Amending the city's constitution to prevent eminent domain abuse
COLUMBIA, 11/20/12 (Beat Byte) --
For national and historic significance, few pieces of municipal legislation rival the Columbia City Council's unanimous vote last night to place a City Charter amendment
before voters that would severely limit the use of eminent domain and blight
designations for private development.
The vote capped 5th Ward Councilwoman Helen Anthony's
brief but classy tenure, 18 months during which she fought on behalf of her constituents over some of the city's most controversial policy initiatives in years, from Ward gerrymandering to EEZ.
In voting to place the Charter amendment -- a change to the city's constitution -- on the April 2013 ballot
, Council members opened the door to much-needed checks and balances on the U.S. Supreme Court's Kelo decision, which broadened the reach of condemnation for private purposes.
Just as remarkably -- especially given how little fanfare accompanied their debate -- Council members made the most significant move in a generation
toward healing wounds Columbia's black community suffered during "urban renewal" in the 1950s and 1960s. "Land clearance," as the practice was called, lumped acres of black-owned homes and businesses in with slums, using blight designations to condemn it all. Private landowners paid pennies on the dollar for the land, which today is worth millions.
Last night, all seven Columbia City Council members rebuked that practice, siding with basic property rights and re-establishing an important bond with constituents, who for months have been protesting Enhanced Enterprise Zones
largely for that program's connection with blight and eminent domain.
Anthony spoke strongly in favor of the amendment, which 6th Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe started designing months ago, when constituents first expressed grave reservations about the potential for eminent domain abuse in an enhanced enterprise zone. Both Hoppe and Anthony have consistently championed constituent concerns about the issue, even over the skepticism of fellow Council members.
The Charter Amendment
Shall the Columbia Home Rule Charter be amended to add a section that
would prohibit the City from using eminent domain to acquire property for
economic development with the intent that the property will ultimately be
transferred to another person or entity to be used for private purposes?
The designation of property as “blighted” for purposes of qualifying for any
state or federal economic development program shall not be used as a step
toward the use of eminent domain.