April 23, 2009
By Face The State
Face the State Staff Report
A 2008 presentation by a top Regional Transportation District official is spurring questions about the transit authority’s use of taxpayer dollars to teach other agencies how to effectively prevail against property owners in future disputes.
At the annual “Railvolution” Conference, held Oct. 26-30 in San Francisco, Bill Sirois, RTD’s Director of Transit Oriented Development, presented a lecture titled “Eminent Domain-Tool or Trouble for TOD.”
Through his presentation and accompanying slides, Sirois provided RTD’s perspective of what happened after it engaged in its latest expansion plans for its FasTracks light rail system. According to his presentation, “a few upset property owners” challenged RTD, “anti-eminent domain coalitions joined forces,” “voluminous open records requests” were submitted and “legislation was introduced to limit RTD’s eminent domain authority.” No property owners were present at the conference to offer an opposing perspective.
Sirois defended his viewpoint. “The purpose of the presentation was to indicate to people who are thinking about TOD around transit stations not to look at using eminent domain, necessarily, as a tool to acquire property, because there are all these issues out there,” he said. “We relayed what we went through with the West Corridor.”
Sirois’ language in his slides minimizes the public response to the West Corridor of FasTracks, the proposed line from Union Station in Denver through Lakewood and into Golden.
But, as was previously documented by Face the State, nearly 100 property owners turned out at to a community meeting earlier this year to express reservations about FasTracks, many of them furious about a lack of communication concerning the eminent domain process and the prospect of TOD.
“There was a fairly good sized group of people that were adamantly opposed to eminent domain and spoke out very actively last year about that,” conceded FasTracks public information officer Pauletta Tonilas. “Only a few of those were property owners that RTD was working with on the West Corridor project.”
Last March, RTD planned to notify up to 200 property owners that all or part of their land would be needed for FasTracks expansion along the West Corridor. Upon being notified, some property owners simply chose to settle immediately with RTD, while others waited and saw their property value drop due to speculation that the land would be condemned by RTD in the future
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