Court’s ruling keeps eminent domain in city’s toolbox
The city of Lansing wasn't a party to the eminent domain case decided last week by the U.S. Supreme Court, but City Hall officials definitely were interested in the outcome.
In a 5-4 ruling, justices said it was permissible for municipalities to condemn privately owned land and turn it over to private developers for economic development projects. The case was brought by property owners in New London, Conn., who were resisting a waterfront redevelopment project in their city.
There's no waterfront redevelopment project on the horizon in Lansing, but City Administrator Mike Smith said the ruling was important for the city.
"It's a tool that we need to have available," said Smith, who added, "and it should only be a tool of last resort."
One example of the need, Smith said, could exist across Main Street from City Hall, site of the proposed Towne Center development. The city is unhappy with the progress of Overland Park developer David Christie, the owner of most of the 32-acre site, so it has entered into a "developer of record" agreement with Kansas City-based Kessigner/Hunter & Co.
The city wants Kessinger/Hunter to buy the property and develop it. Any sale, of course, is contingent on Christie's agreement.
But if the negotiations bog down, the land is ripe for an eminent domain taking, Smith said.
"That definitely is one we could use it on if we couldn't come to an agreement," Smith said. "If we didn't move forward here soon, I would consider asking the council to consider declaring the area blighted and condemning the property."
The site, Smith said, fits well within the court's requirements for an eminent domain taking to boost tax rolls and create jobs.
Having it developed, Smith said, "would create property tax revenue, it would create jobs, it would make the city at large better, no doubt."
Smith said the court's decision didn't give local governments a blank check for land-grabs.
"It's kind of clear from the ruling that you need to have a reason and a purpose for doing this," he said.