In re: Condemnation by the Redevelopment Authority of Lawrence County, 962 A.2d 1257 (Pa. Commw. 2008).

A government entity cannot take property through eminent domain under the Urban Redevelopment Law for purely economic development unless there is evidence demonstrating it is blighted.
Case Details:

The Redevelopment Authority of Lawrence County (“RALC”), filed declarations of taking seeking to take two private properties, one a combination business and residence, and the other a residence, for use as an industrial park to be owned by the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation.  At the time the declarations of taking were filed, the LCEDC owned the four remaining properties to be encompassed by the industrial park.  The landowners filed preliminary objections arguing that in addition to procedural issues in failing to comply with the Urban Redevelopment Law (“URL”) and inadequate bond, the taking was contrary to the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions.  The Common Pleas Court upheld the taking, and the landowners appealed.

Before the Commonwealth Court, the landowners argued that the Court improperly upheld the taking because the properties were not blighted, or located in a blighted redevelopment area, as required by URL.  The Court agreed.  Although the Commonwealth Court acknowledged that the URL was enacted to provide for the elimination of blight through economically and socially sound redevelopment, a public purpose justifying the acquisition of private property through the power of eminent domain, the government must comply with the express provisions of the URL.  Specifically, a redevelopment authority may condemn property within a redevelopment area if it is properly certified to be blighted – unsafe, unsanitary, inadequate, over-crowded, defective design or economically or socially undesirable land uses.  For a redevelopment authority to condemn property outside a redevelopment area, it must demonstrate that it is severely deteriorated such as constituting a public nuisance, unfit for human habitation or vacant and abandoned.

Because the properties at issue were not severely deteriorated and located within the proposed redevelopment area, the condemnation was only permitted if they were “blighted” under the URL.  The RALC argued that the properties met those criteria because they were economically undesirable due to the fact that they were not being used for industrial purposes, the highest and best use.  The Court disagreed, explaining that the County applied the wrong standard in certifying the area as blighted.  It held that there was no evidence that the properties in the Area specifically inflict any affirmative harm on the community due to the physical condition or the use of those properties.  The desire to put the properties to industrial use does not render their present use undesirable.  The Court ruled that where no physical conditions of blight exist the public purpose of the URL – elimination of blight – is absent and the condemnation was not justified.

Date of Decision: 12/22/08

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