By Lou Phelps, Savannah Business Journal
March 30, 2017 – One of the key bills of the Savannah City Council’s ‘Legislative Priorities’ for the current session of the General Assembly- HB 434 – passed through all hurdles in the final hours of the session Thursday night, known as the Eminent Doman Blight Bill.
Mayor Eddie DeLoach and the Savannah City Council had sought to revise the Georgia code that severely limited the ability of cities and counties to address blighted properties through the use of eminent domain, after the state’s Eminent Domain laws were changed back in 2006.
HB 434 had bi-partisan support, by Republican Wendall Willard and Democrat Calvin Smyre as the lead sponsors in the House. Rep. Ron Stephens of Chatham County, was also a sponsor.
The bill lays out the legal process to be followed by the Superior Court in a county, and defines what qualifies as a blighted property – it must be more than just an unattractive exterior. And, it defines the process of notification that a government body must go through to pursue the use of eminent domain.
If declared blighted, and the property is taken by a government entity, it must remain in the same manner of use for five years. The prior law required it to remain in the same usage for 20 years.
The City of Savannah has stated that its intent in supporting the bill was to clear up clouded titles on abandoned and dangerous properties in the city, with the goal of selling the properties to those who will invest in their restoration. If a residential home is seize through eminent domain, it must remain a residential property for five years.
The bill had passed in the House back in February, and had passed in the Senate, but in an amended version. A group of Senators had attached an amendment that added that eminent domain could not be used to pursue a fuel pipeline for three years – nothing to do with addressing blight, the core of the legislation. But, the House removed the Senate change. Thursday night, the Senate voted 40 to 7 to approve the bill without that anti-pipeline measure.
The Joint Senate/House Study Committee looking at a possible fuel pipeline along the Georgia Coast, issued its report in January, and found that a pipeline is the safest way to transport fuel. Sources report that Governor Deal is also not supportive of allowing the study by Kinder Morgan of its proposed ‘Palmetto Pipeline’ to move forward.
As to blight, Alderman John Hall has called for enhanced tools to address blighted properties for five years. He was joined by Mayor DeLoach, after he came into office, as well as other members of the City Council, and the Council made it a priority effort for the 2017 session.
The Senate voted 40 to 7 to agree to the House’s removal of the Senate’s pipeline moratorium amendment.
Sen. Ben Watson and Sen. Lester Jackson voted for the bill on Tuesday, March 28, but with the pipeline amendment. Sen. Jackson voted against removing that amendment Tuesday night.
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