Monday, July 04, 2005

This Land Is Your Land, But Really This Land Is My Land (says the government)

One of the most beautiful aspects of humanity is laying claim to a piece of earth. It is inspirational to own your own home, plant your own favorite flowers and have others think of you as successful and wise - due only to the fact that you own actual dirt - a piece of a planet - an inkling of the entire universe - yours.

Today, as Independence Day celebrated in the United States - I have to say, "I don't hear freedom ringing." Cliche statement - no. I am truly awestruck that the Supreme Court ruled last week in Kelo vs. City of New London that:

city governments are allowed to take land from one private owner and give it to another, if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.


What you see above are Justice David H. Souter's actual words.

Recently, in my home town of Greenville South Carolina, we have had a hard lesson in what is termed imminent domain. The city thought that a condominium complex and shopping district would better suited to an area of our downtown. So, the city tried to declare imminent domain to seize property from the owner of a respected downtown establishment. The building in question was decent in appearance and not an eye sore. Despite strong political and financial figures pushing for this development, the city lost the battle with the owner of the property. But, with our mayor, key city property owners, and through backscratching - the building was declared condemned by the city - saying it was structurally unsound. Why? Because the development was moved backwards about 30 feet and multitudes of damage occurred to the building during construction of the new development. It was also postulated ( read as fictionalized) by "several architects" that the building would not withstand time being in such a high traffic area. So, after a year long battle - the original owner finally seceded and gave up the land.

Readers - the US Constitution was changed a few days ago. The 5th amendment reads:

"...nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation."

In terms of economic development - what is just and fair compensation? With the new development - isn't the property now worth more? When other development centers around this property - doesn't the value of the land increase?

The reason I say the constitution was changed is to reflect another part of Suter's ruling that said the new development in the case of Kelo vs City Of New London was "for the public good". Note public use vs public good. Public use is defined by roads, government buildings, parks, and taxpayer benefit - NOT - TAXPAYING benefit.

I am afraid this ruling will have a slow ripple affect across the country. City governments who need to generate revenue through job activity, business and property tax, and development will start to seize land from long time land owners. One day, this will stretch into whole neighborhoods - just to build shopping malls and luxury condominiums.

Of interest, a company called FreeStar Media has started a campaign to seize Justice Suter's home and develop the plot into a hotel called The Lost Liberty Hotel seen as a fitting spot to commerate the day we lost our 5th amendment rights. The premise is that this hotel will serve as a constitutional attraction - attracting visitors who want to research and commerate the history of the constitution. This proposed development would bring in far greater revenue than the property tax that Justice Suter is paying for his home now.

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