Tuesday, October 11, 2005

St. Louis Shopping Center

From the Washington Times:
"Jim Seelbach, 83, lives in a suburb of St. Louis and he is about to lose his home of 20 years. The city wants it to make way for a shopping center.

Mr. Seelbach and several dozen neighbors in the city of Sunset Hills face an eminent-domain order that could seize their properties to develop the $160 million complex filled with stores and offices.

Even if he were amenable to moving, he says the money offered for his home would make it impossible to find similar housing.

Mr. Seelbach has refused to accept the $118,000 offered for his two-bedroom, one-bath frame dwelling in the Sunset Manor subdivision near St. Louis.

'I can't find another home for $118,000, and at 83, there's no way I can even obtain a mortgage,' he says.

Likewise, his neighbor, John N. Hogan, 79, a Korean War veteran who has lived in his house for nearly 50 years, doesn't want to move and doesn't think he has a fair offer for it.

'They want to take my three-bedroom, two-bath redwood home for $147,000. But I can't buy anything in this area for $147,000,' he says.
Doesn't this set of circumstances suggest that the "just compensation" required by the 5th Amendment may turn out, once in the hands of government and the courts, to be something less than just? These 2 gentlemen seems to believe they are living well, at least compared to their alternatives, and the city wants to take the property with "just compensation" and leave them in diminished economic circumstances. Why not simply require the city to increase their offer, like any of us would have to do to obtain the property, until the gentlemen agree to sell and move?

Now consider:

"Don Borut, executive director of the National League of Cities, says there is some uncertainty about how often the taking of private land for private use occurs.

"We don't know how often this happens. We want to see how this is being used and how often. ... Where there have been abuses, they need to be addressed," says Mr. Borut, whose organization says the practice can be beneficial.

A report by the Institute for Justice, however, suggests it is more common than most people think. The institute found that from 1998 to 2003, there were 10,000 cases of eminent domain nationwide."
I don't know how often eminent domain is actually used to take private land for private use either. If it has been used in 10,000 cases nationwide over 5 years, then I suggest if has been used quite often. But, how often it is actually used to take property is probably not the relevant bit of information. It appears that cities use the THREAT of eminent domain much more frequently than the power to take itself. Of course the THREAT operates to reduce the value property owners decide to accept, rather than spend the additional time and money to fight the taking.

[Joyce Howard Price, "Drawing the line on eminent domain," The Washington Times (October 9, 2005]

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