A dentist in Arnold named Homer Tourkakis has been fighting off an eminent domain attempt at taking his dental clinic and has become, in the process, something of a small town hero.
The city wanted the land so that THF Realty could build a shopping area that would include a Lowe’s, Dierberg’s, Office Depot and other stores. For the $78 million project, THF was being given $30 million in government subsidies and tax increment financing. Even with that much of a leg up, though, THF wanted one more advantage: the right to take the land of several nearby businesses.
Tourkakis felt that being forced to give up his land was wrong and filed a lawsuit against the city of Arnold and THF for trying to take the building where his dental practice has been located for 22 years. He has been heartened by community reaction:
According to Tourkakis, his dental patients and the city’s general population have continued to support him.
“They don’t feel that private property should be transferred to another for profit,” Tourkakis said.
The basis of Tourkakis’ legal challenge was that the state constitution allows only cities with a constitutional charter (that’s only the biggest cities: St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield) to take land by eminent domain. The circuit court found that a convincing argument and ruled in his favor last May. Circuit judge M. Edward Williams ruled that a third class city did not have the constitutional authority to take the property even if it had been blighted–which, of course, it wasn’t.
The decision was a blow to developers, who had tried everything to win, including an attempt to buy him off. Once Tourkakis initiated the court challenge, developers asked him to “name a number”:
“I happen to know that once the developer realized the weight of this constitutional challenge, they asked the doctor to ‘name a number’-the last thing they wanted was a court precedent that would foil similar developments all over the state,” says Ron Calzone, chairman of Missouri Citizens for Property Rights, in a press release. “When most people would have taken the easy way out, and the money, Homer stayed the course and paved the way for others to protect their property with the same defense. Non-chartered cities across Missouri should now be on notice.”
Calzone spoke those optimistic words after Tourkakis won his court case last May. Unfortunately, that ruling was not the final word.
In late October, the city of Arnold appealed the case to the Missouri Supreme Court. It will argue that the constitution allows the taking of property for redevelopment and will cite a state law that allows even municipalities without a constitutional charter to take land.
Tourkakis’ lawyers will argue that any state law that contradicts the constitutional provision that only constitutionally chartered cities have the power to take land is itself unconstitutional.
Each side avows its confidence that it will prevail. There will be much perusing of the fine print in the constitutional amendment and in the statute in question–much perusing and much speculating about the intent of the legislators who wrote them.
Not being a legal scholar, I leave those speculations to the court, but I hope the law will allow the best man (Tourkakis) to win.