By Zane Wilson
An Horry County House member's attempt to add compensation for loss in value from changes such as rezoning has thrown another dimension into the debate on limiting property condemnations.
State Rep. Tracy Edge, R-North Myrtle Beach, is the lead sponsor of the House version of the bill to limit eminent domain, or condemnations by government agencies, to public use.
Edge's version includes payment for loss of value if property is rezoned or its land use is changed, a situation some refer to as a "regulatory taking" because it is different from an actual taking of the land for a use such as a highway.
Edge and other Horry County legislators were among a group who fought for the same payments several years ago but lost. During those debates, Edge's employer, developer Burroughs & Chapin Co. Inc., had lobbyists working in favor of compensation for regulatory takings.
Edge, a vice president at B&C, could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but no action was taken by a House subcommittee that began work on the bill.
Though he is the lead sponsor, Edge has clout with him on the bill. There are 17 other sponsors including Speaker Bobby Harrell, R-Charleston, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Harrison, R-Columbia, and Agriculture and Natural Resources Chairman Billy Witherspoon, R-Conway. All of the sponsors are Republicans.
Also on Wednesday, a Senate subcommittee began work on similar bills, none of which include payment for regulatory takings. Senators said they do not want to include that concept in a bill to limit eminent domain.
Mark Nix, director of the S.C. Landowners Association, asked the Senate to include the payments in its bill, but Sen. Greg Gregory, R-Lancaster, said that was not likely.
Nix also spoke to the House subcommittee, saying far more people are affected by regulatory takings than by eminent domain.
Requiring the payments would "make our local county officials more responsible for their actions," Nix said.
Rep. Ben Hagood, R-Sullivans Island, said that would freeze zoning and hamper attempts to manage growth in high-growth areas, Bo Shetterly, lobbyist for the S.C. Association of Counties, said the bill "is going to do serious harm to land-use planning."
He said the bill as written would require local governments to compensate people in a residential zone if they are refused the right to open a business at their house.
Bob Guild, lobbyist for the Sierra Club and Coastal Conservation League, said "we all benefit" from land use plans and zoning that protect everyone's rights to use their property in a way that does not harm their neighbor's rights.
"Some very valid and interesting points have been brought up today," said Rep. Greg Delleney, chairman of the subcommittee. He told those with opinions on the bill to try to work out an agreement and the subcommittee will consider the proposal again next week.
The Senate subcommittee agreed it should focus on limiting condemnation to public use, and making a better definition for that.
The point is not to allow property to be taken for "public benefit," which means it could be condemned for economic development by another private owner.
The bills are a reaction to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year that said condemnation for redevelopment is constitutional.
Staff attorney Paula Benson said state law on eminent domain already demands "public use" but that there are loose ends such as an unclear definition of condemnation for "slum clearance" that should be cleaned up.
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