Thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court, the government has this power. Today, the Missouri Supreme Court set important limits on the ability of the state to exercise this power. And if you don’t think the issue is relevant to our faith, consider this: What if the government decides that it has had enough pro-life agitation from the Catholic Church and decides that some of its parishes constitute urban blight? Wouldn’t some of these buildings be better used by stem cell researchers, for instance?
In a decision that could derail the $210 million Centene Development project, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled today that an affluent intersection in Clayton does not meet the definition of blight.
The high court ruled that the City of Clayton failed to demonstrate that the 7700 Block of Forsyth Boulevard presents a “social liability” the community. That legal standard, the court ruled, is critical to justify redeveloping the area over the objection of property owners.
“Based on the foregoing definition of “social liability,” the evidence was insufficient, the ruling reads. “In particular, the evidence before the city concerning fire, police, and emergency services reports did not support a conclusion of social liability.”
The Centene development project was approved by the city of Clayton in December 2005. A St. Louis County judge approved it in January of this year, but the Missouri Court of Appeals later ruled the property is not blighted and referred the matter to the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court voted 6-1 in an unsigned opinion, with Judge Ronnie White dissenting.
“This does not fit with the popular perception of what constitutes a blighted neighborhood, to wit, an area that is rundown and located in a marginal community, one that offers little attraction to businesses and, thus, must resort to incentives, including the opportunity to acquire property by eminent domain, to encourage investment,” Judge Laura Denvir Stith wrote in a separate and concurring opinion.
In response to the court ruling, Centene Vice President Robert J. Schenk said in a statement:
“We are disappointed by the action of the Missouri Supreme Court and consider this a loss for Clayton and the St. Louis region. Centene is committed to expanding its business operations. We are exploring all of our options at this time.”