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Who Should Property Owners Really Fear?

Last Thursday, Brian Trompeter of the Arlington Sun Gazette posted an online story saying that local jurisdictions fear the impact of the proposed constitutional amendment that would strengthen Virginia’s eminent domain legislation. Trompeter begins the article this way:

“Officials in Fairfax County, Vienna and Arlington County are raising alarm about a potential amendment to Virginia’s constitution that they say could force localities to pay private-property owners damages under a broader definition of eminent domain.

“Officials in those jurisdictions worry that property owners could demand compensation if access to their properties is temporarily blocked for roadwork, water-main repairs, public events and other municipal activities. Even if localities can defend themselves successfully in court, the effort still will drain their resources, they said.

“Vienna, Fairfax and Arlington officials are opposing the amendment in their 2012 legislative packages. The amendment also is being fought by the Virginia Municipal League.”

The news article provides a great deal more about the process to amend the Virginia Constitution.

To paraphrase Evita, “Don’t cry for Virginia’s local jurisdictions.” Rather, take some time to read the policy report on eminent domain from the Virginia Institute for Public Policy. It’s titled, “The Real Story of Eminent Domain in Virginia: The Rise, Fall and Undetermined Future of Private Property Rights in the Commonwealth,” (requires Adobe), and authored by Jeremy P. Hopkins, counsel with the law firm of Waldo & Lyle, P.C., which is dedicated exclusively to representing property owners in eminent domain and property rights matters.

Below is the short conclusion (minus footnotes) from the Virginia Institute’s policy report:

“Eminent domain reform is not a partisan issue. Th e only real division when it comes to eminent domain is the takers versus the taken from or, as one commentator more eloquently stated, “those who want to save their homes[, farms, and businesses,] and those who want the power to take them.” More speciļ¬ cally, the division is special interests versus grassroots, the politically connected versus the politically disconnected, the empowered versus the powerless, and, ultimately, the government and those to whom the government has granted extraordinary power versus the people. Th is division has not changed in over one hundred years in Virginia. “It is simply a question of the weak against the strong.”

“Instead of checking injustice, Virginia’s eminent domain laws have become the “invincible weapon of injustice. ” For far too long, the people of Virginia have stood idly by as their government has slowly degraded private property rights to such an extent that Virginians’ homes, farms, businesses, churches, and other property are no longer secure. Now is the time for Virginians to act, while eminent domain is still at the forefront of the public’s mind and collective action is possible. As the German Reverend Martin Niemoller once said,

“First they came for the Communists, but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out. Th en they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists, but I was neither, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the Jews, but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out. And when they came for me, there was no one left to speak out for me.

“If the people of Virginia do not act now and demand constitutional protections for their private property, it will be too late tomorrow, when their own property is threatened, and they become the next victims of Virginia’s inconstant government."

If you're not sure just who property owners in Virginia should fear, take a look at sections IV.A. and IV.B of the policy report where Hopkins lays out just who is abusing who. He explains both Virginia Supreme Court and Virginia Circuit Court decisions. You are likely to walk away wondering why local governments are raising those alarms.

Contact the Virginia Institute for Public Policy for more information. Take a few minutes to review the outstanding collection of reading material available at their website, including both the short essays under Virginia Viewpoints and the longer essays on the constitution, economics, and education.

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