AT FIRST glance, it's easy to be sympathetic to a group of Connecticut homeowners challenging condemnation of their property by eminent domain in a case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court last week.
But there is more than one side to every story, and we hope the court will come up with a sensible decision that won't dramatically undermine the authority of local government to acquire property for economic revitalization.
That's because a significantly more restrictive law might imperil essential redevelopment projects like DaimlerChrysler's $1.2 billion Jeep North plant, for which the city of Toledo acquired 85 residential and 20 commercial properties, a few by eminent domain, in the late 1990s.
A challenge to the eminent domain process in the Jeep project, filed by Kim's Auto & Truck Service, is still pending before the Supreme Court, and its future may rest on what happens in the New London, Conn., case.
It is crucial to remember that the property owners' homes, land, and buildings - both in New London and Toledo - were by no means stolen from them, even though the owners wouldn't move voluntarily. Rather, the owners are receiving "just compensation," as required by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution whenever property is acquired for "public use."
Even though courts have generally been fair in setting a fair price for property, perhaps it's time for the Supreme Court to clarify some questions.
Among them: Can one business be condemned simply to make way for another if the purpose is not to spruce up a blighted area but simply to improve the city's tax base?
In New London, a modest residential-commercial neighborhood is being cleared for an upscale development that would include a hotel, apartments, and offices to be located next to a drug company research center.
New London's lawyers argued before the high court that it would be entirely permissible to condemn a Motel 6 to put up a Ritz-Carlton, which we think is a stretch. Ohio law is more equitable, requiring creation of jobs when property is taken for a business or industry.
While it is easy to sympathize with someone who must leave their longtime home or business, we believe the ultimate deciding factor in such decisions must be the good of the community as a whole, as determined by local leaders and elected officials with input from citizens.
There is no question that acquisition of property for the Jeep North plant was not only good but essential for Toledo's economic future. It may be quite another story in New London.
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