Property rights activists in Denver are fighting hard to curtail the eminent domain abilities of the Regional Transit District. While I do personally believe that the government shouldn't be able to just take your property and redevelop it at random, I also believe that there are certain urban design considerations that should be allowed when land must be taken for transit. At issue here is what happens after RTD takes land and builds a parking garage which is an allowed transit use. The second part is the ability to wrap that parking garage with retail which is what property owners do not want their land taken for, what they call economic development. This taking for economic development was the subject of the recent supreme court case Kelo vs City of New London.
Now this is a very thin line drawn in the sand, but what is the difference between pure economic development and good urban design? I don't think RTD is trying to take the property to build a casino or shopping mall. I do think they should be able to do as much with the land as they can to make it pedestrian friendly and a part of the surrounding neighborhood. No one wants a hulking parking garage on their street face or as a next door neighbor and RTD should be doing as much as it can to get a return on their investment, which in transit is ridership and revenue.
In order to get a return on investment, they need to create an environment that supports transit usage from modes other than the automobile and trip reductions.
In my dream world I wish that transit authorities had real estate departments that could buy up key pieces of land at fair market price (not through eminent domain) and lease them after the line is built when value has been created. I've actually wondered at times if a non-profit entity could be set up that raises money for the transit agency's capital projects. At one time the way streetcar companies made money off of land was by building lines to it. In Hong Kong and Japan, the rail lines make money off of developing property more than operating the trains, but they operate in a symbiotic way generating ridership and demand as well as an efficient means of transport.
I'm not sure how this is going to end up, and I'm not sure how you can legislate the difference between economic development and proper urban design issues, but there must be some way to strike a balance between ugly and nothing.