Beware of eminent domain

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Candace Parker/Reporter News Editor

Property owners, beware.

Your future may be in jeopardy because of last week’s Supreme Court ruling.

Despite the clear statement of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, “… nor shall any private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” the High Court ruled that the town New London, Conn., could condemn private homes to build private offices, private housing, a private hotel and a private pharmaceuticals plant.

Homeowners, some of whom had been there for several generations, argued that these were not public uses – to this point, the only acceptable use of eminent domain.

The split decision of the court ruled the New London condemnation did qualify as public use because of its public benefit.

Public use has been, in the past, defined as a government’s right to seize homes for public works projects, schools, libraries and other municipal projects which politicians claim will benefit residents.

That definition of public use changes, however, with this ruling. Municipalities and other governing bodies will now be allowed to take perfectly functional private homes or businesses so they can develop more upscale private homes or businesses they believe will produce more tax dollars, i.e., the “public benefit” justification.

Now, New London resident Wilhelmina Dery, who was born in the house her family has lived for more than 100 years, must vacate the premises. In 1946 when she married her husband, Charles, he moved into the house with her. Then, when her son and his family were looking for a home, they found one in the house just next door. They will also be forced to leave.

We saw evidence of this eminent domain nonsense when the city of Alabaster threatened (through condemnation) to take the land of some residents for what has become Colonial Promenade.

The theater’s great, and having a bright new Wal-Mart as well as a Lowe’s will be very exciting for those of us who live in Alabaster; but the way the developer and the city chose to pursue the land along Interstate 65 and Highway 31 is extremely suspect.

To get around the problems, Alabaster promised a municipal area adjacent to the shopping center.

The fruition of that promise is yet to be seen.

The fact that the Supreme Court has now made it easier for government bodies to take land through condemnation is frightening.

So, watch out, Americans.

Is your property in a prime location for economic development?

Could the location of a retail store on your land bring countless dollars in sales taxes to your city or county?

One dissenting justice, Sandra Day O’Connor, wrote “The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent

the state from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall or any farm with a factory.”

A man’s home is no longer his castle. You can be sure of that.

Candace Parker serves as news editor for the Shelby County Reporter. She can be reached at