Scottsdale Merchants Have Been Pushed Too Far

Posted on August 19, 2002 | Type: Op-Ed
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SPECIAL TO THE TRIBUNE

When people think of downtown Scottsdale, they think of the wonderful shops and fine dining, of Thursday night art walks and, of course, the Sixth Avenue/Stetson area.

Wait, didn't you know? The City Council declared downtown Scottsdale a slum on Dec. 2, 1996.

So what happened between 1993, when Scottsdale was declared the "Most Livable City" by the U.S. Conference of Mayors, and 1996, when the city declared the downtown a slum area?

The city must have had some justification for the slum designation. Perhaps businesses were closing, leaving behind vacant, boarded up shops. Perhaps incidents of graffiti and vandalism were one the rise.

The truth is that nothing of the sort was occurring and the downtown area was a thriving community of small businesses. That is, until the city slipped the noose of eminent domain around our necks.

Under current state law, property in a "redevelopment area" can be taken by the government, the existing buildings bulldozed and the property sold to private developers to construct new businesses where the old ones once stood.

This type of conduct should be called what it is: corporate welfare. IT is also unconstitutional. Arizona's Constitution prohibits taking private property for private use.

Yet a study released by the Goldwater Institute on Friday revealed that Arizona cities are taking private property for private use with increasing frequency.

Only recently have people like Randy Bailey who is fighting the city of Mesa to prevent his brake shop from being taken for an Ace Hardware store been willing to fight City Hall.

In Scottsdale, the threat of condemnation has had the perverse effect of creating blighting influences in the downtown area, for two reasons.

First, developers coveting the primate downtown real estate for projects such as a resort hotel have been buying properties and allowing them to sit vacant. These developers refuse to maintain the common areas, allowing weeds to grow and pain to fade and peel.

These developers are lobbying City Council at this very moment, using the existence of such blight to justify the use of eminent domain to take properties they don't own but would like to.

Second, business owners are afraid to invest substantial capital in property that could be taken at any time by the city.

The business and property owners are afraid no longer.

Earlier this year, I attended a training seminar in Washington, D.C., and learned how to put together a grass-roots coalition that could put an end to this type of government overreaching. The seminar was hosted by the Castle Coalition, a nationwide group of activists brought together by the Institute for justice, to put an end to eminent-domain abuse.

Upon my return, I helped form the Coalition of Downtown Scottsdale. This group of property owners and merchants joined with the Institute for Justice Arizona Chapter to file a citizens' petition demanding that the City Council repeal the redevelopment designation.

We have now submitted our petition and expect the City Council to take up the issue on its Sept. 6 agenda.

The time has come for local government to stop trampling on property rights. Arizonans should be able to run their businesses assured that they possess the full measure of freedoms guaranteed under our constitution rather than work in fear of arbitrary government action.

Newly elected Councilmen Bob Littlefield and Wayne Ecton were swept into office on a campaign platform largely dedicated to removing the threat of condemnation. The Coalition of Downtown Scottsdale urges them to keep their promise on Sept. 6.

-- Judy Peters owns property in Scottsdale's Downtown Redevelopment Area and is a member of the Castle Coalition. More information about the Castle Coalition, including an Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide, is available at www.castlecoalition.org. Judy can be contacted at jp6stetson@aol.com.

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