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DUPED ON EMINENT DOMAIN? City administrators slip condemnation order past CoMo City Council

Weren't we told this could NEVER happen during EEZ debate? No wonder Kespohl surprised
 
COLUMBIA, 2/13/13 (Beat Byte) -- Third Ward Columbia City Councilman Gary Kespohl's surprise that he and fellow Council members granted City Hall the power to condemn property along Providence Road for the so-called Providence Improvement Project (PIP) may turn to embarrassment -- or even anger -- when he finds out how it was done.

The eminent domain power is granted in the fine print of a contract between the City of Columbia and the Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission (MHTC) for Phase One of the two-phase project, which would demolish two stately homes on Providence bordering the Grasslands neighborhood.
 
Council members approved the MHTC contract without discussion as part of their January 7, 2013 Consent Agenda.  Consent Agenda items are normally approved without debate, often following related public hearings. 
 
Councilman Kespohl, meanwhile, has tried to build a reputation for reading the fine print and asking tough questions about city contracts. 

The City "shall proceed to acquire, by negotiation and purchase or by condemnation, any necessary right of way required for the construction of the improvement contemplated herein," reads Clause 11 of the contract Council members approved, a so-called "Urban Surface Transportation Program" (STP) agreement that also appropriates $1.85 million in city funds to commence Phase 1.  "All new right of way for Route 163 (Providence Road) acquired by the city through negotiation and purchase or condemnation proceedings shall be acquired by the City and subsequently conveyed to the State of Missouri."

The contract specifies that City Hall will pay court awards, fees, assessments, and judgments "in favor of condemnees," while fully indemnifying the state.  Providence Road is a state highway under city control.
 
Though eminent domain appears prominently in the January 7 contract, it was barely discussed at the November 19, 2012 public hearing on PIP Phase One.  When it did come up, Mr. Kespohl and 4th Ward Councilman Daryl Dudley expressed reservations.

"Mr. Dudley stated he was in favor of Phase I, but he was not comfortable with involving eminent domain for the purchase of two houses for a feeder road," minutes from the November 19 public hearing read.
 
Perhaps even more galling for Mr. Kespohl and Mr. Dudley, Columbia public works director John Glascock assured Council members that eminent domain would not be used without a separate ordinance, which would call for multiple Council readings, public hearings, and debates.
 
About the two homes slated for demolition to accommodate Phase 1, "Mr. Glascock stated he would like approval to acquire them with the option of eminent domain," minutes from the November 19 public hearing read.  "Mayor McDavid asked if an ordinance was needed to allow that. Mr. Glascock replied yes, and noted it would require a separate action."

But no ordinance was forthcoming.   Instead, Council members approved eminent domain in their contract with MHTC, apparently unwittingly. 
 
Enhanced Enterprise Zone (EEZ) opponents fought a fierce battle against the possible use of eminent domain as part of the city-wide Blight Decree that kicked off the business incentive program.   Repeatedly reassured that eminent domain would never be used without public hearings, wide debate, full ordinances, and complete transparency, EEZ supporters cast opponents as "conspiracy theorists" over their worries.
 
 
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