Council Clarifies Position on Eminent Domain Issue: (Ellicott City MD) View, 10/19/05

By Paul Peluso Jr

Members of the County Council decided that it was important to clarify their stance on eminent domain after the Supreme Court ruled on a precedent setting case this past summer.

The June ruling in the case of Kelo versus the City of New London, Conn., gave local jurisdictions the power to seize people’s homes or businesses for private economic development.

“The Supreme Court has ruled and we felt that it was important to reaffirm and clarify our position that eminent domain should be used in very limited circumstances,” Council Chair Guy Guzzone said.

Guzzone, a North Laurel Democrat, and Council member Ken Ulman, a Columbia Democrat, introduced the resolution to the council earlier this month.

The resolution would not only clarify the council’s position, but would also request the Maryland General Assembly to limit the state’s power of eminent domain.

Both Guzzone and Ulman said that they received numerous phone calls and letters from constituents after the New London Development Corporation won the case against Susette Kelo and several other homeowners. The city won the right to raze the working-class community homes in order to build a riverfront hotel.

According to the filling of the residents in the case, seven states allow condemnations for private business development including Maryland, Connecticut, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, New York and North Dakota.

Guzzone noted, however, that the County Council had already limited its own powers of eminent domain in the past to projects including water and sewer lines, roads, streets, public parks, public buildings and other similar projects.

“The county has already self-limited itself,” Guzzone said. “We felt it was important to clarify that to the community.”

The submitted resolution, which will be voted on by the council Nov. 7, states that transfers of private property should not be made without the owners consent if the transfer is only for purposes of economic development.

Guzzone pointed out, however, that the Board of Education — which is currently trying to secure a piece of land for an access road for the planned Northeastern Elementary School — has its own set of eminent domain rules.

Although there is legislation limiting the County’s use of eminent domain, Guzzone said that in the case of economic blight, the power could be used.

“There are some cases that it would be necessary in which an area was blighted to the point it was causing not only aesthetic affects, but elevated crime.”

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