Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Property Rights Debate Continues

Since much debate has taken place this week on these pages regarding the concept and use eminent domain and development, I thought I'd share a few stories with you I read today relating to commercial development and specifically about the current attitudes among Americans on the topic.

First, some good news for the city of Morristown as Alcoa Inc.'s Howmet subsidiary announced a $6 million expansion of the current facilities, which should be completed by next year. Over the last five years or so, the state in general has seen more growth in the expansion of exisisting industries. The announcement did not have details about the number of new jobs which may be created but it's more than likely given this will add 16,000 sq. ft. to their plant.

Not so good news arrived in an annual survey from the Saint Consulting Group. The survey shows growing dislike for land development, regardless of what that development might be. Some highlights from the report:

- Opposition to development still remains strong: 73 % of Americans oppose new development in their communities.
- 70% of Americans would use taxes to keep land un-developed.
- Even greater opposition surfaces about landfills, power plants, and quarries.

-Not such bad news this year for casinos, though still not welcome in most American communities.
- Opposition to Wal-Mart is more prevalent, though less intense.
- 75 % of US residents give their local elected officials a C or worse, when it comes to deciding what does and does not get built in their communities.

-Development has become a decisive political issue in local and regional elections.

- Significant support turns up for new hospitals, even as opposition grows.

- There is a unquestionable Kelo backlash: 71 % support laws stopping eminent domain for private development."

Yes, there's that phrase again - eminent domain. Just a casual check across the internet reveals intense debate about the long-held legal sanction of taking land from private owners. Type the words into the Technorati search engine and nearly 50,000 web pages appear, covering the dispute from coast to coast, citing abuses and policy debates in most every state of the nation.

Similar results arrive using Topix, or Google and others too. Highly organized grassroots groups are keeping a major presence on the internet to demand more protections for property owners from legislators at the state and and national levels, such as Castle Coalition.

Reason magazine has an extensive examination of both changes in eminent domain laws and how businesses and elected officials are battling to keep the changes away. Their writer Adrian Moore has a fascinating peice about this battle and what's at stake for property owners:

t turns out that city and county governments and redevelopment authorities are pretty effective lobbyists. They managed to retain significant authority to use eminent domain and define limits in very subjective terms. As Barron wrote:
Americans have long been of two minds when it comes to property rights. On the one hand, there is the old notion that ownership is inviolable, a home is a castle, and the government has no business messing with private property. On the other hand, there is the equally old notion that no one is an island and that the value in any individual's property is deeply interconnected with the health of the community as a whole.

In a world where legislators and much of the public have gone squishy on what constitutes a right, passing a law that just plain says, '“look, you can'’t take someone'’s land except on rare occasion for public infrastructure projects like roads and dams'” appears just too extreme.

There is a conflict of visions. As one city manager told me, '“What about the community'’s right to improve itself and create new jobs?'” There is a reason the Constitution doesn'’t mention '“community rights' --—they don'’t exist. Only individuals have rights. Communities have desires."

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