State eyes limits for eminent domain: Ashville (NC) Citizen-Times, 12/7/05

By Kerra L. Bolton

House Speaker Jim Black on Tuesday announced the creation of a special panel to examine whether North Carolina should do more to protect private property from public seizure.

This action comes in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June letting local governments take private property to make way for commercial development. The court ruled municipalities have broad power to bulldoze people's homes and put up malls or other private development to generate tax revenue.

The decision sprang from a Connecticut case in which residents fought against having their homes destroyed to make room for an office complex.

Rep. Wilma Sherrill, R-Buncombe, said the decision "greatly threatened the people of North Carolina's property rights."

"I believe that our (state) constitution needs to be changed to ensure that private property is not seized by governments in the name of economic development," she said.

Sherrill and Rep. Bruce Goforth, D-Buncombe, were tapped to lead the bipartisan committee.

"This committee will study what the (state) law is and write legislation that protects the property rights of people in Western North Carolina and across the state," Goforth said.

North Carolina law says local governments can mostly use eminent domain, or the taking of property with fair compensation, for public purposes such as building schools or roads. State law also allows municipalities to take property to redevelop blighted or unsafe areas.

Talk about using the powers in connection with private development is not without local precedent. Use of eminent domain came up in 2002 in considering widening Swannanoa River Road to handle traffic coming to and from a new Wal-Mart Supercenter.

Citizen-Times: www.citizen-times.com