Eminent domain rules remain unchanged in Colorado Springs

May 13, 2014 Updated: May 13, 2014 at 10:43 pm
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Council president Keith King discusses why he did not support a proposal to tighten the city’s rules on use of eminent domain. King was the deciding vote in a 5-4 split. Image from a video by Monica Mendoza.

There will be no change in how the city exercises its power of condemnation.

The Colorado Springs City Council voted down a proposal Tuesday that would have made it tougher for the city to take private property for public use. The council split 5-4 on the issue.

"Obviously, I'm disappointed," said council member Joel Miller, who proposed the changes to the city's eminent domain rules. His proposal, he said, would have restricted the taking of private property for traditional public uses - such as for streets and highways - and further defined the term "blight."

Council President Keith King, who was the deciding vote on the split council, said the ordinance was unclear in how public use was defined and to which entities it applied.

"It makes the opportunity for this to be litigated," he said.

King indicated that he would support changes to the city's eminent domain policy but said the ordinance would have to be simple and clear.

Other council members were more certain in their opposition, calling the ordinance unnecessary.

"We are arguing about a problem that just doesn't exist," council member Jan Martin said.

Not all agreed with her assessment.

Colorado Springs resident Marianne Horvath described a five-year battle to save her property in the Cragmor neighborhood from condemnation. She was among about 25 people who testified on the proposed ordinance.

"I have binders of materials proving it," she said.

Horvath was threatened with litigation, she said. She was offered less money than she owed on her mortgage. And the fight caused her great anxiety and time.

"Please, President King and council, do vote for this," said a tearful Horvath.

Miller said a big concern was that the Urban Renewal Authority could declare property "blight" and then start proceedings to buy the land or eventually use eminent domain to take it. His proposal would have more narrowly defined blight and would give property owners a chance to correct problems.

Opponents who testified Tuesday represented the Home Builders Association, the Regional Business Alliance and developers. They argued that the City Council oversees every case of eminent domain and there have not been cases of abuse of power.

David Neville, board chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority, argued that the proposed ordinance and its new definition of blight would clash with state laws that govern Urban Renewal Authorities.

"The proposed ordinance makes following the Urban Renewal Authority law impossible," he said.

Supporters outnumbered opponents about 2 to 1. They told the council the city should not be able to call a property blighted without good reason.

"There are many old homes in this community, and a significant number are owned by low-income or minority citizens," Richard Eleuterio said.

The issue played out over six hours like a court hearing as attorneys from each side argued the finer points of state law and the rules of Urban Renewal law and imagined the consequences of the vote. Two deputy city attorneys were at odds over the proposed ordinance and its ramifications.

"A city attorney disagreeing with a city attorney shows it is hard to understand," said Kevin Butcher of the Pikes Peak Association of Realtors, who urged the council to vote against the proposed ordinance.

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