Fighting blight with eminent domain

Few things exasperate local officials more than having economic development prospects taking notes while riding through blighted areas.

Macon Mayor Robert Reichert knows this, and he made reducing or eliminating blight a major part of his downtown redevelopment project. 

Reichert, an attorney and former state lawmaker, informed Macon-Bibb Commissioners this week that Georgia's new eminent domain law would be a major tool in the county's future fight with blight.

Eminent domain allows governments to take private property and convert it to public use. The law requires governments to pay the owner a fair price for the property.

During its 2017 legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly approved a law that allows local governments to use eminent domain to condemn blighted property and sell it as long as the property remains at its last legal use for five years after condemnation.

State lawmakers enacted the new law, House Bill 434, to get around the state's 2006 eminent domain law. That law required governments to maintain the property for public use for 20 years after it was obtained through the eminent domain condemnation process.

Former Governor Sonny Perdue pushed the 2006 legislation through the General Assembly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that governments could use eminent domain to take someone's private property and use it for economic development. The development would bolster the local government's tax base.

During his push for a Georgia law to override the Supreme Court ruling, Perdue blasted the high court for issuing a ruling that would allow the government to take someone's home and turn the area into a shopping center. Perdue called the ruling an outlandish overreach and declared it wouldn't happen in Georgia.

The Supreme Court ruling stemmed from the lawsuit called Kelo versus the City of New London. The Connecticut city used eminent domain to take Susette Kelo's privately owned home and transfer it to another private property owner to enhance economic development.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court ruled the benefits a community received from economic growth made private redevelopment an acceptable public use. After losing the court fight, Kelo moved to another part of Connecticut. 

Georgia's new eminent domain law resulted from problems Savannah officials were having with blighted areas. Among other provisions, the new law stipulates that a Superior Court judge must hear evidence in any eminent domain proceedings and approve the process before a local government can take blighted property.

Reichert hasn't said how and when he'll use the new law in his blight fight. But since he's mentioned it to the commissioners, it'll probably happen soon.

Governor Nathan Deal signed the bill in May. It becomes effective July 1.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

© 2017 WMAZ-TV


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