In praise of eminent domain.

The city of Savannah is making protecting eminent domain their top priority for the upcoming legislative session:

Opponents are gearing up to lobby the state legislature to curtail the use of eminent domain after a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that allowed it for economic development.

Already, proposed bills that could stifle the city’s ability to redevelop neighborhoods sit in Atlanta waiting for a vote when the legislature convenes Jan. 9.

“A great deal is at stake because revitalization such as Cuyler-Brownville in all of its stages (and other projects) really depends upon the ultimate ability to get abandoned and derelict properties and get them back into affordable housing,” Brown said.

In Cuyler-Brownville, the city acquired 80 of 124 properties through eminent domain. All were vacant or dilapidated, the city said, and eminent domain was needed to clear cloudy titles. With the acquired property, 45 new “affordable” houses were built.

But they weren’t technically built by the city. After Savannah acquired those properties, private developers bought them and built houses under city supervision.

Maybe what’s happening in the case cited in Savannah is a good thing, but I think it’s dangerous to allow local governments to acquire property via eminent domain and then allow private developers to build on those properties. Not that I want the government to revitalize the property, but why not use other methods to encourage private people to develop these properties themselves?


  1. Chris says:

    There is a big difference between “vacant and dilapidated” and the kind of nonsense going on down in Stockbridge where a perfectly nice operating business is being taken because some busybodies want to be remembered for the pretty downtown they created with other people dreams and dollars.

  2. Senator Eric Johnson says:

    I will support any effort to restrict the use (or the threat of use) by elected or unelected officials for private development.

  3. Senator Eric Johnson says:

    Savannah has admitted using it, including the threat of it, to acquire “blighted” property. I oppose this as long as private property is taken and given to another private person just because some elitist bureaucrat thinks they can “improve” the property. Some poor people cannot afford to keep their property up and shouldn’t be penalized. Public safety (crack houses) and public health (rats and snakes) can already be handled under other laws and regulations. I am working closely with Senator Chapman and the Southeastern Legal Foundation to craft the proper response. Governor Perdue and Speaker Richardson are on board.

  4. Bull Moose says:

    The City of Savannah has made appropriate use of eminent domain powers without infringing on the rights of private property owners, and in fact, its efforts have won the applause of many community members.

    Local elected officials have to exercise a certain level of common sense in exercising the powers of eminent domain and remember that, ultimately, they are accountable to the electorate for their actions.

  5. Bobby Kahn says:

    Happy to see Sen. Johnson come around on this issue after being a co-sponsor of SB 5. I am pasting an impassioned defense of SB 5 below. Erick, can you put this in as a link? Looks like Sen. Johnson actually sponsored legislation weakening property rights before he came out in support of property rights….

    Guest column: Bill would pave way to improving state’s infrastructure while keeping taxes low

    By Eric Johnson


    Helping Georgia’s citizens improve their quality of life while paying the lowest possible tax is a crucial role of government. Georgia’s cities and counties are facing a situation of aging infrastructure of water, sewer and drainage. At the same time, our population continues to grow requiring new support facilities such as recreation, libraries and roads to relieve traffic.

    The capital required to finance the replacement of existing infrastructure and build new facilities far exceeds the financial ability of the taxpayers to fund these requirements in a timely fashion. Allowing government to tap into the marketplace for help is one of the solutions to providing public facilities faster and at substantial savings.

    The New Georgia Infrastructure Act (SB 5) proposes a sensible way to meet the needs of the citizens of Georgia in coming years without having to implement tax increases at the state and local levels. It would encourage the use of future anticipated fees and revenue to leverage construction costs by private companies today.

    This is the same mechanism used by business to finance their projects and developments. The free market could acquire, develop, finance, design, construct, operate, and maintain new infrastructure projects through comprehensive contractual arrangements between government and private sector companies and ventures. If acquired, the project must be returned to the public at a specified point in time. Private companies could not obligate taxpayer debt or condemn property.

    The point to remember is that taxpayers have a seat at the table by their elected representatives. Before a project can be approved, the local government must determine that there is a public need for the project in question. It must be a project that the government would undertake if they had the resources like water treatment plants, jails, soccer fields, and schools. A new baseball stadium for Savannah might also fall into this category.

    I believe that the Savannah Morning News’ Jan. 20 editorial misrepresented this legislation, which passed the Senate by a vote of 47-3 two years ago.

    Projects that qualify would have to be something that a governmental entity would be responsible for creating in the first place. Governmental entities do not build shopping malls or apartment complexes. But if Chatham County needs a new soccer complex, a contractor could build it with the agreement that they receive the concessions’ rights for 10 years. At the end of the agreed time, the soccer fields would be owned and operated by the local government just as if it had been built by the traditional method. Our children would have the fields to enjoy 10 years earlier than the taxpayers could have afforded to build them – if at all.

    I have a strong record in protecting private property rights. This bill yields no ground on this issue. No private developer can exercise the power of eminent domain or obligate taxpayers to debt under this legislation. Elected officials make the decision on whether to create a partnership and what the fees or obligations are for the private partner. Using the soccer field example, the contract between the government and the private company could even set the price of cokes and candy bars to prevent gouging.

    Under this bill, the private entity may request the government exercise its unique power of eminent domain. Governments can only exercise eminent domain for purposes that are legitimate under existing, very strict circumstances. This legislation specifically states that the private entity cannot be delegated the power of eminent domain. Essentially, the public entity cannot “take” private property under the New Public Infrastructure Act in any other circumstance than it would normally exercise this power. This is rare now and will not increase under the bill. Most property that is needed is bought at fair market prices from a willing seller. Property owners are justly compensated by law. Nothing changes the status quo in this bill on that issue.

    SB 5 will accelerate the availability of new public projects across this state and create jobs. By using the energy and efficiency of the marketplace to deliver public projects quicker and cheaper, citizens and taxpayers win. Only those who support higher taxes and larger bureaucracies can object.

    Eric Johnson, R-Savannah, is president pro tempore of the Georgia Senate.

    Click here to return to story:

  6. Senator Eric Johnson says:

    Bill, we like the new shirts. Does that help? I’ll ignore BK’s false rantings about the falling sky.

  7. Bull Moose says:

    I think SB 5 is pretty clear that it does not infringe upon private property rights. As well, SB 5 was not intended as a “land grab” measure.

    It would have been an additional asset for communities and citizens to use if needed.

    Do not forget, that in the end, government of every level is accountable to the individual community member and as such, government cannot overstep its role as long as citizens are engaged.

  8. Ben King says:

    Bull – SB 5 would maybe have approached sensible if it hadn’t allowed private companies to submit their own projects, then exempt them from any competition or bidding practices.

    I don’t think Bobby ranted about anything. All he did is post the Sen.’s own words, supporting a bill that caused quite an outrage among community members concerned about eminent domain issues.

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