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Mayor says eminent domain possible

By Dave Copeland
Saturday, March 2, 2002

Pittsburgh Mayor Tom Murphy said Friday eminent domain would have to be used for Downtown redevelopment plans if property owners refuse to sell their property at reasonable prices.
“We obviously would like to move forward working cooperatively with the existing owners in the Fifth-Forbes corridor,” Murphy said. “I did take (eminent domain) off the table and my preference is to not use it.

“But we also have to face the reality about the expectations that some people have of what their buildings are worth.”

Murphy could receive a proposal for redeveloping the Fifth-Forbes corridor from the Plan C Task Force as early as Thursday. The plan is expected to include eminent domain, breaking a pledge Murphy made to take the controversial redevelopment tool off the table when the task force was formed in November 2000.

The task force was formed to build consensus on redeveloping the Downtown when Murphy’s own plan fell apart. Known as Market Place at Fifth & Forbes, Murphy’s plan was criticized for its use of eminent domain, the relocation of local merchants to make way for national retailers and the leveling of up to 62 Downtown buildings.
City Council would have final approval over any plan presented for redeveloping Downtown. The plan also would go before the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the planning commission and the historic review commission.

“I wouldn’t support it, because I don’t believe in taking private property. There are incentive programs that can help that area,” Councilman Alan Hertzberg said. “You give people incentives to do things — you don’t force people to turn over their property.”

Hertzberg, Councilmen Jim Ferlo and Bob O’Connor were the only consistent opponents on council to Murphy’s original redevelopment plan. O’Connor, who brokered a relocation deal with Vento’s Pizza Shop in East Liberty so the city could avoid using eminent domain to build a Home Depot, said the city should work on relocating private business owners along the Fifth-Forbes corridor.

“I don’t see the necessity,” O’Connor said. “You have to give everybody a fair deal, and if you’re doing things right with the plan, every business owner should want to be a part of it.”

Council President Gene Ricciardi said eminent domain should be used with caution.

“It needs to be a tool of last resort,” he said. “I really believe if you work in an honest fashion with all of the property owners, and if all of the property owners would benefit from the plan, I don’t see a need for eminent domain because people would naturally buy into it.”

Councilman William Peduto, who wasn’t on council in 2000 when Murphy’s plan divided the body, said he doesn’t support using eminent domain to transfer property from one private owner to another.

“But I do not rule out using eminent domain when it’s one person who is trying to stop the entire project or trying to get rich,” Peduto said. “You have to use common sense in the process.”

Councilwoman Barbara Burns said she doesn’t necessarily oppose eminent domain, but acknowledged it can be a hardship for business and property owners who are forced to relocate.

“I’m not surprised that eminent domain has re-emerged in the discussion. And I’m not inherently opposed to it. I just believe it should be done with a lot of thought,” Burns said. “I believe Fifth and Forbes is blighted, so I’m pleased there is a Plan C working to get something done.”

Dave Copeland can be reached at or (412) 320-7922.

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