Usually we post about eminent domain in New York State, but the truth is that across the nation there are lots of interesting cases to write about. Especially this one that we recently came across. We have to admit it’s the first time we’ve ever written about eminent domain and tree houses. Here goes!
In Columbia, Missouri Ms. Sutu Forte, who is 67-years old, is fighting against City Hall. She is doing this from a tree house where she is holding a “sit in” or “tree sit” in a statement of protest for the construction of a new trail on Bluff Dale Drive. She wants to stop the removal of some old trees in a Columbia neighborhood to make way for a new hiking and biking trail. News reports say that she has been doing this for several days.
(We don’t want to get off track, but we can’t help but wondering about bathroom facilities, running water, food, and the comforts of home!)
According to Forte, she commented, “I’m doing well. I’m filled with warmth and people caring and their support. They’re taking a big interest in what our statement is to save this land.”
City leaders took the property through eminent domain from Forte’s organization called “It’s Our Wild Nature”. (A very fitting name if you ask us!). As one would imagine for a “tree sit”, Forte said that she was not moving from the tree house until city leaders stopped their new trail construction plans.
In 2019, Columbia City leaders paid $85,000 to take title to the easements for trail construction through eminent domain. Forte’s non-profit “It’s Our Wild Nature” was the former owner of the land. Leaders of the non-profit filed a request in court to increase the City’s payment to a higher, fair market price under the State’s eminent domain laws. (We’ve certainly heard this before). In October 2020, a jury trial was set to finally decide how much the land is worth.
City of Columbia spokesman Steve Sapp said, “We continue to work with It’s Our Wild Nature [as] we’ve doing since 2013. Unfortunately, we’re just unable to come up with a compromise that suited both parties.”
We often write about the law in New York, which is different than that of most other States (for example, New York is one of the only States that does not allow jury trials for eminent domain takings). However, once the government acquires property by eminent domain, the former owner loses its rights to it. That law is universal.
In the case of Ms. Forte, the treehouse trespasser, City officials will have the option to file a complaint with police, and probably the court, to get Forte out of the tree when construction of the new trail is scheduled to begin.
We’re guessing a few squirrels and birds are probably upset too.