Thornton Colorado Officials Approve Eminent Domain for Private Use


Menace to your morals.

Last night Thornton, Colorado city council members unanimously approved the second South Thornton Urban Renewal Plan, which allows the city to seize private property via eminent domain for transfer to private developers. The original plan was active from 1982 to 2007 and had slightly different boundaries.

From a Reason post last month on eminent domain in Denver:

Colorado lawmakers reformed the state's eminent domain statutes in the wake of the Kelo v. New London decision, in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 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.

…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.

The city paid a consultant to produce a Conditions Survey to determine that the neighborhood's 290 parcels qualify as a "menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare" based on Colorado's very broad blight laws. Factors that trigger the designation include:

  • "lack of landscaping,"
  • "slopes or unusual terrain,"
  • "presence of billboards," and
  • "cracked or uneven sidewalks."

According to the Conditions Survey none of the properties had a "high crime incidence" or generated "high fire dept. call volume" but 11 (3.8 percent) had "vagrants/vandalism/graffiti," which "while usually not a direct safety threat, can be indicative of unsafe urban environments."

Threatened properties include a home, three churches, a nursing home, and five apartment complexes, as well as numerous restaurants, offices, and other businesses.

In addition to the Urban Renewal Plan and Conditions Survey, consultant Ricker Cunningham produced a County Impact Report for $26,000. Colorado cities typically spend between $15,000 and $40,000 for these reports according to Christina Vincent of the Thornton Office of Economic Development.

Officials envision raising $91 to $112 million for infrastructure improvements, which might in turn attract private development. According to council member Val Vigil, that spending "doesn't guarantee that we're going to be able to attract any developers to come down with the economy the way it is today. It's going to be hard."

Thornton City Council members will consider adopting the East 144th and I-25 Avenue Urban Renewal Plan later this month. The two plans join the North Washington Street Urban Renewal Plan, which was approved in 2003.

Reason has tackled eminent domain abuse before.