City flexes its eminent domain muscles on landowner near hotel

Two things bother me about the latest Downtown Convention Center Hotel revelation: Why weren’t we told this before the vote, and why is the city trying to cheat a landowner out of what is clearly and rightfully hers?

I don’t imagine another couple of million dollars tagged onto the $500 million (or whatever it turns out to be) cost of the hotel would have impacted the vote in favor of the project. But I suspect had the city started bragging about how it was going to ram eminent domain proceedings down the throat of a woman who owns 2,500 square feet of property right next to the hotel might have made a difference to a few people. (Click here to read the latest DMN story, and then click on the photo accompanying the story to see what the fuss is all about; the fenced off rectangle is the property in question.)

After all, it’s one thing to grossly overpay the Chavez Properties people for the hotel land (we paid $40 million for something that was probably not even worth $20 million to anyone but the over-sexed developer wanna-bes downtown). But it’s completely another to tell a woman who has a lease worth upwards of $2 million (the lease payer her about $20,000 annually for the next 72 years — guaranteed) on the aforementioned 2,500-square-foot of land, even though the city attorneys say that because the land appraises at $250,000 or so (ignoring the lease), they’re only willing to pay her $297,000 for the property.

That’s what the city is claiming in threatening an eminent domain suit against Hazel McClain, who for all I can tell is just doing what any of us would do with our property: Asking to be compensated fairly. And according to some good reporting by Rudolph Bush with the DMN, the city attorneys are fairly chomping at the bit to grind her into the ground, using our tax money and a city-supported lawsuit. Something else to consider: Eminent domain typically is used sparingly and only for matters of clear public good (think critical highway routing, master sewage line construction, or critical public safety issue); here, the city is trying to acquire the land for "economic development" purposes, like maybe some day allowing someone to put a hot-dog stand there.

You have to read the DMN stories here and here to get the full impact of this disgusting case of city malfeasance. And regardless of what you think of the hotel deal, when you’re reading these stories, imagine yourself in Hazel McClain’s shoes, and then ask yourself what the city should be doing here with our tax dollars.



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