A group of outstate legislators has proposed a ban on eminent domain for all but the most basic public purposes.
I agree that the state’s laws regarding eminent domain should be changed. The changes should make the process fairer for property owners and return eminent domain to its original purpose of re-development, rather than the development of virgin land. That’s why I’ve been working with the Governor’s Committee on Eminent Domain and with state legislators to make adjustments to state law that will continue to allow eminent domain to be used appropriately in places like the City of St. Louis, while preventing the types of abuses that have made headlines over the past several months.
Why should the City keep the tool of eminent domain?
The City of St. Louis has plenty of abandoned and deteriorating buildings and lots that are privately owned. These abandoned properties wreak havoc with our economy, havoc with quality of life in our neighborhoods, and havoc with our City budget. The City spends millions of dollars each year demolishing some vacant buildings and boarding up others, cutting weeds on vacant lots, attempting to keep vandals from committing various crimes on these properties, and citing properties for code violations — the same properties, again and again and again. We must be able to acquire these properties to assemble sites and put them back into productive use. We cannot afford to let them continue as economic and social liabilities.
In addition, the City needs new retail, business and residential development. And economic development these days means sites of 10-15 acres, not the 25-foot lots in which most of our City was originally developed.
A significant portion of the massive amounts of redevelopment activity that we have seen in here in the past four years would not have been possible without the use of eminent domain.
The City uses eminent domain sparingly, mostly to address problem properties and to clear up the titles of abandoned properties. We use it to assemble small lots into useful sites. Very rarely, we use it to acquire a non-problem property that is critical to a large development in an area plagued by problems.
Keep in mind:
Eminent domain is usually expensive. Property owners are often compensated with amounts far in excess of the value of their properties.
It is time consuming. It often takes years for the court process to be concluded.
And it is unpredictable.
As a result, eminent domain is only used in the City when it’s the only way to complete site assembly at a semi-reasonable price. And in most eminent domain cases, generous settlements are achieved prior to the court outcome.
Here’s the bottom line on eminent domain for the City: Any ban that failed to preserve the sorts of uses the City requires would stop our revitalization in its tracks.