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PARALLEL UNIVERSE: Parade Magazine Spotlights Eminent Domain Abuse in Norwood, OH, Long Branch, NJ

Posted by kinchendavid on August 7, 2006

By David M. Kinchen
Editor, Huntington News Network

Hinton, WV  – Kudos to Parade magazine and writer Sean Flynn for the cover story in the Aug. 6, 2006 newspaper supplement on the perils of eminent domain in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo vs City of New London decision of June 2005.

We at HNN were right on top of the decision, in large part because this writer specialized in covering real estate for more than 30 years at newspapers in Milwaukee and Los Angeles and saw the hazards to homeowners of unrestricted taking of property by eminent domain. Given a choice between a high-end condo development with Starbucks on every corner and existing houses that pay relatively moderate property taxes, most cities will go for the “high-end” development every time.

I’m reprinting a portion of my June 29, 2005 commentary about Kelo at the end of this column. That wasn’t even my first story about Kelo: I had jumped into the fray several days earlier.

Kelo, a 5-4 decision by the liberals and swing votes on SCOTUS – the conservatives were solid in their opposition to it – is quite possibly the worst high court decision since Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, the “separate but equal” ruling that segregated the South and much of the rest of the nation.

Sean Flynn, an able writer who makes this complicated issue easy to comprehend, tells the stories of Joy and Carl Gamble of Norwood, OH, population 21,000, a suburb of Cincinnati, and Denise and Lee Hoagland and their three daughters of the seaside community of Long Branch, N.J. Flynn doesn’t mention it, but Long Branch, population 32,000, was the birthplace in 1923 of author Norman Mailer, who grew up in Brooklyn, NY.

Flynn says that Long Branch wants to take 35 properties—plus the house of the Hoagland family—to build – you guessed it – luxury condominiums. Traditionally, eminent domain was reserved for public takings, including schools and highways. Kelo drastically – and I believe, illegally – expanded it to serve the needs of private developers backed by greedy city officials. The court even warned when the decision was handed down that it was up to local communities, states – even the U.S. Congress — to pass legislation that would block private developers from taking houses and other properties for private gain.

In the year plus since Kelo, more than 5,700 “homes, businesses and even churches were threatened with seizure for private development, according to the nonprofit Institute for Justice (IJ),” Flynn writes, “and at least 350 were condemned or authorized for condemnation. By comparison, about 10,000 were similarly threatened or taken over from 1998 through 2002.”

Flynn is from Lakewood, OH, a Cleveland suburb of 56,000, where pre-Kelo eminent domain reared its ugly head, he writes. The people of the Scenic Park section of Lakewood raised “such a successful public campaign three years ago that voters spared their homes from being taken “ for cliffside mansions. Flynn notes that a designation of “blight” is required for eminent domain, adding that by the definition in Lakewood, more than 80 percent of the city – including a former mayor’s home – would fall into that category. Some Scenic Park houses may lack amenities like garages, but they’re well maintained, as are the houses in Long Branch and Norwood.

Both Ohio and New Jersey already have high property taxes, with New Jersey’s the highest in the nation. How much more money do these cities need, with the average worker facing wages that have declined to the point that – adjusted for inflation – they are less than they were in 1973?

My view is that private developers should pay whatever the owners of property want, without resorting to eminent domain. If there are holdouts, so be it. No one should be forced from his or her home. The offers to property owners in Long Branch, for instance, were paltry in view of the high price of ocean-view property in Long Branch and everywhere, Flynn points out in his article. Check out the article online — it’s worth reading in its entirety – at http://www.parade.com

* * *

Here’s a portion of my June 29, 2005 column on Kelo v. City of New London:

In my latest … column, commenting on the Kelo vs City of New London U.S. Supreme Court decision, I suggested that Wal-Mart might find favorable for development property owned by the five associate justices – Souter, Ginsburg, Breyer, Stevens and Kennedy – who voted on the side of the city of New London, Conn. in the drastic expansion of the doctrine of eminent domain.

As if to answer my not-so-secret wishes, now appears on the scene a man named Logan Darrow Clements, CEO of Freestar Media, LLC, who decided to fax a request to Chip Meany, the code enforcement office of the Town of Weare, N.H. seeking the application process to build a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road, the location of Associate Justice David H. Souter’s home.

Clements said in a press release Monday, June 27, 2005 that the “Kelo vs. City of New London decision allows city governments to take land from one private owner and give it to another if the government will generate greater tax revenue or other economic benefits when the land is developed by the new owner.”

Clements emphasizes that the Town of Weare – Towns are a form of government in New England and can include a number of communities, much like townships in Illinois or Wisconsin – “will certainly gain greater tax revenue and economic benefits with a hotel on 34 Cilley Hill Road than allowing Mr. Souter to own the land.”

Insisting that the request is “not a prank,” Clements said the proposed development, called “The Lost Liberty Hotel” will feature the “Just Desserts Café” and include a museum, open to the public, featuring a permanent exhibit on the loss of freedom in America. Instead of a Gideon’s Bible each guest will receive a free copy of Ayn Rand’s novel “Atlas Shrugged.”

Clements indicated that the hotel must be built on this particular piece of land because it is a unique site being the home of someone largely responsible for destroying property rights for all Americans.

“The Town of Weare has five people on the Board of Selectmen,” Clements said in his press release. “If three of them vote to use the power of eminent domain to take this land from Mr. Souter we can begin our hotel development.”

Clements’ plan is to raise investment capital from wealthy pro-liberty investors and draw up architectural plans. These plans would then be used to raise investment capital for the project. Clements hopes that regular customers of the hotel might include supporters of the Institute For Justice and participants in the Free State Project among others. Postscript: Unfortunately for freedom-loving Americans, Clements plan was rejected by the Town of Weare. Souter gets to have quiet enjoyment of his property, unlike thousands of Americans threatened by Eminent Domain Gone Wild.

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