10/17/2005

Eminent domain battles heat up: Marietta (GA) Daily Journal, 10/17/05

The battle is heating up over the use of eminent domain powers for economic development in Georgia.

The Georgia Association of Realtors has taken up the cause of property owners with a campaign to amend the state constitution to limit the condemnation powers of local governments.

GAR adds its considerable punch - 36,000 members - to the effort mounted by state Sen. Jeff Chapman (R-Brunswick) and other Senate Republican leaders to curb eminent domain in the wake of the infamous U.S. Supreme Court decision last June allowing seizure of private property for economic development.

That case, Kelo v. City of New London (Conn.), was decided by a 5-4 vote of the left-leaning wing of the court. The outrageous decision prompted Justice Sandra Day O'Conner to dissent in graphic terms:
"The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."


You want confirmation?

Ask Mark and Regina Meeks, a hard-working couple who started living their American dream 22 years ago. They opened a florist business in the town of Stockbridge, about 12 miles south of Atlanta. Incidentally, Mark, 49, was born at Kennestone when his father worked at Lockheed.

Two years ago the Meeks were in the process of selling their property and moving their going business to an adjacent location.

Then things fell apart.

The City of Stockbridge rezoned the Meeks property without prior notification, the Meeks say. That killed their sale and move.

The city offered them one-third of the selling price and threatened to use eminent domain if necessary. The city wanted to "revitalize" its downtown area with a new development of shops, offices and residences on 22 acres including the Meeks shop.

The Meeks and several other property owners refused to sell. They got condemnation notices. The Meeks are contesting the condemnation in court but fear they will lose and have no recourse until the General Assembly convenes in January, too late to save their property.

Last week the Southeastern Legal Foundation, the Atlanta-based conservative public interest law firm - which intervened on the day of the condemnation, Sept. 19, and sought relief in federal court - announced an agreement with District Judge Charles Pannell and the City of Stockbridge to delay the taking until Superior Court rules on objections raised and the federal case is heard in December.

Based on Kelo v. New London, the outlook for the Meeks is dim.

The answer is to amend the Georgia Constitution to prevent taking unblighted private property for economic development, improving the tax base, etc., and allowing condemnation only for public purposes such as roads and schools within strict limits.

For Mark and Regina Meeks, their American dream has become a nightmare. They've spent a lot of money, forced to take out a mortgage on their house.

"This is not right," Mark said when we talked by phone. "We are going to fight it as long as we can."

Every right-thinking Georgian is with the Meeks in this fight.


Marietta Daily Journal: www.mdjonline.com