Adeptness at seizing private property should not be a skill Baltimore City and other local governments in Maryland cultivate.
But recent events and a new report card from the Institute for Justice — which represents property owners in Maryland and throughout the country fighting government condemnation — show it as the regular modus operandi locally.
Since the Supreme Court’s 2005 Kelo decision granting governments power to condemn property for private economic development, many states have moved to strengthen laws protecting property owners. Maryland is not one of them.
The 2007 Eminent Domain Report Card gives Maryland a “D.” [Click here to download the report card: http://www.castlecoalition.org/publications/report_card/
“Maryland homeowners are not much more protected from eminent domain abuse today than they were the day the Kelo decision came down,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition, a branch of IJ.
The legislature debated some bills in the past two sessions, but very few reached committee and only one passed, Senate Bill 3, which requires those doing the condemning to complete it within four years of authorization. It also raises financial caps on how much owners can receive.
That’s a start, but property owners need much greater protection from government and those who benefit from it.
Traditionally governments used eminent domain to build highways and other public works projects.
But Baltimore City used it aggressively to pave the way for retail and housing developments, including in the Superblock area on the Westside and in the North Charles Street region.
Twice in the last year the state’s highest court has condemned the city-financed Baltimore Development Corp. for abusing a provision of eminent domain — quick-take — for immediately seizing property it had nothing other than theoretical plans to develop.
We don’t begrudge the city for wanting to turn neglected areas into attractive shopping and housing centers that can boost the tax base and provide welcome amenities for residents.
But respecting property rights must be paramount. Next session the legislature must prioritize clarifying when and how property can be condemned and define “economic development” so that yet-to-be determined plans do not provide the basis for seizing property.
Those faced with eminent domain condemnation can order a DVD from the Castle Coalition and its “Survival Guide” for $3.95 at www.ij.org/freedommarket to learn how to fight it successfully.
Baltimore MD Examiner: http://www.examiner.com