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Eminent domain battle in Freeport

One of the things I missed last week while gadding about in Colorado was how the Kelo decision affects plans in Freeport to build a marina on the Old Brazos River.

“This is the last little piece of the puzzle to put the project together,” Freeport Mayor Jim Phillips said of the project designed to inject new life in the Brazoria County city’s depressed downtown area.

Over the years, Freeport’s lack of commercial and retail businesses has meant many of its 13,500 residents travel to neighboring Lake Jackson, which started as a planned community in 1943, to spend money. But the city is hopeful the marina will spawn new economic growth.

“This will be the engine that will drive redevelopment in the city,” City Manager Ron Bottoms said.

Lee Cameron, director of the city’s Economic Development Corp., said the marina is expected to attract $60 million worth of hotels, restaurants and retail establishments to the city’s downtown area and create 150 to 250 jobs. He said three hotels, two of which have “high interest,” have contacted the city about building near the marina.

“It’s all dependent on the marina,” Cameron said. “Without the marina, (the hotels) aren’t interested. With the marina, (the hotels) think it’s a home run.”

Well, maybe. I confess, I’m not really familiar with Freeport. I’ve no idea if building all this stuff will revitalize the area or not. I can’t offhand think of anything touristy in Freeport – well, okay, maybe there’s one thing. I do know that what Loren Steffy says on the subject makes a lot of sense to me.

Therein lies the flawed logic that too often creeps into economic development programs: Success is assumed. Build the marina and the hotels will be a “home run.”

It ignores questions developers don’t ask, but cities should. What if they strike out? What if, even with a marina, no one stays at the hotels? How long will the hotels stay in business if occupancy rates trail their forecasts?

Is a shuttered hotel development preferable to a waterfront of small, if aesthetically unappealing, businesses?

I’m not predicting failure for the Freeport development. But developers by their nature are optimistic. Every project will succeed until it doesn’t.

Local opponents of the Freeport land grab have a couple of websites up which document their grievances. Banjo has a more nuanced take on the subject. My sympathies lie with the opposition, but I admit it’s possible that I might get swept up in the “build it and they will come” optimism if I lived in Freeport.

I also admit that I’m a bit leery of calls to amend the state constitution to limit eminent domain powers.

Rep. Frank Corte Jr., R-San Antonio, said he would seek “to defend the rights of property owners in Texas” by proposing a state constitutional amendment limiting local powers of eminent domain, or condemnation.

[…]

The [Kelo] opinion said states concerned about excessive use of condemnation were free to pass laws restricting it, and Corte said he intended to do just that.

Corte said he would ask Gov. Rick Perry to add the condemnation issue to the agenda of the special legislative session now under way so that the proposed constitutional amendment could appear on the November ballot.

Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said the governor would consider requests to add items to the agenda, but probably not until legislators resolve the school finance issue. She said Perry supports property rights and was concerned about the Supreme Court ruling.

Corte said in a news release that his proposed amendment would “limit a local governmental entity’s power of eminent domain, preventing them from bulldozing residences in favor of private developers.”

If Corte’s amendment is limited to restricting eminent domain for private development, then I’d favor it, but he’s not a legislator whose motives I trust, so I’ll wait and see what he produces before I make any judgment. I do support the concept of eminent domain, so I don’t want to see it pushed back beyond the Kelo boundary.

(Chron story links via blogHOUSTON, Freeport links and impetus for this post via ttyler5.)

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3 Comments

  1. Charles Hixon says:

    Eminent Domain has continue to “haunt” development efforts around the Prime real estate at the Jefferson Davis Hospital. Although the city has nibbled away here and there with municiple easements, the citizen’s “voice” here ring loudest in the heads of those in power.

  2. Update on the Communist Terror

    Somewhat serendipitously, I have before me a very recently decided case from the Third Court of Appeals (Whittington v. City of Austin, Texas Cause No. 03-03-00496-CV, decided June 8, 2005) which suggests that Texas law is already somewhat less deferen…

  3. 'stina says:

    I would think that the property owners in Texas would be more concerned about restrictive covenants by Homeowner’s Associations than immenent domain. OTOH, I’m not exactly thrilled with the result in this decision.