Taxpayer Victory on Eminent Domain

Written by Jeff Johnson on August 30, 2009. Posted in Taxpayer Victory

In July, I blogged about some significant positive changes that are occuring in Hennepin County regarding out-of-home placement issues for juvenile offenders. I thought it would make sense to post a positive award each month to bookend the monthly Golden Fire Hydrant award. Good things do happen in government sometimes.

August’s Taxpayer Victory award goes to a unanimous vote of the Board to rescind authority earlier given to county staff to condemn property through eminent domain.

Last year, the board identified several pieces of property in Minneapolis as possible acquisitions is support of a New North Library to replace the existing Webber Park Library. At the time, the board authorized the County Administrator to initiate acquisition of these properties by direct purchase or by condemnation if a purchase agreement was not possible.

The owners of two pieces of the targeted properties (a married couple from Minneapolis) came to the board to argue that they were not interested in selling their properties, which consisted of a residential parcel and a commercial parcel on which they operate a small business. After several months of discussion, including consideration of condemning the property through eminent domain, the board changed course.

Commissioner Jan Callison and I brought in a resolution to rescind the eminent domain authority and instruct county staff to pursue the New North Library project only in ways that do not require exercise of eminent domain authority for the two properties in question.

If the library couldn’t be built without these properties, I might have felt differently about this issue, as I believe eminent domain is appropriate when private property is crucial for a public amenity. In this case, however, the New North project can likely still be completed without this property, although the design plans will need to change and the layout might not be quite as ideal.

Some residents are not happy about this decision, as they wanted the new library to move forward as originally planned, but the board made the right decision, erring on the side of property owners over government.

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