No two words chill a landowner’s soul like the words “eminent domain.”
The concept of eminent domain is the right of a government to take private property for public use, like a road. It often comes into play when the landowner is unwilling to sell the property for that use and the government has to “take” it, although it must pay the landowner.
But the definition of public use has been stretched like Play-Doh to include economic development schemes that mold eminent domain to take private homes or businesses and transfer the land for more profitable uses.
The case most cited in this instance is the 1981 taking of a neighborhood in Michigan to build a General Motors plant. That decision was overturned last summer – too late for the 4,000+ individuals and 600 businesses uprooted.
Before Supreme Court. Now, for the first time in 50 years, the U.S. Supreme Court is revisiting the definition of “public use” and whether or not private property can be taken for the sole purpose of economic development that will “perhaps increase tax revenues and improve the local economy.”
The court is currently hearing the case of Kelo, et al. vs. New London, Conn., et al. In this case, seven property owners in New London, Conn., are fighting the city’s efforts to take their land along the Thames River.
The city’s economic development plan includes a waterfront hotel and conference center, office space and residential properties. The area in question was not deemed a “blight”, which has triggered uses of eminent domain for urban redevelopment in other cities.
Similar to Ohio case. It rings close to home if you live in southwestern Ohio or have followed a case in Norwood, Ohio, where the city (backed by the Hamilton County Common Pleas Court) is trying to take homes and businesses to make room for a developer’s complex of offices, shops, restaurants and housing.
The Ohio Supreme Court granted an emergency stay Feb. 22 against the demolition of the properties pending a legal appeal by two property owners.
Speculation is risky business. Should land be condemned because a different owner has plans that might be economic gain to a municipality?
We should be careful not to be dazzled by glitzy architectural renderings of what could be built in the name of a community’s economic enhancement. We should remember all the strip malls that now sit abandoned or the outdated, unoccupied office buildings whose renters left for greener pastures.
At one time, someone could have made an economic development case for the construction of those buildings.