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What is eminent domain?

Did you know that the government has the power to take your private land for public use? This is an action referred to as eminent domain, and while you are to be fairly compensated for your property, it can be a very frustrating and complicated real estate transaction that leads to courtroom disputes.

This is the situation facing a Florida mill owner and investors looking to redevelop land for a waterfront district. The two parties have been unable to reach an agreement that would allow the public to access a portion of land controlled by the owner of the mill, and City Hall is considering taking action by using eminent domain.

According to reports, the mill sits on land that separates two parts of the development. In order to allow people to pass from one side of the district to the other more easily, the developers want to secure the right to allow public access on roughly 7,000 square feet of land owned by the mill.

So far, the two sides have been unable to negotiate a deal. In similar situations, these failures can often be linked to inadequate compensation offers or a challenge over the intended use of the land.

In this case, however, the deal may hinge on safety. The mill owner has released a statement confirming that it is not against the project but feels that developers should prioritize pedestrian and motorist safety in their plans for the area.

If a deal cannot be reached, the city could wind up getting involved and using an eminent domain action to move the project forward. However, doing so has been referred to as their "fall-back position." 

If you are in a similar situation where the government is looking to take privately owned land for public use, you need to understand that you have rights to protect. Further, there are specific laws in place that govern how and if an eminent domain action can be filed. Without familiarity with state real estate laws, you can find yourself at a distinct disadvantage in negotiations. Working with an experienced attorney will therefore be crucial.

Source: Tampa Bay Times, "Tampa could use eminent domain for road in Vinik-Cascade project," Richard Danielson, April 1, 2016

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