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Challenging the big stick

March 1, 2006


Phil Davies Senior Writer
Challenging the big stick

The debate over the use of eminent domain for economic development is likely to come to a crescendo this year. Lawmakers and
property-rights groups in several district states have proposed restrictions or bans on the power of local governments to condemn private property for redevelopment projects. A rundown of major condemnation reform initiatives in play:


  • A bill drafted by Rep. Jeff Johnson, R-Plymouth, and Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, would prohibit condemnation for
    revenue-enhancing economic development while permitting takings of environmentally contaminated or clearly blighted land. The measure also narrowly defines blight and provides for the award of attorney fees and compensation for loss of "going concern" (business benefits of a particular location) to landowners.
  • In January, the Metropolitan Council, the regional planning organization for the Twin Cities, adopted a policy withholding economic development grants from projects that involve the taking of private property "without the consent of the owner." The policy exempts contaminated, abandoned or blighted property, or takings that remove public nuisances.
  • Intent on damage control, the League of Minnesota Cities has proposed modifications to eminent domain law that would make the negotiation and appraisal process more transparent, clarify criteria for determining blight and require the Legislature to document the public and private benefits of takings for redevelopment.


  • Eau Claire Republican Sen. David Zien introduced a bill last fall that would prohibit the condemnation of nonblighted property and limit takings of dwellings in blighted areas to abandoned units or those that had become overcrowded and plagued by crime. A companion bill was introduced in the Assembly.
  • A bill proposed by Rep. Gary E. Sherman of Port Wing in northwestern Wisconsin would close the door to condemnation of nonblighted land for commercial development.


Voters are expected to consider a constitutional amendment in November severely restricting the use of eminent domain. The amendment, approved by the Legislature last December, would ban "the taking of private property for transfer to a private entity for the purpose of economic development or enhancement of tax revenues." Condemnation of blighted property would still be allowed, but a local government would have to clearly demonstrate that a particular parcel of land is blighted.

North Dakota

Former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp and the Landowners Association of North Dakota, a property-rights group, have jointly proposed a constitutional amendment that would prohibit takings of private property for economic development. They have petitioned for a voter referendum on the issue in June.

South Dakota

House Republican Leader Larry Rhoden of Union Center and Sen. Jim Lintz, R-Hermosa, have sponsored legislation that would prevent cities, counties and housing and redevelopment commissions from transferring property to private entities for the purpose of enhancing tax revenue.

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