Scottsdale Property Owners Petition City Council To Remove Threat of Condemnation

J. Justin Wilson
J. Justin Wilson · August 19, 2002

Phoenix, Ariz.—More than 100 property and business owners filed today a Citizens’ Petition with the Scottsdale City Council asking the City to repeal the downtown and waterfront redevelopment designations and thereby remove the threat of eminent domain, the government’s power to condemn land for “public use.”

?Redevelopment has been an unmitigated disaster for the downtown area,? insisted Judy Peters, property owner, petitioner and member of the Castle Coalition, a nationwide network of citizen activists formed by the Institute for Justice to fight eminent domain abuse. ?We have watched as developers buy up surrounding properties, purposefully degrade the landscaping, and then ask the Council to take our land to remove blight.?

Under current state law, the redevelopment designation gives cities the power to take private property, bulldoze it and sell it to private developers who covet the land for private profit rather than public use. But the practice raises serious constitutional questions.

Arizona’s Constitution mandates protection for private property, declaring, “Private property shall not be taken for private use.” Yet in recent years, cities such as Mesa, Chandler, Scottsdale, Phoenix and others have been taking property and transferring it to private owners under the guise of “redevelopment.” This practice often serves to create the very conditions it purports to alleviate because businesses cannot thrive under the cloud of eminent domain.

“For nearly a decade, businesses in downtown Scottsdale have languished under the City’s redevelopment designation,” declared Tim Keller, a staff attorney at the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter, which helped the Scottsdale citizens file the petition. “It should not be surprising that property owners who are subject to arbitrary takings hesitate to invest capital in their businesses.”

In 1996, the City Council voted to designate Scottsdale’s downtown a “Redevelopment Area.” At the time, the City Council actually had to declare the downtown area a slum to justify the vote. That finding would shock any person familiar with the upscale shops and fine dining located in the area. In fact, just a few years earlier the U.S. Conference of Mayors had crowned Scottsdale as the “most livable city.” The City Council will meet September 9 to discuss the issue.

“Eminent domain should be limited to public purposes rather than used for corporate welfare,” said Keller. “This petition offers the City Council an opportunity to harmonize City practices with our state constitution and to vindicate the rights enshrined in our state constitution.”