Wilmington City Council members wary of proposed expanded eminent domain powers | The latest news from WDEL

A State House bill that would have given Wilmington additional powers to acquire vacant and derelict properties through eminent domain was considered by the Wilmington City Council on Wednesday night.

House Bill 458 was introduced on June 7 by State Representative Nnamdi Chukwuocha (D-Wilmington), which would specifically give the City of Wilmington the right to reclaim vacant or abandoned property, if it is part of an ordinance passed by the city council to acquire the property for a development plan.

HB 458 was given extremely short notice before appearing before the House Administration Committee on June 15, and despite passing without any adverse standing, it never reached the Legislative Hall floor until the end of the session.

State Representative Bud Freel, a former Wilmington City Councilman who won a special election for the 4th district earlier this year but will leave in November, was the only state lawmaker of the 13 sponsors or co-sponsors to take the invitation to speak at the meeting of the Intergovernmental Committee.

“I was just trying to give the city something they could use to process vacant properties in Wilmington.”

Under current state law, eminent domain can only be used in specific instances of utilities or other public agencies, or if it removes a “degraded” or “slum” area or structure. which is irreparable or unfit for use.

Allowing Wilmington to claim eminent domain for a development plan means the property could end up in the hands of developers, which worries Councilwoman Shane Darby.

“It could be a very dangerous tool. Eminent domain should not be a private development tool. We’re not talking about affordable housing, we’re not talking about local rental, we’re not talking about how a lien in the process is, we’re not talking about fair housing for the city of Wilmington Until those security barriers are removed, I don’t think eminent domain should be a tool used for public development.

She also expressed concerns about the types of organizations likely to receive the claimed property.

“The biggest issue for me was private development. I feel like we have a monopoly in our city on developers where BPG and other developers that are so mainstream get all the properties and we don’t think about the small, minority, and local businesses to get some of those deals.”

Freel pointed out to the board that without the additional state language, there was not much they could do except use a wrecking ball.

“If the city took a property, the only thing they could do is tear down the property and let it sit. You can’t give it to somebody, even a non-profit, who could make a few dollars of this one, and you couldn’t give it to a private developer, so your hands are pretty much tied by the current code here in Delaware.”

Ed Osborne owns an auto repair shop on A Street near Christiana Landing and has been the target of several eminent domain attempts in recent years.

“There’s no reason you can take anyone’s property, 3 years, 5 years or 10 years, if they pay their taxes, they maintain the upkeep of their properties and do the things that ‘they’re supposed to do. do.’

Wednesday’s intergovernmental committee meeting was simply a discussion of the prominent topic of the field, committee chair Linda Gray said there was a chance that a resolution taking a formal position on HB458 could be proposed to the coming.