03/31 - Initiative on land seizures supported - East Valley Tribune: News

03/31 - Initiative on land seizures supported

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Posted: Wednesday, March 31, 2004 6:17 am | Updated: 4:27 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

The owner of a Phoenix parking lot company said Tuesday he plans to finance a statewide ballot initiative to mirror a new Mesa ordinance that severely limits the city's ability to condemn private property for redevelopment.

An initiative is needed because, for the second straight year, state senators have blocked a bill requiring cities to own condemned property for at least 10 years, said Leon Woodward, owner of U.S. Parking Systems.

Woodward is fighting Phoenix's plans to take 31 of his downtown parking spaces, which he believes will be turned over to a private developer for a high-rise condominium complex.

Phoenix officials have said they need the spaces to address a parking shortage.

"This is not over," said Woodward, adding he will pledge $150,000 for an initiative drive. "I just don't think government ought to be taking people's property and give it to somebody else."

Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, R-Gilbert, first proposed the 10-year requirement in the wake of Mesa's efforts to condemn a downtown brake repair shop owned by Randy Bailey for construction of a new hardware store.

Last year, opposition from Arizona municipalities and a majority of senators forced a compromise where two-thirds of a City Council must approve condemnation proceedings on four different occasions.

Farnsworth sponsored HB2678 with the 10-year requirement this year because he never was happy with the compromise.

He said Woodward's case shows cities continue to abuse condemnation despite last year's law and Bailey's eventual court victory.

"They have been empowered through the courts and through what I consider to be very liberal legislation to do whatever they want with anybody's property at almost any time they want," Farnsworth said. "The Bailey case was narrowly crafted. It addresses one issue at one time for one person against one municipality."

Critics in Mesa pursued a city initiative on the 10-year requirement and won voter approval earlier this month.

But representatives of the Arizona League of Cities and Towns and some neighborhood associations argued Tuesday a statewide 10-year requirement would go too far.

The Senate Government Committee voted 5-4 to block HB2678, which had passed the House in February.

Sen. Slade Mead, R-Ahwatukee Foothills, joined with Sen. Harry Mitchell, D-Tempe, and three other Democrats on the committee to defeat the bill. Sen. Jay Tibshraeny, R-Chandler, had opposed the issue last year but voted for it Tuesday.

Woodward was one of three backers of a Phoenix initiative that forced the city to seek voter approval when spending more than $3 million on convention and sports venues.

But he faces a tough challenge getting a statewide initiative on condemnation on the ballot this year.

No organization has been created yet, and a petition drive would have to collect more than 122,000 valid signatures by July 1 to qualify for the Nov. 2 general election.

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