"Eminent domain: a right of a government to take private property for public use by virtue of the superior dominion of the sovereign power over all lands within its jurisdiction."
Local, state and federal governments have long used eminent domain to condemn private property to make way for new schools, highways, public buildings, etc. But, can municipalities use it for economic revitalization?
Take the case of a group of property owners in New London, Conn., who are challenging the law on the grounds that local governments can't take their property and give it to private developers. The case was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court this week and its decision could have far-reaching effects nationwide including right here in Iowa.
In New London, the city is seeking to condemn a group of homes including some that have been owned by several generations. The city wants the properties so that a developer can construct a riverfront hotel, health club and office buildings that will bring in more jobs and much needed additional tax revenue.
The city has been in decline for several years and it needs a giant economic boost. The property owners argue that it is an unconstitutional taking of their homes.
Eminent domain has become a very popular tool as it relates to economic development in recent years And, we are sure there are cases where it has been abused.
So we think condemnation should only be used as a last resort. But sometimes just a few landowners can stop desperately needed progress, holding out for an outlandish sum of money. Property owners should always be guaranteed a fair price and special consideration should be given for how long a family has owned the property.
A lot of public officials will be keeping a close eye on the nation's high court in the coming months.