ST. LOUIS—Brentwood, Missouri, has big plans to replace longstanding businesses along Manchester Road with new mixed-use development. But some business owners who built their American Dream in the neighborhood do not want to go anywhere. To force them out using eminent domain, the city declared all properties within the area planned for redevelopment as blighted, usually meaning that they are in disrepair. But these businesses are well-maintained and thriving and none of them have received warnings about the condition of their property.
Simply calling businesses blighted does not make them blighted. Now, property and business owners are teaming up with the Institute for Justice (IJ) to sue Brentwood over its bogus blight designations.
“Instead of supporting its local businesses, Brentwood is using a bogus blight designation to raise the tax rolls,” said IJ Attorney Bob Belden. “But no business should lose its location because a local government wants to replace it with another, more favored, business.”
The businesses fighting for their locations are varied, family-owned operations: Feather-Craft Fly Fishing, a retail and online operation passed down from father to son; Time for Dinner, a meal prep business owned by two sisters; and Convergence Dance and Body Center, offering dance classes and chiropractic care and owned by a husband and wife. The brothers who own the building leased by Feather-Craft have also joined the lawsuit.
“Each of us have invested years of hard work and significant amounts of money in our Brentwood businesses,” said Bob Story, owner of Feather-Craft. “We should not lose everything we built simply because the city thinks it can replace us with businesses it thinks will bring in more tax revenue. If we can lose our businesses, no one’s business is safe.”
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Kelo v. New London that taking property through eminent domain solely for private economic development did not violate the U.S. Constitution. In reaction, 47 states, including Missouri, enacted new protections that only permitted eminent domain for clear public uses, such as roads or schools.
Since Missouri law does not allow cities to take property for private development, Brentwood also pinned the blight designations on the potential for a 500-year flood. But the city just completed a $120 million project to upgrade the streets and mitigate flooding in the Manchester Corridor.
“Missourians clearly do not want the government to be able to take property just for private economic development, but that’s exactly what Brentwood wants to do,” said IJ Attorney Bobbi Taylor. “They are using these baseless blight designations to circumvent an important protection for property rights.”
The Institute for Justice protects property rights nationwide. IJ will be arguing at the Supreme Court this term in DeVillier v. Texas, a case about a family farm flooded out following highway renovations. IJ is also currently defending Mississippi property owners fighting bogus blight designations passed in secret and Georgia homeowners facing eminent domain to take land for a private railway.