It’s the Thought That Counts(?)
The Post-Dispatch reports today that the city of Valley Park has passed an ordinance that would forbid the use of eminent domain “for economic purposes or private gain.”
While I have not yet read the ordinance at issue, I fear that it says the city may not take property solely for these reasons, as that is almost always the way these things are phrased. If that is, in fact, the case, then Valley Park’s ordinance does absolutely nothing. The Missouri Constitution already forbids the use of eminent domain for these purposes. Cities across the state can simply avoid this prohibition by labeling properties “blighted” (which appears to be specifically permitted under Valley Park’s new ordinance) and claiming that any private profit that might follow the use of eminent domain to clear “blighted” areas is unintentional — and permissible.
Local residents and elected officials who hope to avoid these uses of eminent domain authority are frequently lulled into a false sense of security by ordinances such as these, only to be rudely awakened a couple of years later when the next developer’s plan threatens their homes, businesses, or houses of worship. The key is to draft ordinances with clear, carefully honed standards for determining what properties (if any) can be considered “blighted,” and to what use these properties may be put in the event they must be condemned. I strongly encourage anyone whose city or county is considering an eminent domain ordinance to contact us here at the Show-Me Institute. We will happily help educate elected officials and interested residents about the likely legal effect of changes to their eminent domain laws.