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Outside view: A question of eminent domain

By Pat Taylor

Special to United Press International

From the Washington Politics & Policy Desk Published 4/1/2002 8:14 PM
WASHINGTON, April 1 (UPI) -- A small landowner who claims his city government illegally took away his private property is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to decide if it is legal for the government to use its power of eminent domain to condemn a piece of private property, then transfer the property to another private property owner for development purposes.

The court is scheduled to decide on April 12 if it will accept the case for review.

According to a supplemental brief filed March 25 on behalf of the landowner, state and local courts need guidance from the highest court in the land because in recent years thousands of court cases throughout the country have dealt with variations of this issue, resulting in a "growing number of conflicting rulings in different jurisdictions."

Moshe Tal is a small Oklahoma City developer who became a local hero for his efforts in helping rescue workers during the 1995 Murrah Building bombing and again during the city's devastating tornado of May 3, 1999.

In 1995, Tal submitted plans to the city for a $160 million commercial development on five acres of prime downtown property owned by his company, Tal Technologies Inc. The property is located on the edge of the man-made Bricktown Canal, fashioned after San Antonio's Riverwalk.

According to reports at the time, the city loved the idea.

But in 1997 the city condemned the choicest 1.4 acres fronting the canal, saying it was needed for public parking, parks and recreational facilities as part of its 1993 Master Plan -- even though the property had never been included in the master plan. The city offered TTI only $50,000 for the condemned property, which Tal says is worth more than $5 million.

Tal took the city to court, but the trial court said the city had the right under its eminent domain powers to condemn private property for "public use." .....(more)