In today’s ramblings I am going to revisit something I discussed in a previous column. It is not a very popular subject. The discussion is about eminent domain.
Please allow me to tell you about eminent domain. In other countries, the seizing of privately owned land goes various names: resumption in Hong Kong, expropriation in South Africa. Stated in simple terms, it is the power of the state or national government to seize private property.
Eminent domain is usually delegated to municipalities, government subdivisions, or in some rare cases private persons or corporations, the latter occurring only when they are authorized to exercise functions of public character.
One might say, “Wait a minute; how is this fair? I or my family have worked hard, perhaps for generations, only to have a third party come in and take away the family homestead.” Good point. But there are definite guidelines.
The most common use of eminent domain is for government buildings and other facilities, public utilities, highways and railroads. Land can also be taken for reasons of public safety. To be sure, eminent domain can be tricky.
Is it fair? I would suggest that in most cases it is. In my three-plus decades in Hancock County, I have seen it used many times. The most recent case was the roundabout on Mt. Comfort Road (at its intersection with County Road 300N).
The scenario usually plays out like this: The county plans a road and must possess the property to build the road. Plans are drawn. Public hearings are held. There are discussions both for and against the proposal. Once the project is approved, work begins. It is at this point that eminent domain could become a factor. In the case of this roundabout, it definitely was a factor.
Not everyone wins in an eminent domain case. But usually it is for the betterment of the majority of the people. In the case of the roundabout, it was a long and arduous task.
The county developed a plan. It made offers to various property owners. Ultimately, the county had to resort to seizing land through eminent domain. Was it fair? I guess it depends upon whose ox was gored. I feel it was a win-win situation. The town of New Palestine gained a great Mexican restaurant.
Economically, the move helped New Palestine’s economic development. Motorists were definitely winners. Traffic now flows smoothly around the intersection, without the traffic snarls.
Mt. Comfort United Methodist Church won. Because of the efforts of Buck Creek Township Trustee Mel Branson and others in the congregation, it got a new entrance to the church. The church can now access its property from County Road 300N as well as Mt. Comfort Road. I feel that after many months of back and forth, give and take, the property owners also won.
I would encourage the readers to look into an eminent domain case involving the current Republican presidential front- runner. The case in was in 1996 between Donald Trump and Vera Coking.
It seems as though Trump convinced the local government entity to condemn an elderly widow’s private property and transfer ownership to him.
Trump wanted to give her “bargain basement pricing” for her parcel of land. He wanted to build a limousine parking lot for his customers in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Thankfully, The Institute for Justice defended Ms. Coking. In my opinion, this is not a case in which the public purpose would have been served.
So, is eminent domain a dirty word? I don’t think so. If the process is used for public utilities, highways, or railroads, then eminent domain is a necessary evil.
When I was trustee of Sugar Creek Township, we needed to buy acreage for what is now Sugar Creek Township Park. It is located on West County Road 700S. Someone suggested that I should have used eminent domain to condemn the property, and by doing this, we would have saved taxpayer dollars.
I told this fellow as long as I was trustee, that this would not happen.
C.O. Montgomery of New Palestine is a former teacher and Sugar Creek Township trustee.
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