Eminent Domain

Kelo-style Eminent Domain Abuse Lives on in Denver

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Slum and blight.

This week the Denver City Council authorized the use of eminent domain to seize homes and businesses for private development in the historic Five Points district. The vote puts 246 properties in the commercial corridor—including well-maintained Victorian homes dating back to the 1880s—under threat of condemnation for at least the next seven years.

Colorado lawmakers reformed the state's eminent domain statutes in the wake of the Supreme Court's Kelo v. New London decision, which declared that seizing property for private development does not violate the Constitution. But they left an enormous loophole for local officials: blight, the statutory definition of which is so lax that nearly any neighborhood could fit the bill.

Accordingly, before authorizing eminent domain for private use, Denver officials commissioned a study to reach a predetermined conclusion: The neighborhood is blighted.

Here's some case law, courtesy of that blight study:  

The absence of widespread violation of building and health codes does not, by itself, preclude a finding of blight. According to the courts, "the definition of 'blighted area' contained in [the Urban Renewal Law] is broad and encompasses not only those areas containing properties so dilapidated as to justify condemnation as nuisances, but also envisions the prevention of deterioration."

Essentially, the existence of a few rundown but perfectly serviceable properties that are not generating code violations triggers eminent domain for an entire neighborhood. According to the blight study, the situation in Five Points is dire. Two (two!) properties are safety hazards and nine have serious issues.

The study consists, as these things too often do, of a consultant driving around and taking unflattering photos of whatever presents itself and wildly inflating the dangers of cracked sidewalks ("injurious to the public health, safety, morals, and welfare of the residents of the state"); peeling paint ("a social and economic liability"); and vacant lots and oddly-shaped parcels ("contribute to the spread of disease and crime").

Moreover, Colorado law only gives property owners 30 days to challenge a blight declaration in court. So five years from now, if city officials decide to seize a property that was declared blighted this month, it will be too late for the owner to argue that their clearly non-blighted property isn't blighted.

Once known as the "Harlem of the West" and home to nightclubs that attracted legendary jazz acts, Five Points, like many inner city neighborhoods, is fitfully reviving after decades of disinvestment and urban flight. Old properties are being restored, luxury lofts are popping up, and new businesses are moving in.  Between 2000 and 2006, the population increased 48.6 percent, which is double the rate of other Denver neighborhoods. The Five Points Jazz Festival attracted over 10,000 people in 2011.

The cloud of condemnation threatens to put a stop to all that. Property owners uncertain if the wrecking ball is on the way are unlikely to invest in their homes and businesses—causing the very deterioration the blight designation was meant to prevent.

Take a tearful trip through Reason's archives for more on bogus blight. Click here for pictures of Denver's newest slum.

NEXT: DEA Continues Pot Raids, But Tries To Suppress Publicity

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  1. It’s been downhill since Tebow left.

    1. It’s been downhill since Tebow left.

      Anyplace where Tebow once was but no longer is can be said to be blighted. Gainesville, FL, which just two years ago was a picturesque little college town, just recorded its 800th murder of the year, and is now home to several drug cartels, all battling for control of the city’s massive cocaine, gambling, prositution, and child pornography industries.

      So yeah, it’s all downhill when Tebow leaves.

    2. I still can’t go a full day without hearing that dumbfuck’s name on the local news.

  2. Hard to believe any neighborhood in Denver could be seen as blighted.

  3. Fuck off, Colorado slavers!

  4. oddly-shaped parcels

    $10 says those lots are shaped that way because the city put in roads that made them oddly-shaped.

    1. You would be correct. Five Points gets its name from such a situation. Denver is basically on a grid except for downtown, which is a wedge facing northwest. Downtown intersects the grid at Five Points, resulting in some pretty wacky driving.

  5. I helped at a soup kitchen in 5 points once. While it seemed an inner city ‘hood, it didn’t seem blighted. I wouldn’t walk around at night down there though.

    With that said, FUCK OFF COLORADO SLAVERS!!!!

    1. It ain’t so bad. I’m headed over to Five Points to play softball in a few hours.

    2. Yeah, it’s about as bad as Denver gets, but it’s not what you’d call a “ghetto” if you’ve ever been anywhere other than Denver. They have some excellent restaurants,too.

  6. I’m so annoyed at this middle east thing, it’s hard to get my dander up over these run-of-the-mill violations of our constitutional rights…

    *raises fist halfway*

    Fight the power…

  7. Thanks for the support of Welton Street and letting Denver City Council know that the citizens are paying attention. Until voters stop the law makers from abusing eminent domain what has happen in Five Points can and will happen anywhere.

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