Taking on Eminent Domain

You would think government and quasi-government entities would realize people are sensitive to Kelo right now. But apparently there are enough people oblivious to present reality to keep generating stories like this.

The Effingham Development Authority’s recent condemnation of several thousand acres of International Paper land has a key Senate leader pointing to the case as “the poster child” for the need to strip development authorities of the power of eminent domain.

Lawyers for International Paper Realty and the Effingham Development Authority (EDA) wrangled in court Dec. 21 over some 2,628 acres of property EDA is seizing through eminent domain.

IP Realty has been developing the land for residential use for about four years. EDA wants to turn it into an industrial park.

Senate President Pro Tem Eric Johnson criticized the Authority for condemning the property.

“They should not be doing this,” he said in a phone interview Dec. 22. “They should buy it on the free market like everybody else. If IP doesn’t want to sell, then that’s tough. That’s the free market system, a willing seller and a willing buyer.”

I use to help represent development authorities. Most of them are unelected and, as a result, a few members frequently feel unaccountable to voters. I think the best course of action is to require development authorities to get the local government to exercise eminent domain power on the authority’s behalf. That way the voters have someone to hold accountable.

10 comments

  1. Ben King says:

    As much as I hate it, I actually agree with Erick on this. Development Authorities usually have powers and funds granted to them by cities, but without any sort of real oversight. I think the AJC sued a few organizations with similar agreements with Atlanta over the NASCAR bid. I’m still with holding judgement about that particular situation. I probably think that those entities should be held to the same sunshine laws as elected bodies, but I might disagree with the AJC trying to make public the bidding. I’m torn between people deserving to see what we put on the table and jeopardizing the deal.

    I generally support Erick here about development authorities, however. I usually feel like the Kelo-motivated private property stuff is a bit overboard – I find myself as a bit of a moderate on eminent domain. I think it can be used effectively and needs to be retained as a power with enough flexibility to get things done, but it also needs some serious limits, clear guidelines and public oversight. Development Authorities, however, should not have eminent domain power since they aren’t directly responsible to the public. I think the idea of having the local government actually exercise the power is very sensible – as opposed to nixing this use of the power altogether.

  2. Rusty says:

    I agree with you on this one as well Erick. The knee-jerk reactions to Kelo (let’s do away with the entire concept of zoning!) have been somewhat disturbing to me.

  3. UGA Wins 2005 says:

    Is there a K on Erick? Nope.

    I agree that Development authorities sometimes abuse the power of Eminent Domain. Unelected bureaucrats tend to love their power and abuse it when given the chance. This is one of those chances.

  4. Senator Eric Johnson says:

    This case is as bad as Kelo. A private land owner wants to sell to a private developer for residential use. The City of Rincon agrees. The Effingham Development Authority believes they know better than the City, the landowner and the developer.

    This isn’t “blighted” property. They aren’t even elected officials. They want to take perfectly good land (at a lower price than offered) and give it to another private developer to build warehouses on.

    This could happen to you!

  5. Bobby Kahn says:

    It sure is a good thing Sen. Johnson didn’t get his way on SB5. Otherwise, Kelo would look mild compared to what we would have had. Speaking of SB 5, if you check the General Assembly website, Sen. Johnson’s name has mysteriously disappeared as a sponsor of the legislation he so vigorously defended in the Savannah Morning News. Sen. Balfour’s name is gone, as are others, with the exception of poor ole Sen. Moody. And yet, the Senate Journal simply reflects Sen. Balfour asking to have his name removed as a sponsor. Are some folks trying to re-write history?

  6. I’m not even sure about this, but what about a flat property tax, or a cap on the industrial property tax. It seems clear that Effingham is looking at industrial land which will yield it higher property taxes than residential. Ironically, it is probably not even that much to us big city folks, but probably a pretty penny for a dinky rural county.

    With such a disparity in tax rates, there is an incentive for governments to choose industrial because it gets them more money. Even in cases where overall the residential is more attractive.

    To me, that kind of eminent domain is probably out of control. On the other hand, I don’t have a problem with a county or city taking blighted property that an eccentric owner doesn’t want to sell.

    Also, and this is rarely mentioned, many times there will be a blighted neighborhood and a city will hold public hearings and decide (along with the community) that they are going to do a multiyear redevelopment using eminent domain when necessary or to kick off the project.

    So they do a 5 year plan. And the whole block (or whatever) is a piece of s*** at the start of year 1. Then things start to progress. Finally year 5 rolls along and the people who live in the last segment of the neighborhood all of a sudden decide that they don’t want to sell anymore, even though they agreed back in year 1 because OHMYGOD now they live in a nice neighborhood.

    It is like they got engaged to a rich guy and after they get a nice house, fancy car, plastic surgery etc they decide they don’t really need to actually marry the rich guy afterall.

    I think the lesson for cities and counties that want to do redevelopment (which I think is legitimate ED, just look at Atlantic Station) is to do the eminent domain in one fell swoop to prevent the problem of multiyear projects and “sellers remorse” among the people in the final years. And for cases like Effingham, no swapping of land for tax purposes. If it isn’t blighted, it doesn’t need to be redeveloped by the long arm of government — especially if the landowners vehemently disagree.

  7. Pappy says:

    I would wager than at least one member of the legislative Republican leadership OR Perdue’s floor leadership tries to tack on SB 5 as an amendment to another bill during the ’06 session. They just can’t resist.

  8. dreaded_scarum says:

    emiemt domain used as a tool to transfer one persons property to a private individual for the sole purpose of expanding the tax base is a very dangerous threat to private property ownership. Redevelopment authorties should never have the power to condem property , even under a ” PLAN ” and if its not expressly for public use , government should never have the right to condem property for the express purpose of economic development. ( and that should include government owned and leased to private concerns ) Apparently the ACCG and GMA have no respect for private property rights considering they support eminemt domain for economic development and are actively lobbying to retain that powere. All citizens of this great state of Georgia should Learn about SB 86 , which limits eminemt domain to public use, and join the senate in their passage of 86 and encourage your members of the house and the governer to sign SB 86 into law and get protection for your private property rights NOW before some big shot developer sets their sites on YOUR property and lobbys the local government to take your property ” for the public good of expanding the local tax base.

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