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Governor Rendell Signs Eminent Domain Bills Protecting Property Owners Rights.

HARRISBURG, Pa., May 4 /PRNewswire/ -- Governor Edward G. Rendell today signed Senate Bill 881 and House Bill 2054 to clarify Pennsylvania's eminent domain law.

Senate Bill 881 amends the state's eminent domain code by prohibiting, with some exceptions, an acquiring agency to take private property in order to use it for private enterprise.

The bill provides standards that single, blighted properties must meet before being taken by eminent domain, including those already articulated in the Urban Redevelopment Law, and extends the criteria to include properties that:
 -- Have defective or unusual conditions that render their title
 unmarketable;
 -- Pose environmentally hazardous conditions; and
 -- Present multiple conditions of blight, including having occupancy and
 fire code violations, unsafe access ways, are served by an unsafe
 street or right-of-way, have applicable municipal code violations, or
 are located in a redevelopment area with certain population density
 requirements.




"This bill protects the rights of property owners above all other interests," said Governor Rendell. "Eminent domain should be used in a community's best interests, not the specialized interests of a few. This law will provide an important tool for state and local governments to take action on private lands and properties when necessary, but keeps a property owners rights in tact."

Besides having to meet certain characteristics, multiple properties can be taken by eminent domain if they also meet certain geographic conditions related to the blighted area as it pertains to the redevelopment area. In all cases, the bill specifies that the declaration of a blighted area shall expire after 20 years.
 The general prohibition would not apply to property:

 -- Taken for a common carrier, public utility or railroad;
 -- Which is taken because it poses a threat to public health or safety;
 -- That is abandoned or blighted; and
 -- That is acquired for the development of low-income and mixed-income
 housing projects.




The general prohibition would not apply to takings to be used for a road, street, highway, traffic way or for which then becomes necessary, tangentially, for an adjacent property that becomes landlocked as a result of such taking.

The bill also says no political subdivision shall exercise eminent domain authority against land that is situated in another political subdivision without the approval, by resolution, of the governing body of the political subdivision in which the land is situated.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Piccola (R-Dauphin), passed the House and Senate unanimously and becomes effective in 120 days.

House Bill 2054 is the companion to SB 881 and provides the general structure for the revised Eminent Domain Code.

HB 2054 outlines land condemnation procedures, including the proper filing in court of a declaration of taking, the authorization for the taking, the purpose of the condemnation, a description of the property, the just compensation made or secured, and a statement specifying where a plan showing the condemned property may be inspected in the county in which the property taken is located.

Any entity condemning land under the new law must provide written notice within 30 days after filing a declaration of taking to the landowner, mortgage holder or lien holder of record. HB 2054 also requires that the service of process be provided in the same manner as in a civil action, or by registered mail to the last known address of the person being served. Where service cannot be made, the bill requires that a notice of condemnation be published in a newspaper of general circulation and the county's legal journal, if the latter is available.

This printed notice is to include specific information regarding the condemning process, and how the condemnee may challenge the power or the right of the condemning entity to appropriate the property. Such an objection must be filed within 30 days after being served with notice of condemnation. In cases where a challenge to a taking is successful, the bill requires the condemnor to reimburse the owner for reasonable appraisal, attorney and engineering fees and other costs and expenses incurred because of the condemnation proceedings.

HB 2054 provides that if a condemnor abandons the original intended purpose of the property, the condemnor may dispose of it by sale, lease, gift, devise or other transfer, subject to certain restrictions, so long as the property is underdeveloped or has not been substantially improved.

Farmers and small business owners also benefit from HB 2054. The bill provides for reasonable expense reimbursements for moving-related expenses. Under this new law, displaced farms, non-profit organizations, and small businesses are eligible for up to $12,000 in reimbursements. Limits on payments covering loss of net earnings also increased from $20,000 to $60,000.

Agricultural lands seized under eminent domain must first be approved by the Agricultural Lands Condemnation Approval Board, or ALCAB.

Other property owners affected by land condemnations, who do not qualify for any of the above compensation arrangements may be eligible for up to $4,000 for use in meeting appraisal, attorney and engineering fees.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Glen Grell (R-Cumberland), also becomes effective in 120 days.

The Rendell Administration is committed to creating a first-rate public education system, protecting our most vulnerable citizens and continuing economic investment to support our communities and businesses. To find out more about Governor Rendell's initiatives and to sign up for his weekly newsletter, visit his Web site at: http://www.governor.state.pa.us/.

CONTACT: Kate Philips

717-783-1116

CONTACT: Kate Philips of Pennsylvania Office of the Governor, +1-717-783-1116

Web site: http://www.state.pa.us/ http://www.governor.state.pa.us/
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Date:May 4, 2006
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