NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

LET THERE BE 'BLIGHT'

January 11, 2007

Regardless of strong constitutional protections for private property, in the post-Kelo world, governments and courts now view eminent domain as an area where few if any restrictions exist, says William R. Maurer, director of the Institute for Justice, Washington chapter. 

Consider:

  • The city of Burien, Wash., recently put a road through private property it decided was not upscale enough for the city's ambitious "Town Square" development.
  • The Washington Supreme Court allowed the Seattle Monorail to permanently condemn a piece of property it needed only temporarily for a construction staging area.

What's more, while Kelo gave the motivation, the tools available for trampling constitutional rights have been in place for some time, says Maurer:

  • Since the Kelo decision, municipalities have rediscovered Washington's Community Renewal Act, the local incarnation of statutes used to destroy working-class (and often minority) neighborhoods across the country in the 1950s and '60s.
  • The government, under the act, can condemn an entire neighborhood and transfer the property to a private developer so long as the government finds that at least some property in the neighborhood is "blighted."
  • Unfortunately, this statute is so broadly worded that practically every neighborhood in Washington meets the definition of "blight" -- things like "obsolete platting" and "diversity of ownership" constitute "blight."

Unfortunately, the problem is not limited to Washington, says Maurer.  In one appalling example:

  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit let stand a condemnation in which a developer in the Port Chester, N.Y., demanded that a private property owner give him either $800,000 or a 50 percent share in the property, which was slated to be a CVS pharmacy.
  • If refused, the developer threatened to have the village condemn it; the next day, the village condemned the property to hand it over to the developer to construct a Walgreens.

Source: William R. Maurer, "Let There Be 'Blight,'" Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2007.

For text (subscription required):

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB116849032319273544.html

 

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