Eminent domain questioned in city, county: Baltimore MD Examiner, 5/16/07

By Rita Chappelle

The use of eminent domain to seize private property has become a tool of economic development in some parts of Baltimore.

“The city thinks they can just go around seizing people’s land for their own purposes,” said John Murphy, who is one of the top eminent domain lawyers in the state. “Promising private owners’ properties to developers even before going to court to legitimately seize it. Just look at how they promised the Weinberg Foundation privately held property in the city’s Westside. It’s unimaginable.”

“When [officials] are condemning viable businesses to give the property to a developer to bring in their own business, then something is wrong with the process,” said Linn Koo, who with his father is embroiled in an eminent domain battle with the Baltimore Development Corporation and Baltimore City. “It’s not like they are clearing the land to make way for a highway to help ease congestion. They are just putting sound businesses out of business.”

Calls to BDC executive director M.J. “Jay” Brodie, contracted to spearhead economic development projects in Baltimore City, were not returned.

“It’s been used in building roads, schools, parks and public infrastructure,” Baltimore County spokeswoman Fronda Cohen said. “Baltimore County used eminent domain to purchase property when the County was building Honeygo Boulevard in White Marsh.” Baltimore County plans to use eminent domain to seize more than 8 acres of land in Dundalk’s Yorkway community in order to make way for a $17.2 million economic development project, despite promises from County Executive Jim Smith to use eminent domain powers to only build parks.

In the last legislative session, Maryland lawmakers passed a bill in the state Senate to increase compensation to private owners and place a three-year timeline on local governments that initiate such proceedings.

In Baltimore County, a fight over eminent domain launched the political career of Del. Richard Impallaria, a Republican whose Middle River body shop was targeted by officials for condemnation. Their plans were thwarted when Impallaria’s grassroots efforts to avoid land seizure put an initiative on the ballot that voters supported.

Baltimore MD Examiner: http://www.examiner.com