Is Seattle Making a Profit Off Land Seized Under Eminent Domain?

This is a partial transcript from "Hannity & Colmes," February 10, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

ALAN COLMES, CO-HOST: We continue our special "It Could Happen to You" series on eminent domain abuse. Over the course of the last few months, we've told you stories of eminent domain abuse from California to Florida, Oklahoma to New Jersey.

Tonight, our investigation takes us to Seattle, Washington, where the city used eminent domain to seize land for an extension of the city's monorail system, but voters rejected the monorail project, and the city is now making a sizeable profit selling the land it took.

Dennis Ankeny's property had an auto repair shop and video store on it before he was forced to sell through eminent domain.


DENNIS ANKENY, LOST PROPERTY: When you have 34 years invested in an investment and somebody takes it for public use and all of a sudden, they want to make the $350,000 on your investment, it's hard to even think about what's going on. Yet, there's 34 property owners that are going through the same thing.

I put in 30 years plus working for the Boeing Company, and this is an investment to help me with my retirement, to help my grandchildren with their college. And now all of a sudden it's gone.

They've taken this property, and a subsequent vote by the Seattle voters voted down the monorail. So rather than offer that property back to the previous owners, what they've done is put it on the market for the highest bidder.

I made an investment in 1970, and I've owned this property for 34 years. They've owned this property for 12 months. They put this property on the market for $350,000 more than they paid me. I mean, I don't know how long it would take you to save $350,000. It's almost a lifetime.

You talk about sleepless in Seattle, you know, that was how I was when they were taking this property. That's how I am when I see a sign that someone else is selling my property. They take it for public use and then offer it to the highest bidder. That is just flat wrong. If it's not illegal, it's really unethical.

The law firm that represented me on this sale had the foresight to put some language in our agreement that said, should the monorail authority not need this for public use, it would revert back to the owner. They wanted nothing to do with that.

When you take private property for public use and then put it on the open market to sell to the highest bidder, there is just something flat out wrong with that process. And I guess if it can happen in Seattle, it can happen anywhere.


COLMES: Now, we had invited a board member of the Seattle Monorail Project on the program, but he canceled his appearance late today, and we were informed that no other board members would be made available to us.

Joining us now, a former board member of the Seattle Monorail Project, Cleve Stockmeyer. Why are you a former member?

CLEVE STOCKMEYER, FORMER BOARD MEMBER, SEATTLE MONORAIL PROJECT: I'm a former member because I was voted out of office last fall.

COLMES: Because of this issue?

STOCKMEYER: No, not this issue. The main issue was whether to go forward with the project. I supported going forward with the project. There had been four prior votes in favor, but this fifth vote was against the project.

So now I think the gentleman we just heard from is absolutely right. He should be getting his property back.

COLMES: I don't understand that. Why didn't they make sure they had the votes to go forward with the project before they got rid of — these people lost their property? Couldn't they have done it that way?

STOCKMEYER: Well, they were sure, and it's almost — it's one of these strange sagas that's only possible in Seattle, I think. We had four positive votes. Everything looked like a go, but in a measure of accountability, it was put to a vote again, and it was turned down.

So the solution, I think, is pretty clear. It's to get the properties back to the former owners pretty much for what they were compensated for.

COLMES: And why won't they do that?

STOCKMEYER: I think it's a case of government inertia and, frankly, heartlessness. And the irony is the board is now led by former — by people who criticized the monorail and got into power on the board now. And now apparently even they don't even feel that anything should be done.

COLMES: As I understand it, the board is $110 million in debt.


STOCKMEYER: ... and we should do so.

COLMES: A hundred and ten million in debt. That's what the board is. And, you know, they won't come on this program. They cancel at the last minute, where there's no accountability and, clearly, they're afraid to face our cameras here on "Hannity & Colmes."

STOCKMEYER: Well, it is ironic, because they had criticized the board for not being transparent. But I guess once you're in power, it's a different story.

Now, to be fair, on the other side of the issue, all the former owners were compensated, so I think they should give the money back, of course, to get their properties back.

SEAN HANNITY, CO-HOST: Yes, Cleve. I think they should give back the money that ultimately was given to them.


HANNITY: So they take the property in eminent domain and they're not going to use the property. They're going to sell the property for a profit? I mean, what audacity. It's unbelievable.

STOCKMEYER: That's not right. Yes. Well — well, I think in the history of eminent domain and taking property, we've always got to have those two protections: No. 1, a public purpose and No. 2, just compensation. Now the public purpose isn't there.


STOCKMEYER: It shouldn't be the public purpose to just flip property and speculate.

HANNITY: It seems like, in our package that we just ran here, that his one gentleman, his lawyer cleverly put in there some provision, is the way it sounded, that — that if they don't use it for the public purpose, that he should be able to get it back firsthand.

But now he's saying that he's not going to get it back and that the value of this property — I assume this went on for some length of time — that the value of this property now has gone up rather significantly. These people will make a profit on it. The city will make a profit on it.

STOCKMEYER: Well, I think he should get it back, but it shouldn't depend even on having that clause in your court settlement papers.

HANNITY: I agree.

STOCKMEYER: All 34 people should get their property back. They should actually have the right of first refusal...


STOCKMEYER: ... to get it back for what they paid for it, what they were paid.

HANNITY: All right. What could be done now to help these folks to get their property back? Besides their individual lawsuits?

STOCKMEYER: We need to have the state legislature take action. It's actually not the city of Seattle. It's an independent government, the Seattle Monorail Project, that's formed directly under state law. It's subject to the state law that says when a government agency sells, it has to sell to everyone on equal terms, with no special rights for anyone. So there is this gap in the law, and the state legislature needs to step forward and fix the problem.

COLMES: Let's hope they do and do the right thing for the people who lost their land and should have it back. And the wrong people should not be making money off this.

We thank you very much, Cleve, coming on the program.

HANNITY: Even got Alan on the right side of this. I mean, that's amazing. You're even — you OK?

COLMES: You're a very bad man.

This story from Seattle, by the way, came to our attention because of an e-mail sent to us by one of you. So please continue to send us your stories of eminent domain abuse by e-mailing it to

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