You are currently viewing the printable version of this article, to return to the normal page, please click here.

EDITORIAL: Property rights in the sewer

Question of the Day

Is it still considered bad form to talk politics during a social gathering?

View results

Property owners in Brooklyn continued protesting Tuesday as the New Jersey Nets officially broke ground for a new arena on land the owners never wanted to sell. Washington-area residents should take heed: Governmental abuse of property rights isn't just a New York problem. The latest local assault on private property is occurring in Alexandria and is set to go to trial May 24.

The case involves the Alexandria Sanitation Authority's seizure of private land off Eisenhower Avenue owned for four decades by Alexandria real estate maven Charles R. Hooff III. The claimed abuse of government power here isn't quite like the New York one and the infamous case a few years back called Kelo v. New London. Those other cases involved government trampling on the constitutional requirement that the power of eminent domain be applied only where "public use" requires it. The Hooff case instead joins a growing trend whereby governments undermine a property's usefulness or deliberately undervalue the property so they can pay far less to unwilling sellers.

In the case of 480.00 Acres of Land vs. United States, Florida recently avoided Supreme Court review of a scheme whereby it used regulations to force down a land's value. In New Orleans, government denied rebuilding permits after Hurricane Katrina to just one neighborhood - again undermining the property value so the land could be seized more cheaply for a controversial new medical complex for Louisiana State University.

The Alexandria Sanitation Authority apparently figured it didn't need to go to such diversionary lengths. Instead, it merely hired its own appraiser to estimate the Hooff property's value at well under half what Mr. Hooff says it is worth.

Let's stipulate that the authority does need to expand its wastewater treatment plant. Even so, the Constitution requires "just compensation" for land seized for such public projects. On Dec. 21, 2005, the authority made a formal offer to buy the land for $30 million. Mr. Hooff declined. On Nov. 30, 2006, after considering a number of bids, Mr. Hooff agreed to sell his land to a group called Penzance Properties LLC for $45 million. On Dec. 14 of that year, after two months of study, the national firm of CB Richard Ellis appraised the land at a value of $51.5 million. That amounted to a price per acre of $4,863,078, which is very similar to the $4,686,907 price per acre of a comparable property in Herndon - and less than half of the $10,193,476 per acre for a comparable property on Mill Road in Alexandria.

Only after that, though, did the sanitation authority make clear that it wouldn't cease fighting. In April 2007, it formally asserted its intention to use eminent domain to "take" Mr. Hooff's land. The Penzance deal evaporated. Mr. Hooff tried to fight back. Finally, in December 2008, the authority actually seized the land - for a purchase price of just $20 million. Not only was that less than half of the Penzance agreement, it was $10 million less than what the authority itself once offered. Naturally, Mr. Hooff filed suit.

"They have abused the power of government," Mr. Hooff told The Washington Times on Wednesday. "It's just like they are walking around here with an AK-47, saying 'We're gonna take it from you.' They're sticking me up like a burglar."

blog comments powered by Disqus
TWT Video Picks
You Might Also Like
  • Maureen McDonnell looks on as her husband, former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, made a statement on Tuesday after the couple was indicted on corruption charges. (associated press)

    PRUDEN: Where have the big-time grifters gone?

  • This photo taken Jan. 9, 2014,  shows New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gesturing as he answers a question during a news conference  at the Statehouse in Trenton.  Christie will propose extending the public school calendar and lengthening the school day in a speech he hopes will help him rebound from an apparent political payback scheme orchestrated by key aides. The early front-runner for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination will make a case Tuesday Jan. 14, 2014, that children who spend more time in school graduate better prepared academically, according to excerpts of his State of the State address obtained by The Associated Press. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)

    BRUCE: Bombastic arrogance or humble determination? Chris Christie’s choice

  • ** FILE ** Secretary of State Hillary Rodham testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013, before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the deadly September attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador J. Chris Stevens and three other Americans. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, File)

    PRUDEN: The question to haunt the West

  • Get Breaking Alerts