Vedic City considers eminent domain to seize farmer's land

Associated Press/June 26, 2007

Des Moines --- A southeast Iowa city established six years ago by the followers of Transcendental Meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is considering a plan to seize a farmer's land to prevent him from building a hog operation next to the city.

Maharishi Vedic City officials told farmer Bob Palm that they'd like to buy his 149-acre farm after they heard a few months ago about Palm's plans to build a hog confinement operation on the land.

City officials drafted a proposal to buy the land and said if that plan fails, they expect to use eminent domain to force the sale of Palm's land in the name of public improvement.

On Sunday, Maharishi Vedic City's governing council decided to table a controversial vote on the property. The council could have chosen to take the first steps toward buying Palm's farm.

City Attorney Maureen Wynne, who is the wife of Mayor Bob Wynne, said the proposal is about expansion and ideals.

"It would be a very difficult situation for the city if a hog confinement is built on its boundaries," Wynne said.

She said a hog confinement operation would be a nuisance to the city that has declared itself all-organic and bans the sale of anything not grown organically.

An appraiser for the city valued Palm's land at $2,675 per acre.

Palm, 57, remained steadfast in his refusal to sell.

"It's everything to us," Palm said about the farm on which he grows corn and soybeans with his brothers Lou and Ron.

Ron Palm said he and his brothers have dropped the idea of a hog confinement and they said city officials jumped the gun when they threatened to use eminent domain.

"About all we had done was research into a hog confinement," Ron Palm said. He said the brothers also considered raising cattle or growing a vineyard.

The vote on the park plan will be delayed indefinitely while the city negotiates with the family and with Jefferson County officials.

Sunday's meeting -- held under a tent at Wynne's house -- drew about 200 people, said Jefferson County Board of Supervisors Vice Chairman Dick Reed, adding that most of them were against the proposed expansion.

"It's a little shady," Reed said. "When you have a local government talking about doing condemnation on a farm when they have excess land themselves is ludicrous. Being able to own land is one of the rights in this country."

Wynne said adding a hog confinement to the town's border would be akin to building a landfill.

The proposed park included in the city's plan would include windmills, soccer fields, a swimming pool and a place to charge electric cars.

Considered a spiritual center of the Transcendental Meditation movement in the United States, the city of 420 practitioners of TM was incorporated in 2001. The city has designated Sanskrit, an ancient language of India, as its official language and adopted a new currency.

The meditating community has met with resistance and sometimes hostility from the farmers, residents and business owners of Fairfield, where Yogi and his TM organizations bought the defunct Parsons College campus in 1974.

In 2001, a group of the meditators decided to establish their own city a few miles north of Fairfield. Since its inception, Maharishi Vedic City has generated local controversy.

In April 2004, city officials hatched a plan to house 500 pandits, or special meditators, using city money. But Jefferson County residents opposed the plan on the grounds that the public money from a local-option sales tax would be used for a religious purpose.

The pandits made it to Maharishi Vedic City in the fall of 2006, but without the use of public money, Wynne said.

In 2005, the Jefferson County Board of Supervisors unanimously rejected the city's request for help to get a $132,000 grant from the state's Community Attractions and Tourism Fund to build a new visitors' center and make improvements to an astronomical observatory.

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