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Siblings battle eminent domain in Colo.

A brother-and-sister team of Iranian immigrants has been leading a vocal movement to stop a Colorado city from seizing their land for a major entertainment development.

Nasrin and Saeed Kholghy own a carpet store in Glendale, where the city council last week voted to authorize a city agency to seize the store and the land on which it stands under "eminent domain." The US Constitution authorizes governments to take land for "public use" but only after paying "fair compensation." Typically, that is determined by an independent appraiser, not the government seizing the property.

Eminent domain is normally used by local and state governments to get consolidated chunks of land to use for highways, schools and utility rights of way. But a very controversial Supreme Court decision in 2005 allows governments to take property and turn it over to private developers. That has infuriated many conservatives and liberals. Several states have passed laws restricting the ability of local governments to use eminent domain for private developments, but not Colorado.

The government in Glendale, Colorado, has now authorized eminent domain to get land that a Texas developer would use to create a large bar/restaurant/ entertainment venue.

Nasrin Kholghy said, "I don't feel like I'm in America anymore." She said, "I want the city to leave us alone, let us develop [on] our own. That's all I want."

Saeed Kholghy said he fears that if he and his sister are forced out it could be end of the family business. "You cannot take land from private owners and give it to other private people," he argued.

But it can, under the Supreme Court decision in Kelo vs. City of New London (Connecticut). That was a development plan like the one in Glendale. Ironically, it still has not gotten off the ground a decade later.

The Kholghy family moved to Colorado from Iran in the 1970 so Nasrin and Saeed could attend the University of Colorado, then stayed and opened the carpet store after the revolution.

Glendale is an unusual city. It has a population of just 4,500 people and is only 369 acres in size--it wants to use 42 of those acres for the new development. What makes Glendale unique is that it is completely surrounded by Denver and essentially an extension of Denver's downtown, so the new entertainment center would draw from a huge population area and provide the city with a lot of revenues.

Nasrin and Saeed Kholghy say they have long wanted to develop the area themselves, but have been foiled by the city government, which has resorted to eminent domain and an outside developer. Their store, Authentic Persian & Oriental Rugs, has been on the site for 25 years. They own five acres of the 42 to be used for the development. The city already owns much of the land and at least two other private owners hold the remainder. The others have not been heard to say anything about eminent domain.

The issue came before the City Council last week. The Kholghys recruited about a hundred supporters to pack the City Council chamber in opposition to the use of eminent domain. They carried signs saying "Eminent Domain Abuse" and "Hands Off My Property."

The meeting started with attorneys for the city explaining that the council would not be voting to take anyone's land by eminent domain. Instead, it would vote on whether to confer the power to do so in the future to the Glendale Urban Renewal Authority (GURA), a body made up of City Council members. Mayor Mike Dunafon repeatedly said he doubted that the GURA would ever actually use that power.

The city attorneys also emphasized that the city would have to pay fair market value for any land it acquired by eminent domain.

But that explanation didn't quell the anger of the Kholghys' supporters.

"They have a right to keep what they've worked so hard to own," said Phil Applebaum of the Institute for Justice, a Virginia-based libertarian law firm fiercely critical of eminent domain, whose staffers came to Colorado to support the Kholghys.

Longtime rug shop customer Victoria Beck attacked Dunafon personally, quoting from his Twitter account, where he often espouses his views on liberty. "You said, 'Democracy should be more than two wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner,'" she said. "I would like to suggest that's exactly what two or more wolves are doing here, looking at the Kholghys as if they're sheep for dinner."

The Kholghys say they worked with the city for years on plans for an entertainment district. But they say they were eventually cut out of the project and told their rug shop couldn't be part of it--an allegation that Dunafon denies.

The Kholghys are now suing the city. They claim that the GURA rejected their proposal to redevelop the land and instead approved the proposal of the Texas developer, Wulfe and Company, which calls for 303,225 square feet of restaurants, retail shops and entertainment venues, with 2,270 parking spaces. The developer would spend $175 million.

Only two city councilors--Paula Bovo and Joseph Giglio--offered their opinions before casting their votes. Both asked whether there was a way to negotiate with the landowners before resorting to eminent domain. The city's attorneys said there was, but they added that if negotiations broke down, the city council would once again have to consider whether to grant GURA the power to use eminent domain. Repeating Tuesday night's meeting could delay the project, they said.

"The reason we have everybody in the room tonight is because eminent domain is a scary thing," Bovo said. "If we can add an extra layer of security without compromising the entire project, I would be willing to do that .... I will do everything in my power to make sure it doesn't come down to the big threat, the big stick of eminent domain."

Dunafon called for a 15-minute break so city attorneys could craft an amendment that would provide that extra layer of security. What the city attorneys came up with was a provision that directs the GURA to negotiate in good faith with landowners and then enter into mediation if the two sides can't agree on a purchase price. Only after mediation could the GURA invoke eminent domain.

The vote to allow the GURA to use eminent domain, with that provision in place, was unanimous.

But Nasrin Kholghy said the provision doesn't provide her any comfort. "I wasn't surprised that they added an amendment to ease their conscience so they can vote yes," she said.
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Title Annotation:Diaspora: Around the globe
Publication:Iran Times International (Washington, DC)
Geographic Code:1U8CO
Date:May 22, 2015
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