Eminent Domain and Economic Development: An Admirable Colorado Example
The Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (MWRD) recently paid for 84 families and businesses to relocate in order to make way for the district’s new $470 million dollar wastewater treatment plant in Brighton, Colorado. MWRD District manager Catherine Gerail was quoted as being very pleased that the city was able to help all parties move to new homes—including a colony of feral cats that now occupies a new space at the Brighton Animal Shelter. We’re pleased too!
We were among those shocked when, in 2005, the US Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. City of New London (Connecticut) that municipalities have the authority to exercise their power of eminent domain and legally transfer property from one private owner to another in order to further economic development as a remedy for urban blight. New London used its authority to transfer 115 residential and commercial lots encompassing 90 waterfront acres adjacent to a Phizer Corporation research facility to a local developer. The city defined “blight” to include single family homes with one car garages—which happened to describe just about all of the middle class bungalows and historic homes located in the 90 acres desired by the city. However, the developer was unable to finance the project and redevelopment of the site never occurred. Today the razed 90 acre site stands vacant, a symbol of failed redevelopment, eroded property rights, and municipal economic greed.
By all accounts, the MWRD’s negotiation with 84 families living at the Sylmar Manor Mobile Home Park and the Seven Sons Auto Salvage operation in Brighton appears to have been conducted with far more sensitivity than the one in New London. The MWRD’s commitment to negotiate and settle with the displaced families and businesses is exemplary given their available options under Eminent Domain. We also believe that the MWRD’s decision to acquire these private lands “at arms length” for a legitimate public use and not for speculative economic development—in a way that respected the citizens who would be adversely affected by the decision—was the most humane approach. The resulting satisfaction on all sides seems to bear that out.
The City of Aurora, Colorado—whose council voted last summer, above citizen objections, to designate 125 vacant acres near the Denver International Airport as “blighted” in order to clear the way for a private corporation to build a hotel and conference center—could take a lesson from the Metropolitan Wastewater Reclamation District.