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Church seeks eminent domain dismissal

By ERIC A. HOWALD

Of the Keizertimes

St. Edward Catholic Church is asking that the courts dismiss an eminent domain compliant filed by the Salem-Keizer School District in regard to six acres of vacant land the district wants to expand McNary High School. 

In response to the district request for immediate condemnation and possession, the church contends, in documents submitted to Marion County Circuit Court, that the school district did not comply with proper eminent domain procedure and has “failed to justify its need for immediate possession of St. Edward’s property.”

The allegation of improper procedure hinges on the district not establishing a fund for the estimated just compensation and instead seeking condemnation for immediate possession. 

Additionally, the church argues that while the district wants immediate possession to stay within its construction schedule, it did not provide any detail regarding the timelines and other hurdles, like permitting, that it needs to clear. As a result, according to the church, the district has not detailed what economic hardship would be endured without the immediate possession “as opposed to three months from now, or a year from now.”

In a separate document seeking dismissal of the eminent domain claim, the church claims the request for ownership violates the Religious Land Use And Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). That act states that the government cannot impose or implement land use regulation of “substantial burden” on the religious exercise of a person … assembly, or institution.” RLUIPA also mandates that governmental agencies wishing to impose such regulation prove a compelling interest and use the “least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.” 

According to the dismissal request, Oregon courts have yet to determine whether RLUIPA applies to eminent domain cases, which means the process – and any appeals that arise – might drag on for a while. 

In December, the church rejected an offer of $1.75 million for the six acres. The offer was about $200,000 more than the highest appraisal value.