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Eminent domain for economic redevelopment restricted

Many Philadelphia residents do not want to receive, and may even fear getting, a notice from government authorities telling them that their home or business property, or even a portion of it, is the target of a potential eminent domain action.

As this blog has discussed, the government has broad power to use eminent domain to force the sale of private property for a public use, although this does not necessarily mean the general public has to literally be able to use the property. Assuming the government follows the proper procedure for invoking eminent domain, a landowner is left only with the ability to dispute the price that the state will pay.

However, the power of the state to utilize eminent domain is not unlimited, particularly when it comes to the state or local authorities' desire to use it in order to carry out economic redevelopment or neighborhood revitalization projects.

These projects often involve the government's taking private land and then selling it to other investors and developers who, presumably, will put the property to a better economic use or take better care of it. With only a few exceptions, Pennsylvania law prohibits this practice, the idea being that the government should not be able to use eminent domain to redistribute land.

Because of the exceptions to the law, a landowner may find himself or herself contesting an eminent domain action. The city or other authority may, for instance, claim that the property is "blighted," that is, in poor enough condition that eminent domain is allowed even if it involves transferring the property to another private business. If a landowner is facing these circumstances, they should evaluate their legal options.

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