Property Rights

'Blight' Gives Way to Spite


Last week, after spending $600,000 on legal fees, Jay and Stephanie Burkholder gave up their fight to keep a three-acre commercial property that the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority wants to condemn. Although the seizure is supposedly aimed at alleviating "blight" and assisting the expansion of the Carilion Clinic, the property, which houses a flooring business, is in perfectly good condition, and the clinic does not even want the land. According to The Roanoke Times, "Carilion made a commitment to buy the property and has said it will honor that deal, but the health care provider does not have a need for the land." So the redevelopment authority, in the name of fighting blight, is seizing the decidedly unblighted site of a profitable business for a purpose that no longer exists, meaning it probably will sit vacant until the authority finds a new use for it. Why? Presumably just to teach the Burkholders (and other potential victims of eminent domain abuse) who is really in charge.

Among other things, notes Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist A. Barton Hinkle, the case shows that requiring "blight" to justify forcible transfers of property from one private owner to another is not much of a protection:

The Burkholders' property lies in an area that a consultant for the city said was blighted, although their own property was not blighted. In 2007, the General Assembly passed a law stipulating that a property must be blighted in order to be condemned for redevelopment purposes. Roanoke's housing authority filed to condemn the Burkholders' property two days before the law took effect.

In his ruling giving the green light to the condemnation, Roanoke Circuit Court Judge William Broadhurst seemed pained by the case. "Obviously desirous of having the [Carilion biomedical complex] located within its borders, the City approached RRHA and requested that it initiate an investigation into whether the area qualified for redevelopment due to blight," he wrote. He noted that the Burkholders' property was "in fine condition." He noted that "meetings were held periodically between representatives of the City, RRHA, Carilion, and some members of the evaluation team while the evaluations and inspections were underway."

Moreover, the Burkholders "produced documentary evidence of correspondence between the City Attorney's office and RRHA clearly suggesting that the City was pressuring RRHA to come up with findings that would correspond with the terms the City had reached with Carilion." All of this "gives substance to [the Burkholders'] accusation that the blight conditions found by RRHA did not exist."

But none of that mattered in the end, because according to the Supreme Court of Virginia, "all presumptions are in favor of the validity of the exercise of municipal power."

The 2007 law was part of the nationwide legislative response to Kelo v. New London, the wildly unpopular 2005 Supreme Court decision endorsing the use of eminent domain for economic redevelopment even in the absence of blight. But as I noted in a column last year, many of the post-Kelo reforms were mostly for show.

Hinkle argues that the presumption in eminent domain cases should favor the property owner. Citing Justice Clarence Thomas, he notes the "odd jurisprudential result" of the courts' habitual deference to the judgments of redevelopment authorities:

Courts would never defer to the other branches of government by letting them dictate what constitutes the constitutional grounds for searching a property, [Thomas] wrote. Yet they now defer almost wholesale when it comes to "the infinitely more intrusive step" of tearing one down.

Ilya Somin explored "The Limits of Anti-Kelo Legislation" in a 2007 Reason article. Bert Gall of the Institute for Justice, which represented the property owners in Kelo, offered a more optmistic view.

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  1. “all presumptions are in favor of the validity of the exercise of municipal power.”

    Period; the end.

    1. Sic semper tyrannis, motherfuckers

  2. This gave me a chuckle. The anon bot has invaded the Seattle Times:


    1. He posts at the Atlantic too.

      1. Anon-Gigalo? Is Lou an acronym for Ladies’ Orgasmic Utopia?

  3. The needs of the many corrupt and/or well-connected outweigh the needs of the few.

    1. Or the one.

  4. MONTGOMERY COUNTY has just completed a nightmarish budget year. Stressed, squabbling and besieged elected officials savaged services and programs and jacked up taxes to eliminate an eye-popping deficit of almost $1 billion in a $4.3 billion spending plan. Meanwhile, across the Potomac River in Fairfax County, all was sweetness and light by comparison. With a budget roughly equal to Montgomery’s, Fairfax officials erased a deficit a quarter as large with relative ease and far less drama…

    Virginia law denies public employees collective bargaining rights; that’s helped Fairfax resist budget-busting wage and benefit demands. As revenue dipped two years ago, Fairfax officials froze all salaries for county government and school employees with little ado. By contrast, Montgomery leaders were badly equipped to cope with recession. County Executive Isiah Leggett took office proposing fat budgets and negotiating openhanded union deals after he succeeded Mr. Duncan. Then, as economic storm clouds gathered, he shifted gears and cut spending — while still trying to appease the unions…

    Governments all over the world are at a crossroads. They can be like Fairfax or they can be like Greece…I mean, Montgomery County.…..03132.html

    1. Psst. Look down.

  5. Near where I live the city took over an old trailer park which was declared blighted. It was filled with retired and disabled people and most of the trailers were too old to move. The reason was so some condos could be built and the city said that the money gained in taxes would help poor people. The poor people in the trailer park got $200 to find a new place to live and their trailers were bulldozed. $200 would not even get you an apartment in the area.

    1. So “retired and disabled people” aren’t “blight”?

      Poor bastards (no pun intended)

  6. There is little that goes on in this country that pisses me off more than stories like this. I really haven’t a clue how these people justify forcibly taking others property.

    There was an older guy that had been living in his house for going on 40 years near where I grew up. The city offered to buy it for a wet-lands reclamation project. Of course he refused, so the city condemned it and kicked him out. Bastards.

    1. Supposedly it’s for the common good, and just to preempt responses, they are compensated. But the kicker is that regardless of what the ‘market’ price for a piece of land is, you can’t compensate someone for the future profits they might have earned owning a suitable piece of property in a good location. And the original owners are invariably relatively poor compared to the people who end up with the property. Generally it’s small business owners and homeowners who are robbed of the opportunity for future earnings so that a large developer can have them.

      1. If they were compensated at “market price”, it would be less of an affront to liberty. But that is almost never the case, and when owners do get “market price”, it is usually the result of a lawsuit. What a property may be worth in the future is irrelevant. What if values go down as they currently have?

        The Framers knew the difference between the words “use” and “benefit”, and chose “use”. I don’t really care about “benefit”. It is theft of private property to take one persons property and give it to another if the owner does not want to sell.

      2. Eminent Domain properly used for things like roads are too frequently abused. But these “Kelo grabs” where government turns property over for the benefit of private developers is nothing but theft. The government no longer cares to even hide their theft anymore.

    2. Well, the reality is that this nation gave up the notion of private property in any meaningful sense long ago. These things are not anomalies. They are the way things are. If any municipality decided it needed or wanted my property or yours, the reality is it’s theirs. Likewise, they can simply take it and auction it off unless you pay them the rent that goes along with “owning” property.

  7. Here’s the thing …

    The left likes to claim that property rights only protect the property of the rich and powerful. But cases like this prove the exact opposite.

    Property rights, properly enforced, protect the property of the weak from being taken by the strong. The rich can ALWAYS buy influence and security for their property. But the concept of laws and rights are there to enforce those protections for people who can’t afford to buy it.

    Hence the leftist project of weakening protections for private property has resulted NOT in redistribution of land from the rich to the poor, but the exact opposite. The wealthy buy influence and get the state to transfer property to them using eminent domain.

    It is to prevent abuses like this that such rights have been explicitly written down in the past. Property rights properly understood are hence a mechanism for ensuring fairness and equality. Everyone’s property is protected equally, whether you are a small business owner operating out of a run-down building, or a wealthy developer. And that equal protection of the law is what makes the market fair.

    1. But as I noted in a column last year, many of the post-Kelo reforms were mostly for show.

      Or for just the purpose Hazel is pointing out. Gotta nip those uppity property “owners” in the bud.

  8. Courts would never defer to the other branches of government by letting them dictate what constitutes the constitutional grounds for searching a property, [Thomas] wrote. Yet they now defer almost wholesale when it comes to “the infinitely more intrusive step” of tearing one down.

    Maybe the cops would get better traction using eminent domain for questionable search warrants…

  9. Ilya Somin explored “The Limits of Anti-Kelo Legislation” in a 2007 Reason article.

    Shortest article I’ve ever read.

  10. Yet another case of governments stealing land with the opproval of Liberals.

  11. Whether or not you get “market price” is irrelevant. They could give you 10x market price. Who gives a shit?

    It’s my f**king property. It should stay MINE until I sell it or bequeath it. Or until the sun goes supernova and vaporizes the planet. In which case, whatever is left of ME still owns shitload of atoms floating around somewhere.

  12. RE: Market value. I am living in a house my wife has lived in all her life. All other property on the block has been bought by the neighboring church. The church is the ONLY possible buyer; they set the market value. What they have offered us wouldn’t buy a mobile home, much less someplace to put it. I think the same thing happens in eminent domain. Just sayin’.

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