Alternatives to Eminent Domain


  • The constitutional and statutory context of eminent domain and its limits

  • How local eminent domain authority has changed after Kelo, particularly related to its availability to pursue community development goals 

  • How community development officials and planners have found alternative paths to achieve those goals, including the kinds of obstacles they faced and the benefits they achieved 


More than a decade has passed since the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo vs. City of New London sparked re-assessments throughout the country of the use of eminent domain, particularly as a means of economic development and community revitalization. The results of the re-assessments varied by jurisdiction; they fell along a continuum from additional controversy (but few legal changes) to amendments to state constitutions restricting or forbidding its use for certain purposes.

The backlash has prompted many planners and elected officials to treat the eminent domain as a tool of last resort (assuming the tool remained available at all), and to instead explore alternatives that do not depend on involuntary property acquisitions or transfers. These include the creation and use of tax-increment financing districts, tax-abatement programs, and recovery-zone programs. Continuing challenges include land assembly in already developed areas and “the holdout problem”—owners who are positioned to hold out for unreasonably high prices and are more likely to do so where there is no prospect of eminent domain.

Explore eminent domain alternatives presented by the chair of the APA’s amicus committee, a leader of the public-interest law firm that has led the charge for restricting the use of eminent domain, and a recently retired professor of redevelopment law and former executive director of community redevelopment agencies in Florida (one of the states that adopted strict limits on the use of eminent domain following Kelo). All three have participated personally in the Kelo case and have watched, from different perspectives, how the public and legislative responses have affected the strategies remaining for planners.