In New London, Conn., city officials used eminent domain to take private homes to build a riverfront hotel, health club and offices, arguing that the tax base would boost economic growth. Eminent domain allows governments under the Fifth Amendment to take property if the owner is given “just compensation” and the land is for “public use.” The U.S. Supreme Court will hear the New London case next year. Meanwhile, American City & County asked readers of its weekly e-mail newsletter for their opinions on the issue.
“I would support retention of eminent domain powers for economic development, if: 1) strict criteria were met in order to employ the measure; and 2) compensation paid was well in excess of appraised value.”
— John Haase, Chair, Lawrence-Douglas County, Kan., Metropolitan Planning Commission
“Eminent domain can and should be used to protect the health, welfare and safety of the public, but only when a pressing public need outweighs a private property interest. Economic growth is not a pressing public need, and generally is in the interest of another individual or group that seeks to profit in some way. If we subvert the property rights of one for the financial gain of another in the name of economic growth, we jeopardize every individual’s property rights at the whim of government. Given the track record of many serving in public office, the public good would be far better served by leaving economic development to the private sector to compete fairly in our private enterprise system without ‘favors’ and ‘deals’ from government.”
— Kurt Vilendrer, Chairman, Dawson County, Ga., Board of Commissioners
“As a community planner, I am very involved with issues related to smart growth and the need to recycle developed land rather than constantly expand into green areas. In most cases, eminent domain for economic development purposes involves developed land rather than greenfields. I do not believe there is one blanket answer for all communities or situations. I would advocate that communities develop a test, if you will, that will allow for an objective evaluation of the costs and benefits of a ‘taking.’”
— Tom West, Community Planner, Cincinnati-based KZF Design