View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Sunday, November 30, 2003

Property Rights

The Denver Post this morning carries a very disturbing story about local governments' use of eminent domain to acquire property for development by private companies. If a property is for private use, then private developers need to acquire it, or work around it. The Russian Tea Room in New York refused to budge, so the Metropolitan Tower and the Carnegie Hall Tower had to be built separately. Too. Damn. Bad. Eminent domain is supposed to be used for fire stations, highways, police stations, schools, and other public facilities.

Denver is far from alone. National Review Online and 60 Minutes have both carried stories about this abuse, and the New York Times is trying to strongarm its neighbors in Times Square into a sweetheart deal for its own development. The Milwaukee suburb of Greendale condemned a property, where the owner claims he wasn't even approached by the developer. The worst part of that story is that the new owners are, in effect, being subsidized by a 4% increase in property taxes for residences.

In suburban Atlanta (article not available on line), property has been condemned for a new shopping mall. "The disputed property, Morris said, is pegged for storm drainage, roads and rights of way --- all public uses under the law, he noted. There's also talk about a new city hall, police station and convention center." But these uses wouldn't be there at all unless there were a new shopping mall going up. And you can't take someone's property because you might decide to put a new police station up.

The story is the same in St. Petersburg, Cleveland, and other cities, where sometimes, the companies in question get tax breaks in addition to government help in securing the land they want.

I believe in private property, and I believe in property rights. Michael Novak has written eloquently about the Founders' notion that political and economic freedoms reinforce each other. To be real, to be effective, these rights have to count as much for the little guy as for the big guy. It breaks faith with the community to chase people out of their homes, rather than present them with the choice of cutting budgets or raising taxes.

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