5/02/2006

Eminent domain agreement sought: Denver (CO) Post, 3/14/06

Agencies, developers hope to ease proposed ban

By Chris Frates

Lobbyists for a business group and urban renewal authority are working hard to soften a proposed ban on government's ability to take land for economic development purposes.

Republican Rep. Al White, the sponsor of House Concurrent Resolution 1001, said he is working on a compromise with local governments and developers because the proposal needs approval from two-thirds of both houses to go to the ballot.

"Two-thirds is a high threshold, so if we're going to get something passed we have to call those dogs off," White said.

The measure is up in the House state affairs committee today along with three other related Republican bills.

Democratic Rep. Paul Weissmann, chairman of the committee, said he thinks the parties are close to finding a solution that can get support from two-thirds of each chamber.

The other three bills, he said, "are dead" because they don't offer constitutional fixes.

Weissmann said he would not support White's measure as originally proposed.

"I think it would have shut down a lot of legitimate reasons for eminent domain," Weissmann said.

Opponents of the bill, White said, are "absolutely satisfied if nothing gets dealt with."

William Mutch of Colorado Concern, a group of more than 80 leading business executives, is "looking seriously" at White's concerns. The group, Mutch said, is trying to preserve government's use of eminent domain for urban renewal.

"I hope (White) doesn't have the impression that we'd be OK with his bill going away. We want to work with him so this can be the legislative response to Kelo," said Mutch, referring to last year's U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo vs. City of New London. The court ruled that it was a legitimate public use to take land for economic development.

Jerry Braden lobbies for the Denver Urban Renewal Authority, a quasi-government organization that helps redevelop blighted areas. "Quite frankly, we've only used eminent domain a handful of times in the last 10 years," he said.

The battle now is a technical one being fought out in the wording of a draft amendment.

For instance, White does not like language that would allow "morals and welfare" to be included as one of the grounds to take property because it is subjective.

And Mutch said his group is evaluating wording that would create one of the highest legal standards to take property.

An outside group has already begun gathering signatures to put a ban on the ballot if the legislature fails. But, White said, if deep-pocketed interests like developers decided to fight it, supporters could have a hard time.


Denver Post: http://www.denverpost.com