NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 27, 2004

The power of eminent domain, which allows government to take private property for public use, has been overextended by cities across the country in the name of redevelopment, according to the Goldwater Institute.

In Arizona, properties have been labeled as "condemned" by local governments if they are viewed as being too old or ugly. In fact, many cities label downtown areas as potential "redevelopment" zones, which discourage property owners from upgrading their businesses for fear their property would eventually be condemned by the city for other uses:

  • A 1965 Arizona Supreme Court ruling allowed the taking of private property under a loosely-defined meaning of public use, which included public convenience and advantage.
  • A 1983 Arizona ruling allowed for the taking of private property by local governments in order to transfer it to other private owners for more preferred development projects.

In 2003, however, the Arizona legislature passed laws that restricted the use of eminent domain by local governments. Moreover, some Arizona cities have looked to the example of Seattle for redeveloping downtown areas.

  • A once blighted section of downtown Seattle was renovated through a private development plan (without use of eminent domain), and is now home to Pacific Place, a vibrant area of shops and restaurants.
  • After the redevelopment, retailers with downtown store locations experienced a 15.8 percent increase in taxable sales, and an estimated 4.4 percent increase in downtown retail jobs.

Similarly, the town of Gilbert, Ariz., is purchasing private parcels of land from voluntary sellers without using eminent domain. And Scottsdale has removed the "redevelopment" label from a downtown area, thus encouraging private property owners to invest in their businesses.

Source: Mark Brnovich, et. al., "Condemning Condemnation: Alternatives to Eminent Domain," Policy Report 195, June 14, 2004, Goldwater Institute.


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