Several requests by city staff members to expropriate private land for public use in three separate projects met with resistance from some city council members, who worried it wouldn’t go over well with residents.
“I’ve always thought that when you’re thinking about eminent domain, the reason to do it is because of overwhelming public need,” Mayor Pat Hallisey said. “Overwhelming public need forces us to take private property and outweighs private need.”
City staff in three different items on Tuesday’s consent agenda requested the city council declare a public necessity and authorize them to use eminent domain powers, which gives governments the right to expropriate private property for public use. Governments must compensate the property owners, however.
“Just because you’re approving it doesn’t mean we will exercise it,” City Attorney Nghiem Doan said. “But it’s a tool in the toolbox as we are going through the process.”
The first request involved property the city needs to build a 15-foot drainage easement as part of its planned downtown revitalization project. The second request would allow city officials to negotiate over land near the long-running Calder Road project. The third request is for use in an expansion project for a booster pump station along state Highway 3.
City employees still were in negotiations with property owners over all three of the requests, officials said.
“Nothing energizes people faster in a community than talking about taking land through eminent domain,” Hallisey said. “Once that begins, people wonder how it will affect them.”
Councilman Larry Millican requested the items be moved from the consent agenda, saying he was concerned about such an item moving through without discussion.
“Taking someone else’s property shouldn’t be on the consent agenda,” Millican said.
City staff members needed to do a better job explaining why eminent domain was necessary for the public good, Hallisey said.
Staff members several times Tuesday said they weren’t necessarily planning to use eminent domain, but that having that power would ease negotiations over the land.
Having the power of eminent domain keeps residents from being price-gouged if the city announces a project that would involve negotiating with landowners, Doan said.
Councilman Hank Dugie then said he would approve the measure, provided that city officials return to the council before making any final decisions on eminent domain.
The measure passed each time 6-1, with Hallisey the lone vote in opposition. Councilman Nick Long was absent.