10/11/2005

Eminent domain is target in St. Charles: St Louis (MO) post-Dispatch, 10/3/05

By Mark Schlinkmann

An effort to put new restrictions on the use of eminent domain in unincorporated areas of St. Charles County began Monday night at a County Council work session.

Council Chairman Doug Funderburk and Councilman Joe Brazil submitted separate proposals after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that said governments can take private property for purposes of economic development.

Any council action would be largely symbolic because St. Charles County - unlike various municipalities across the St. Louis area - has rarely if ever used eminent domain to force a property owner to sell for anything but a direct governmental purpose, such as a new road.

Brazil, however, said a formal county ban on using the process to help developers acquire property for shopping malls and other projects could influence a statewide task force on the issue that was appointed by Gov. Matt Blunt.

"I think it sets up a standard of what our expectations are as a government," said Brazil, of the 2nd District.

Funderburk, of the 4th District, said he, too, wanted to limit using eminent domain. However, he said he also would support adding an exception for new private developments that would replace areas of "open blight." The challenge, he said, is to craft a definition of blight.

He said he worried that Brazil's proposal wouldn't allow such exceptions. Brazil's measure would allow the county to use eminent domain to achieve the removal of "structures that are beyond repair or that are unfit for human habitation or use."

The two also differ on how soon they want the council to act. While Brazil wants the council to move quickly, Funderburk said he would prefer waiting until after the state task force has made its recommendation to the Legislature.

Funderburk added that he had invited one of the task force members - state Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles - to meet with the council on the issue. Funderburk and Brazil also are Republicans.

Councilmen Jeff Morrison, 1st District, and Dan Foust, 6th District, said they supported Funderburk's timetable. Morrison added that the county shouldn't be more restrictive than the state nor put itself at a competitive disadvantage with St. Louis County.

He said "knee-jerk overreacting" to the Supreme Court ruling could brand the council as "anti-business and anti-growth and anti-development and anti-jobs."


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