John Locke Update / Research Newsletter

The Fayetteville Observer Fails to Understand Blight Abuse, Among Other Things

posted on in Property Rights


On December 8, 2010, The Fayetteville Observer ran an unfortunate
editorial
that, in defending a possible attempt by Fayetteville to seize
private property for a business park, used the blight excuse as justification
for taking the property.

As written in the article:

Acquiring the site may be
problematic, and with $1 million already committed for land acquisition, the
problem isn’t money.

Eighty percent of the parcels are vacant, but on the others are residences and
a small business. The City Council was right to defer action, buying itself a
little time for a look at both the relocation of residents and the sensitive
issue of eminent domain.

Here are some quick points:

1.    Cities don’t just come out and admit that
they are seizing private property for economic development
(as in Kelo). Instead, cities use overbroad definitions of
"blight" to seize private property. In many states, properties don’t
even have to be considered blighted so long as they are located within a
blighted area.


2.    A recent Institute for Justice study states: "Under that
act [Federal Housing Act of 1949], which was in force between 1949 and 1973,
cities were authorized to use the power of eminent domain to clear ‘blighted
neighborhoods’ for ‘higher uses.’ In 24 years, 2,532 projects were carried out
in 992 cities that displaced 1 million people, two-thirds of them African
American."


3.    In 2006, the North Carolina legislature amended the state’s
blight law to address two critical issues. First, the law tightened up the
definition of "blight." Second, it required each individual property
to be blighted.

Prior to that, North Carolina cities could seize private property that hurt
sound economic growth (i.e., the same thing as taking property for economic
development). They also could seize property in pristine condition if it was in
a "blighted area."

While the North Carolina blight law still is too broad, it almost certainly
would prohibit Fayetteville from seizing the properties constituting twenty
percent of the potential business park site, and it also would likely prohibit
the seizures of the vacant properties (depending on the nature of the
properties and the reasons for their vacancies).

The newspaper also makes the following very strange/amusing
argument in defending the use of eminent domain: "[M]ost or all of these
residents appear to be renters, not landowners."

Huh? This may come as news, but renters tend to rent property from landowners.

If there’s going to be real eminent domain reform in North Carolina, any
proposed constitutional amendment will need to address blight. Seizing property
based on blight is usually just a pretext for Kelo-type takings.

 

More Dam Editorials

The Winston-Salem Journal published a recent
editorial
arguing that the state should seize the Alcoa hydropower dam. As
I have written before, North Carolina is trying to
nationalize industries
, not unlike Hugo Chavez.

In all fairness, North Carolina isn’t alone in trying to nationalize
hydroelectric dams. Socialist
Bolivia
recently acted to nationalize its hydroelectric dams as well.

Here’s a key quote from the Journal‘s
editorial:

Alcoa, which plans to appeal the
state revocation and is pushing for a renewal of its license, has painted the
state’s attempt to control the dams as a government takeover of private business.
That’s a vast exaggeration. Alcoa has held a 50-year license to operate the
dams, and the renewal of that license is now being considered by the
commission. The river belongs to the people of North Carolina, and is protected
by the state and federal governments. If the state does prevail over Alcoa in
what’s sure to be a hard-fought battle, it should give the company a
fair-market value for the dams and related infrastructure.

A couple of points:

  1. How is
    Alcoa incorrect in stating that this is a takeover of a private business?
    North Carolina would be seizing the dam (a private business) because it
    feels it can run the dam better. Don’t be surprised, however, if the dam
    and other infrastructure are eventually transferred to a developer or a
    utility company.


  2. Yes,
    the river belongs to North Carolina, but Alcoa isn’t claiming to own the
    river. A
    property owner also can make reasonable use of the river
    . If the state
    leaders dislike how Alcoa is using the river, then they can address that
    use — it doesn’t logically follow that they should seize private property,including property that has nothing to do with the use of the river.


  3. That’s
    nice of the paper to be willing to give fair-market value for the dams and
    related infrastructure. By law, of course, any seizure of private property
    already requires fair-market value.

 

Quick Takes

Quick Takes

Homeowners
protest town’s plan to annex property involuntarily
(Town of Franklin)

A public hearing on the imminent
involuntary annexation of properties was held last Monday at Town Hall…

William Roten, of Walnut Street, contended that at least some of the properties
on the annexation map were incorrectly placed within city limits. "This
map is not right. Your attempt to annex these properties is null and void,
according to these statutes right here," he said, referring to the state
annexation statutes in his possession. Roten said that according to the
legislation, a map depicting a city must be completely accurate concerning
where properties are designated to be, before further annexation can occur.

Towns given power
over county property owners


While opponents of forced
annexation are hopeful the new Republican majority in the General Assembly will
enact meaningful annexation reform, Republicans on the Wake County Commission
recently extended the power of two municipalities to control private property
in areas near the towns.

 

 

Daren Bakst is the Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation.  In this position, Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.  He has done extensive work on the farm bill… ...

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