Supreme impact? Eminent-domain ruling could further complicate Charlotte project
(Sarasota FL) Herald-Tribune, 10/1/04A

U.S. Supreme Court case, involving a Connecticut town that tried to seize private property and turn it over to a private developer, has a familiar ring – and may have local ramifications.

The court agreed Tuesday to decide whether an effort to increase property values – and thus property taxes – is a legitimate "public use" that allows a government to exercise eminent domain.

The circumstances of the Connecticut case resemble those in Charlotte County, where the county government is seeking to acquire more than 1,000 acres of private land and resell them for the Murdock Village redevelopment project.

How the court eventually decides may make Charlotte County's project more difficult than it already is.

The U.S. Constitution and nearly every state constitution allow private property to be seized only with just compensation and for a public use.

But the definition of public use has evolved and broadened over the years to include far more than roads, schools, government facilities and other projects actually used by the public. Projects that provide broad public benefit, such as eliminating slums and blighted areas, have been allowed, even if they have also resulted in private profit.

Yet, some people see such seizures as an abuse of private property rights, especially when the definition of "blight" is stretched to include suburban areas – such as Murdock Village – that no one could rightfully call a slum. Some property owners in the Murdock Village area have sued, unsuccessfully so far, to challenge the definition of "blight" in Florida law.

The goal of the Charlotte County Commission is broader than simply increasing property values. The redevelopment effort is also aimed at controlling and directing growth and dealing with the county's legacy of hundreds of thousands of small, subdivided lots.

But if the Supreme Court tilts the balance more heavily in favor of private property rights, Charlotte County could face even more legal challenges – and perhaps successful ones – to its controversial redevelopment plan.

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