Battle Over Funeral Home Land Brings Up Eminent Domain Issue: NBC-17 (Raleigh NC), 1/9/06

County Commission Votes To Take Land For New Courthouse

Businesses nationwide are battling the eminent domain law, and in Durham, a funeral home that has served the community for over a century may be forced to make way for a courthouse.

This summer, a U.S . Supreme Court ruling allowed local governments to seize property for economic purposes, but said states were free to enact their own laws protecting property rights.

The Durham County Commission voted Monday to seize the property belonging to Scarborough and Hargett, a funeral home owned by Skeepie Scarborough's family, along with a neighboring U-Haul hub, so a new courthouse can be built.

The commission is offering the family $1.2 million, what it calls a fair market value. But, Scarborough, his wife and a team of lawyers said it is not the first time the government has hurt the family business and this time it will take more money.

"I've worked in this community as well as my father, my grandfather and my great-grandfather," Scarborough said.

"In the name of progress, this business has been condemned two separate times and moved on three separate occasions," said Bill Thomas, Scarborough's attorney.

Members of Durham's African-American community came out to support Scarborough and Hargett.

"Here, we have a couple that have been working with families in this community since 1914, but we want to put them out of business?" said Victoria Peterson, a community activist.

"If my father owned that funeral home, I would vote for eminent domain, and I would, because it's the right thing to do," Durham County Commissioner Lewis Cheek said.

But, the commission said it has no choice, that the courthouse has to be built in that location so a tunnel that would connect the court to the county jail can be utilized.

The commission voted 3-2 to condemn the property. Commissioners Philip Cousin and Michael Page cast the dissenting votes.

Scarborough and his lawyers are asking the government for more money. The government said they are asking for too much.

Meanwhile, the two sides can continue negotiating for 30 days after the eminent domain action is officially filed. Both sides hope they can come to an agreement in that time.

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