Council eyes prohibition on eminent domain, condemnation

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Some Littleton residents uncomfortable with urban-renewal efforts

By Ramsey Scott

The Littleton City Council could soon vote on whether to eliminate eminent domain and condemnation as possible tools in the city’s soon-to-be finished urban development plan. 

The council, on a 6-0 vote, asked city staff to create a statement saying the city would not use eminent domain and condemnation as part of Littleton Invests For Tomorrow, the city’s urban renewal authority. The request included a statement that property owners who seek condemnation could still do so. 

Any plan approved by LIFT that includes condemnation and eminent domain would have to be approved by the council. 

Councilwoman Peggy Cole, who presented the idea during an Aug. 5 public meeting, said many of her fellow council members had said publicly that condemnation and eminent domain should not be used in urban renewal. 

“There’s considerable buzz in the community opposing condemnation. I thought, 'Why do we necessarily have to have the citizens up in arms over something we may not do?' Unless we discuss and decide to keep that option or that we won’t use it, it's just stirring people up,” Cole said. “I just wanted to get this out in the open so we could have a public discussion. If a majority of us say, 'No, we don’t want to do this,' maybe we can clear the air a bit.”

Councilman Bruce Stahlman requested the exception for property owners who want to enter into the condemnation process for tax purposes. Property owners often welcome  condemnation because it allows for tax incentives that can help reinvent a property.

Stahlman said he doesn’t believe the skepticism about the city’s urban renewal process is unique to Littleton, especially when issues like eminent domain and condemnation are involved.

“I don’t perceive anything going on in Littleton is inconsistent with other communities across the country,” Stahlman said. “I think (a vote against) may defuse things a little bit. But then again, it depends on whether your perspective is such that condemnation and eminent domain are really your main objection to the whole thing.”

LIFT Executive Director Jim Rees said any plan the group proposes to the City Council would be carefully considered, especially if eminent domain and condemnation were included.

"Colorado has among the country's most restrictive processes when it comes to the use of eminent domain, making contested condemnations exceedingly rare and typically cost-prohibitive,” Rees said. “In Littleton, as with the rest of the state, the power of eminent domain rests exclusively in the hands of Littleton City Council, and even then property owners by law must receive fair and just monetary compensation.” 

A discussion on the requested measure hadn’t been scheduled by press time. 

Urban renewal authorities are mechanisms for local governments to enter public-private partnerships to help fund redevelopment of areas considered blighted. Funds for the redevelopment are created through tax-increment financing, which rebates future property-tax revenue above a threshold determined before the project is constructed. 

Contact Ramsey Scott at ramsey@evergreenco.com or 303-933-2233, ext. 22, and follow him on Twitter @RamseyColumbine. Check www.columbinecourier.com for updates.