the benefit of the public its OK. These cases are going to make our profession look very, very bad.

    5,100 homes being condenmed in the Florida example - thats a whole town! How can the government afford all the buy-outs? Would you want to piss off that many voters? After a while it crosses the line from reducing spot-blight to large-scale social engineering.

  5. #5
    I think that Eminent Domain is being abused. Cities are looking at successful businesses that may not be the "highest and best use" for their particular location and are calling that blight. They are essentially kicking out the little guy so someone with deep pockets (i.e. developers, national chains) can come in with low development costs. It becomes habitual, like a drug. Once you use it on one project, it essentially comes up with any subsequent project. If a developer wants to come in and redevlop some parcels of land and they cannot successfully negotiate with some of the property owners, they simply run to the City and get them to use eminent domain. While many cases are done for a legitamate public interest, the serious abuses (like Lakewood, OH) are going to eventually result in the law being revised.
    Last edited by Repo Man; 14 Apr 2004 at 4:46 PM.
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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Repo Man
    While many cases are done for a legitamate public interest, the serious abuses (like Lakeland, OH) are going to eventually result in the law being revised.
    It's actually Lakewood, OH.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

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  7. #7
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    5,100 homes? Geez... I think we have a new winner of the Golden Abuse award. I thought it was bad when Alabaster, Alabama wanted to use eminent domain to build another friggin' Wal-Mart but destroying so many homes is insane.

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    Seems like local or state governments are trying so hard to capture successful, revenue-bringing business that they've forgotten that if there are not people living in the city or state (because they're homes have been destroyed) then those businesses won't be successful.

    Also, "eminent domain" seems to be an easily-flung around policy (I guess it's a policy). And that, my friends, is what is scary.


  9. #9
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    It was a big jump when the courts approved removal of blight (ala urban renewal) as a public purpose. And once the blight is removed, the land can and should be redeveloped. Therefore, I see the evolution into the economic development realm, but I do not like how far it has gone. It is claimed in Kansas that if you have an enterprise zone, then you can use eminemt domain for ED purposes...and out here everybody has an enterprise zone. (state EZ, that is) This year's KS legislature attempted to cut it back, but too far. The proposed (and defeated) act would force a community to wait 10 years before acquired land could be offered for redevelopment. As with Seabishop, how can the voters put up with some of the more recent activity?

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    One thing I don't understand is why cities don't use eminent domain to take land from speculators. It's bad to demolish useful structures because the use isn't somebody's idea of the "highest and best use," but lots shouldn't be allowed to sit vacant for years in the middle of yuppie neighborhoods because they're owned by land speculators holding out for the highest possible price.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    One thing I don't understand is why cities don't use eminent domain to take land from speculators. It's bad to demolish useful structures because the use isn't somebody's idea of the "highest and best use," but lots shouldn't be allowed to sit vacant for years in the middle of yuppie neighborhoods because they're owned by land speculators holding out for the highest possible price.
    I disagree completely. While I think if a lot is vacant it should be maintained as greenspace, i don't think that a City should force someone to develop a vacant parcel. They should encourage them and maybe offer some incentives like looser parking restrictions, greater density, etc but to simply take it is wrong. The reason people buy vacant land is for investment reasons.
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    Is anyone familiar with Henry George land-based taxation? i.e., taxes are higher on vacant land held by speculators, with less emphasis on taxing improvements. It appears to reduce the incentive for speculators to just sit on land.

  13. #13
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    Is anyone familiar with Henry George land-based taxation? i.e., taxes are higher on vacant land held by speculators, with less emphasis on taxing improvements. It appears to reduce the incentive for speculators to just sit on land.
    Too stray off-topic:
    I read through info about this method of taxation. I'm sure it would work well in our present built form.

    It is based heavily on the theory of a concentral circle model of built form - Being that the center is more concentrated and desirable and as you extend out the desireability of land should diminish and hence the market for the property. Kind .

    But with our current multi-centered or centerless places and large continuous metros, I think it would have a hard time functioning.

    back on-topic:
    I agree that the Lakewood, OH and especially the GM Poletown plant development in Detroit were amssive abuses.

    Yeah, 5100 houses seems is unacceptable. 5100 property owners, can you say class action.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    "Green space" is just about the worst use of the land. It reduces the pedestrian experience by creating "missing teeth" in the streetwall, allowing wind to sweep across the sidewalk and (potentially) reducing the number of commercial establishments on the street or reducing residential density of the neighborhood. A weed-strewn empty lot provides no benefit to the community and may even increase malfeasance under the "broken windows" theory.

    As to incentives, that quite simply ridiculous---unless you're argument is that zoning laws only exist to be broken. How long will it take these speculators to realize that if they sit on the land long enough, the city will drop all of the zoning restrictions making the land even more valuable? Not to mention that I don't think a one-story building set back 40 feet from the prevailing setback to allow for a front-loaded parking lot is much of an improvement over an empty lot.

    If people want to buy land for investment, that's fine. It's great if they're trying to actually invest in something useful for the land rather than just speculating on its future worth, but it is NOT the responsibility of government to protect a speculator's investment, especially when that runs counter to the best interest of the community.

    I think Henry George is very valid. It was my understanding, though, that it wasn't based on one center, rather the assessors would consider the amenities of the neighborhood (particularly government-supplied) and pick an assessment that way. That will admittedly end up being pretty arbitrary but it's no more arbitrary than our current selling-price based property taxes.

  15. #15
    I am not saying that zoning laws should be broken or dropped, but I would encourage the use of a Planned Unit Development as a means to increase density, etc. They are used all the time all over the country and the majority of them allow for development that would not have been otherwise allowed under a strict interpretation of the zoning ordinance.

    Not to mention that I don't think a one-story building set back 40 feet from the prevailing setback to allow for a front-loaded parking lot is much of an improvement over an empty lot
    Nowhere did I say this nor did I mean this when I said that the zoning regulations should be loosened. I meant that if 40 housing units were allowed on the parcel under current zoning, a PUD could be put in place that would allow for 50 or 60 to encourage sale or development.

    When I said greenspace, I meant that it should be seeded or sodded with real grass, not weeds and dirt. We require that vacant parcels be maintained as if they were developed. The only downside is that people would probably get used to using this private piece of property of a neighborhood park and would have a fit when it was developed. While I agree this is not ideal, the notion that every block of every neighborhood should have a “streetwall” is a pipe dream. Not every City can be (or should be) like Chicago or Manhattan.
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    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    The problem is not eminent domain, but how it is employed by some communities. Eminent domain serves a valuable purpose when it is used to acquire and spur redevelopment of truly blighted properties, whether for public purposes (parks, etc.) or for private redevelopment that helps to stabilize or revitalize a neighborhood. Eminent domain should not be used to destroy a neighborhood, or simply because somebody thinks they can make a bundle on a development, or because the city thinks it will generate more tax dollars.

    The key to making eminent domain responsible is to limit it to either true public purposes (parks, transportation, public facilities, etc.) or to blight elimination, with a very rigorous standard for determining blight.


    Slightly off-topic: I agree with Jordan. Vacant lots can be detrimental to a neighborhood. Land speculators are subject to eminent domain just as everyone else is, and it has been used to acquire land from them.
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    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    "Green space" is just about the worst use of the land. It reduces the pedestrian experience by creating "missing teeth" in the streetwall, allowing wind to sweep across the sidewalk and (potentially) reducing the number of commercial establishments on the street or reducing residential density of the neighborhood. A weed-strewn empty lot provides no benefit to the community and may even increase malfeasance under the "broken windows" theory.
    Huh?? So if someone purchases vacant land specifically to maintain it as open space, that's a bad thing?? Your example of a 'weed-strewn empty lot' only applies to a dense, urban setting where an existing structure has been demolished. In that case, the problem isn't that the land remains vacant -- the problem is that the demolition was allowed in the first place, without a subsequent use identified.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Mud Princess's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal
    The problem is not eminent domain, but how it is employed by some communities. Eminent domain serves a valuable purpose when it is used to acquire and spur redevelopment of truly blighted properties, whether for public purposes (parks, etc.) or for private redevelopment that helps to stabilize or revitalize a neighborhood. Eminent domain should not be used to destroy a neighborhood, or simply because somebody thinks they can make a bundle on a development, or because the city thinks it will generate more tax dollars.

    The key to making eminent domain responsible is to limit it to either true public purposes (parks, transportation, public facilities, etc.) or to blight elimination, with a very rigorous standard for determining blight.
    Well said. I agree with this completely.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Doitnow!!'s avatar
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    "highest and best use"
    Who decides this?



    The problem is not eminent domain, but how it is employed by some communities.
    Out here( where I live the eminent domain comes under the LAnd Aquisition Act.
    Its becoming a tool to acquire land for commercial purpose rather than the original purpose of public good. Now who defines the public good in the changing times.
    Also public good is the last resort to compulsory land aquisition.
    Eminent Domain is being used primarily for road widenming oin the core city areas and it works well for some years then these areas start becoming congested again.



    Not every City can be (or should be) like Chicago or Manhattan.
    Why does every city be like Chicago or Manhattan??



    If a developer wants to come in and redevlop some parcels of land and they cannot successfully negotiate with some of the property owners, they simply run to the City and get them to use eminent domain.
    Does this really happen? does the city charge some brokerage or handling charges for doing this??



    PS:
    I am quite surprised to see that despite the huge gap( physical distance as well as social and economic aspects) some issues are really hurting and pinching the same way in the US as much as in India.
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    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Domain Pain

    Take a look at a recent Arizona decision that condemnation of land by city violated the state constitutions "public use requirement".....page 19 of the Planning and Environmental Law Vol. 56, No. 2. Also major cases are being looked at in Colorado where some cities are obviously using eminent domain just to make big $$, not for the public good (unless you think building another starbucks or old navy is a must for the public....?

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