The Assault On Private Property Rights – And How We Can Fight It

The subject of Eminent Domain is at best a thorny one. Alas, far too many people have no idea what the term even means, and no clue how it might one day affect them on a personal level. Regardless of where you live, if you follow local news, you will almost inevitably come across a story where the City, or County was embattled with a property owner. The city wants to improve the infrastructure, it could be a new road, a rail line, or some other project. It is for the good of the community, however, there is some land owner who does not want his house bulldozed to make way for the road.

Who is in the right? This is where the subject of Eminent Domain comes into play. A private citizen can be forced by the city or state to relinquish his property for the benefit of the larger community.

With todays urban sprawl many cities find the need to improve the roadways to accommodate the increased volume of traffic. Should one person be able to prevent a project that the community as a whole would derive great benefit from?

I am sure that there are few people that would argue that the ‘hold out’ land owner should be forced to move, but should be correctly compensated.

However many cases of Eminent Domain are not nearly as clear cut. The term ‘the greater good of the community’ can mean different things, in different contexts.

Is it a valid use of Eminent Domain to support a new shopping center anchored with a Wal-Mart or some other mega company?

Economics start to creep into this rather ugly subject. The city officials have responsibilities to the electorate, not least of which is a fiscal one. The community wants, even demands, that the streets are maintained, a valid police force is in action, utilities are available, oh the list goes on and on. But where does the money for this infrastructure come from?

Taxes my friend!

If you can increase the tax structure, suddenly you have more money. Lets say, and this is a hypothetical, there are three small businesses, but they occupy a large land area, a large developer approaches the city with the news that they could redevelop the area into a retail or housing mecca, the tax base would be a significant increase in the towns coffers.

Don Corace has put a very well thought out book in Government Pirates. Not only does he explain the issues, but also cites numerous examples of Eminent Domain taken to ridiculous levels. But do not assume that Eminent Domain is limited to the furtherment of the community, nor the mere fact that a Mega-Mart wants to move into town. There are plenty of other examples cited in Government Pirates that boggle my mind. Should a developer be precluded from building if the ‘well heeled’ local gated community claim that it will spoil their view of the ocean? Should a nature loving group be able to prevent a land owner from filling in a low spot in his land? And lord knows the consequences of discovery a rare fly, mouse, or owl on your property! While not covered under Eminent Domain, they are very real situations where land ownership, and land use have been curtailed.

As with many aspects of Eminent Domain, and indeed the law in general, we find ourselves on some thin ice. Where is the line that represents what is right and what is wrong? At what point do we, as a society need to establish the rules of Eminent Domain?

I suggest that you read Government Pirates, that way you can form your own opinion, You can order your copy here. Don Also has a web site that is well worth a visit.

Simon Barrett

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