The House last night passed a bill that would enable individuals to appeal zoning laws in federal courts, giving private property owners additional protection that opponents say will benefit big developers.
Rep. Steve Chabot, Ohio Republican, said the bill that passed 231-181 responded to the Supreme Court San Remo Hotel ruling, in which the court denied property owners the ability to appeal state court rulings on zoning laws in federal courts. The hotel is in San Francisco.
"What has been taken from [owners] is the enjoyment of their property," said Mr. Chabot, who co-sponsored the bill with Rep. Bart Gordon, Tennessee Democrat. "If I say, 'That's your land, but you can't use it,' I'm basically taking your property."
Mr. Chabot said zoning laws fall under the taking clause of the Constitution's Fifth Amendment and require federal recourse for property owners pursuing compensation when the government takes their property.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, Oregon Democrat, spearheaded the debate from opponents who argued the bill benefited big developers at the expense of others' property values.
"They basically flunked Property Protection 101," he said, noting that 35 state attorneys general opposed the bill, including Jim Petro, the attorney general from Mr. Chabot's state.
Mr. Blumenauer said zoning adequately protects property and argued local governments and state courts can best make decisions about local zoning disputes.
"They're going to federalize local land decisions anytime a big developer is told no," he said.
Mr. Blumenauer said most homeowners will not be able to afford lawsuits, and developers will utilize the bill to make money.
"This is a big, expensive proposition," he said. "Small communities are going to be worn down. They won't have the firepower to stand up to Wal-Mart or to a big owner of a landfill or to some national company who wants to put up cell towers in people's back yards."
Mr. Blumenauer predicted the bill would not become law.
"Luckily, it's not going to pass the Senate," he said. "I mean, those people aren't crazy."
By Andrew P. Napolitano
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