2014 Pulitzer Prize Winner

Council member Miller will propose eminent domain restrictions

Published: April 1, 2014, 7:19 pm, by Monica Mendoza

In questioning Mayor Steve Bach’s three nominees to the Colorado Springs Urban Renewal Authority Board on Monday, council member Joel Miller wanted to know where they stand on the use of eminent domain.

The issue of condemnation has risen to the top of Miller’s radar because of the proposed City for Champions tourism projects. Two of the four projects – a downtown sports and event center and an Olympic museum – would be built in the Southwest Downtown Urban Renewal Area, which the URA board would oversee.

One candidate, Nolan Schriner – a former city planner and owner of a land planning firm — said as far as he knew only the Colorado Springs Utilities Board had used condemnation to gain property for public use.

Nominee Valerie Hunter – a former owner of a software development company — said it would be her goal not to displace anyone. She added that she is cautious about giving answers without more information.

Nominee Peter Scoville – cofounder of Colorado Springs Commercial – said he did not have strong feelings about eminent domain one way or the other.

Miller handed each of them a copy of a 2008 letter sent by the URA project manager to a downtown property owner titled “Notice of Intent to Acquire.” The letter said the URA was seeking to acquire the person’s property and offered the property owner the option to negotiate a fair market price.

“What is your threshold on sending out a letter like this?” he asked each of the nominees.

All three answered that each situation would need to be evaluated case by case.

Miller said his concern is that the letter goes out without City Council approval. And while the URA says it never has initiated condemnation, it has sent what he views as threatening letters to force property owners to negotiate a sale. Miller said the city’s Southwest Urban Renewal Plan describes the acquisition process including the possible use of condemnation.

Next week, the City Council is expected to vote on the three nominees to the Urban Renewal Authroity Board.

Miller also will propose an ordinance to the City Council seeking to limit the city’s ability to take private property for public use. He’s been accused of manufacturing a problem that does not exist because the URA has not used condemnation. But he said some downtown property owners have looked at the City for Champions map and have seen either the projects or a proposed parking garage right over their property.

His proposal would limit the city’s power to take private property for “traditional public purposes” – like to build streets or highways – and the city could not take property for private economic development or a combination of public and private economic development.