Backers and opponents of expanded eminent domain laws face off: Access North Georgia, 10/15/05

Associated Press

The debate over the power of state and local governments to seize private land flared in [Stockbridge GA] this suburban Atlanta town that has become a flashpoint over disputed eminent domain laws.

At a public meeting Friday, a study committee representing state lawmakers heard from residents who want to prevent the government from condemning private property, as it happened in New London, Conn., after the U.S. Supreme Court permitted city officials to take a group of older homes along the city's waterfront for a private developer who plans to build offices, a hotel and convention center.

While eminent domain allows the government to take over private land for public services such as building roads and utilities, the latest ruling expands the definition to include development projects that would be profitable for a town's tax base.

"Our government should not be allowed to take our property by force for the benefit of another private party ... no matter how high the promised new tax revenues, no matter how large the number of jobs promised," said Kelly McCutchen of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

In Stockbridge, residents have rallied against the city's condemning of properties to build a multi-use complex that will combine a city hall, retail shops and homes. Mark Meeks, who owns a flower shop in the line of the construction, is challenging the process in court.

Officials from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia and the Georgia Municipal Association said Friday that local governments should be able to seize land for economic development when it might be the only way to take depressed areas away from landlords and revitalize them.

Cam Jordan, executive director of the Fitzgerald-Ben Hill County Development Authority, said his city's successful makeover would not have happened without eminent domain proceedings.

"Whole neighborhoods turned around," he said. "If you were in downtown Fitzgerald 10 years ago and today, you probably wouldn't realize you were in the same place

Access North Georgia: www.accessnorthga.com