RALEIGH – North Carolina’s Urban Redevelopment Law is so vague, it allows the state to seize private property with just the thinnest of excuses. That’s according to a Spotlight report published today by the John Locke Foundation.
Daren Bakst, JLF legal and regulatory policy analyst, describes how little the law requires of government to merit taking private property. Contrary to public perception, Bakst wrote, governments can seize property that isn’t blighted. The law is so broad that it allows governments to take non-blighted property for economic development, he said.
“The Urban Redevelopment Law should be a major concern to North Carolinians,” Bakst said. The recent Supreme Court decision of Kelo v. City of New London, which allowed governments to take property for economic development, has made the issue even more critical, Bakst said.
“North Carolina law needs a narrow definition of blight, or it will be open season on private property,” he said. “Right now its laws are so vague they are open to all kinds of interpretation.”
The Urban Redevelopment Law allows governments to take private property in three kinds of “redevelopment areas,” Bakst explained. Those are “blighted areas,” “nonresidential redevelopment areas,” and “rehabilitation, conservation, and reconditioning areas.”
“Look at the way the statute defines a ‘blighted area,’” Bakst said. The law says buildings in “blighted areas” must cause harms, such as impairing the “sound growth of the community” and being “conducive to ill health.”
“How much growth is sound growth?” Bakst asked. “The provision that properties must not be conducive to ill health doesn’t even require that unhealthy conditions exist. In fact, it doesn’t even require the likelihood that those conditions will exist soon.”
Even if the property the government wants to take can’t meet N.C.’s broad definition of a “blighted area,” Bakst said, it can still be seized as one of the other kinds of “redevelopment area.” The language governing those takings is so ambiguous that it places property owners at the mercy of planning commissions’ forecasts, Bakst said.
Poorer citizens are disproportionately affected by government takings of property that supposedly don’t have “sound growth,” Bakst said. “Economic-development takings amount to ‘reverse Robin-Hood’ policies.”
Daren Bakst’s Spotlight paper, “A Threat to Private Property: N.C.’s Broad and Subjective Urban Redevelopment Law,” is available on the Locke Foundation’s website. For more information, please contact Daren Bakst at 919-828-3876 or [email protected]. To arrange an interview, you may also contact JLF communications director Mitch Kokai at (919) 306-8736 or [email protected].