City should reject eminent domain

The city of Mount Airy should indeed reject eminent domain abuse as a development tool (“Eminent domain issue sparks legal threat,” Nov. 18). Using eminent domain to seize private property for private development is both unconstitutional and unconscionable. That’s why the Institute for Justice (IJ)—a national public interest, civil liberties law firm—fights eminent domain abuse across the country, in courtrooms and at the grassroots. We represented the homeowners before the U.S. Supreme Court in the infamous Kelo v. City of New London case, which sparked a nationwide revolt against eminent domain abuse that continues to this day.

Mount Airy officials are currently considering authorizing eminent domain for the Westside Redevelopment Plan, which includes the vacant city-owned Spencer industrial buildings as well as a number of privately owned properties. Nineteen privately owned properties are targeted; nobody we have talked to wants to sell. Plus, not a single one of these properties is needed for the city to achieve its goal of redeveloping the property it already owns. They would only be taken so a developer can create a different entrance to the new development.

Eminent domain is for public use—projects like roads and schools—not for private development. Courts nationwide are rejecting eminent domain abuse as a tool for private economic development, and municipalities that have continued seizing land for developers have faced monumental bad publicity and years of litigation.

Private negotiation—not government force—has spurred development in this country for centuries. Indeed, cities that have pursued development with a respect for property rights have enjoyed an enormous influx of private investment. And it’s no wonder: property owners know that their investments are safe.

IJ has been instrumental in defeating projects across the country predicated on the use of eminent domain for private gain. These illegitimate land grabs are always accompanied by enormous amounts of public outrage. Mount Airy can easily avoid this headache.

We will continue to work with the property owners in the Westside Redevelopment Plan to ensure that their rights are not violated in the city’s execution of its redevelopment plan.

Officials should outright reject eminent domain, and in doing so send a message to all residents and business owners: Here in Mount Airy, we respect your right to keep what you’ve worked so hard to own.

Phil Applebaum

Institute for Justice

Arlington, Virginia

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