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Eminent Domain for Private Use Likely in Hadley Township

This is a first for me, I’m running a guest column. Scott Rendall wanted to tell the following story which relates to my prior post on the Hadley Township area in Richmond Heights:

Joann Bailey lives with her husband one block east of Hanley Rd. in the Hadley Township area, just as she has done since 1964. A retired accountant, she loves where she lives, she loves her modest but well kept and attractive home, she desperately wants to stay, but she may be forced to leave.

Her front window displays a sign reading “Stop Eminent Domain Abuse”, as do the homes of a few other neighbors on her street. But when the Richmond Heights City Council voted to approve the redevelopment of the entire Hadley Township area on Monday, it was clear that if Mrs. Bailey and her neighbors don’t come to an agreement with the developer, the City will use Eminent Domain to force them off their property so that the 60-acre development can move forward.

“Money is not what I want.” says Bailey, “Money is not the issue over my home.” But if the City of Richmond Heights has their way, Bailey’s home will be removed to make room for a parking lot, while others in her neighborhood will have their homes removed to make room for… more expensive, privately owned homes.

The Castle Coalition, a non-profit organization that helps private landowners fight when Cities attempt to use eminent domain to acquire property for other private uses, says there have been more than 10,000 examples of these cases nationwide in just the last five years. The Hadley Township area fits the pattern of many of these land-grabs. The area is one of the first suburban areas in St. Louis developed by African Americans. Indeed, they paid for the original construction of the streets in the neighborhood. The 2000 census indicates that more than ½ of the 1,300 African Americans in Richmond Heights (total pop. 9,800) live in the Hadley Township area. It is an historically African American neighborhood, and today, the property values, or at least the current sale value of the homes, are a small fraction of those neighborhoods around it, where homes go for $130 – 300 K. The homes themselves may not be particularly valuable, but the property is a in a prime location for large scale retail development: Adjacent to the 40/Hanley interchange, across the street from recently built Best Buy, Sports Authority, and Home Depot stores, and right next to the year-old THF developed Wal-Mart /Sam’s Club monstrosity.

Eyed by developers for nearly a decade, THF now owns roughly 24 of the 200 odd properties in the area. Selling to a home-buyer in the area has been impossible for years now as rumors and proposals have swirled around the area. City Council Member Lillian Underwood, who lives in the area herself, has acquired 8 properties. She recused herself from voting, or commenting on the proposals, due to the conflict of interest. But she also told Bailey, who is her neighbor, that she is ‘embarrassed’ of the area, and ‘wants to see it torn down.’ Underwood now stands to make a small fortune if the City can force out the few homeowners who are still resisting moving out.

The City, as recently as a year ago, told Bailey that she would not be asked to leave her home. Since then, Bailey has paid for a new 30-year roof and re-paved her driveway. Recently the City and Developers have been assuring Bailey and other residents that they will be given first crack, and pre-purchase discounts, on the new $200 – 250K homes. But as retirees, Bailey and her husband live on fixed incomes, (as do some of their neighbors) and are concerned they won’t be able to afford the annual property taxes. Bailey says, “We don’t want to give it up, where are we going to find what we have here?”

Missouri Constitution Bill of Rights Section 28 states: That private property shall not be taken for private use with or without compensation, unless by consent of the owner, except for private ways of necessity, and except for drains and ditches across the lands of others for agricultural and sanitary purposes, in the manner prescribed by law; and that when an attempt is made to take private property for a use alleged to be public, the question whether the contemplated use be public shall be judicially determined without regard to any legislative declaration that the use is public.

Following the U.S. Supreme Courts decision in Kelo vs. City of New London, Governor Matt Blunt established a commission to study new guidelines for use of eminent domain. The commission delivered a report in December that recommended that “The public benefits of economic development, including an increase in tax base, tax revenues, employment, or general economic health, standing alone, shall not constitute a public use.” It is likely that legislation that follows these guidelines will be enacted in August of this year.

Bailey spoke to the City Council and assembled citizens at the Monday meeting before the vote was taken. She pointed out that Maplewood, a city with significant fiscal problems, had just passed an ordinance that prevents the use of eminent domain for private use. She begged the City Council not to take her home. The Council said nothing. Less than an hour later, they voted to approve the Michelson development.

The Michelson plan leaves a few homes which are east of a creek, the Conrad proposal had an option of leaving the same homes. I certainly feel for people that thought they could enjoy retirement in their homes to find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time.

– Steve


Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. Brian says:

    Even the Kelo case, which saw US Supreme Court justices narrowly holding up eminent domain for private development, rested upon the argument that the development created desperately needed new jobs in a community losing jobs. Yet Richmond Heights is certainly not losing retail jobs (or even sales taxes for that matter), such that even the retail component of this redevelopment scheme is abusive use of eminent domain. But replacing stable residential blocks with pricier homes is by far the most obvious abuse.

  2. wil says:

    Outside of the obvious private land public domain issues, I am distressed at the winning plan. Which is probably the poorest execution of all possible entrants. It is almost as if no one picked up an urban design or planning book published with in the last ten years. Why the city thought this was the bet idea, is beyond me.

  3. ted says:

    Perhaps this is obvious but has anyone ever done any digging to see what links there are between THF (or other local developers) and the politians who promote eminent domain in their municipalities?

  4. Telly says:

    I can’t think of any politicians who are vocally supporting the use if eminent domain these days.


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