- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

  Maryland governments led the nation in the use of the power of eminent domain to seize residents’ homes and small businesses to promote private development projects over the past five years, according to a report issued by a nonprofit group.
  According to the District-based Institute for Justice, 1,237 Maryland properties, residential and business, were taken over or threatened by local governments to pursue development projects from 1998 to 2002.
  Eminent domain allows governments to take private property for public use, including projects such highways and police stations, with compensation to the owners.
  In Maryland, according to the report, local governments forced hundreds of private residents and businesses to make way for developers.
  Also, last year’s General Assembly session passed legislation allowing 11 cities to condemn land within designated urban-renewal districts and sell it to private developers.
  “Cities love eminent domain because they can offer other people’s property to lure or reward favored developers. Developers love eminent domain because they don’t have to negotiate for property. In the end, developers get the land and property owners get the boot,” said Dana Berliner, the report’s author.
  In Baltimore, 127 properties including small businesses were displaced in 1999 to develop a 100-block area in the downtown shopping district on the city’s west side.
  Late last year, the council gave the city the power to condemn as many as 3,000 properties, including 800 households, the report says.
  Residents have sometimes managed to successfully fight takeovers, it notes. An effort to pass legislation authorizing more than 100 properties in Baltimore County as a redevelopment area failed when 70 percent of county residents voted against the move.
  The county planned to build new, more-upscale homes, retail businesses and restaurants in the area.
  John Murphy, a Baltimore lawyer who represents several businesses displaced on the city’s west side, said some of his clients were forced out of business. Others, he said, lost many customers.
  He said those displaced included a 70-year-old family business, a beauty school, an electric store and a number of immigrant-owned businesses.
  “It was a death sentence, because the location was key to their business. We are talking about small family businesses. It takes a long time to build a new business again,” he said.
  A client who had a liquor store moved just two blocks away and his business dropped by a third, Mr. Murphy said.
  But the Baltimore Development Corporation estimates that upon completion, the project will generate more than 7,000 permanent jobs and 4,000 spinoff jobs.
  “The goal of the West Side Initiative is to take the vision of a vital, dynamic and urban neighborhood dominated by a concentration of residential housing and “mixed use” retail, and implement it into the fabric of historic buildings and a vibrant streetscape,” according to the corporation’s Web site.
  The Institute for Justice report also found that Virginia condemned at least 58 properties over the past five years, but Ms. Berliner said she couldn’t find any instances of the abuse of eminent domain in the District.
  The report listed California, Kansas, Michigan and Ohio as the other states with the worst records of private-use condemnations.
  The city with the worst record was Detroit, along with Riviera Beach, Fla.; San Jose, Calif.; and Philadelphia.
  The report said the elderly were often targets of eminent-domain abuse.
  Ms. Berliner added, though, that there was some hope: Over the last few years, she said, courts have become more skeptical about the use of eminent domain.
  “For years, they just completely rubber-stamped what the cities had started to do. But now they are getting more skeptical and in the past few years, about 40 percent of the times the owners actually won,” she said.

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