Whose Domain?

By: Lindsay Liepman
By: Lindsay Liepman

The 5th amendment gives the government the right to take your property for public use.

But in a 5 to 4 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court added economic development to the list reasons.

So the question arises, should municipalities take your land for financial gain?

Some property owners say they already are.

"Beware -- because the Supreme Court has now allowed cities to take your property, and there's not much you can do about it," said Robertson Neal.

Neal's family knows this all too well.

His parents owned rental property on Northgate, but in 1995 the city wanted to redevelop the area and wanted their land.

"There was talk of building a parking lot, but that never happened," said Neal.

Instead, the city turned around and sold the rental property to a sandwich shop, and then again to a bar.

"At the time we purchased the property it was an investment for my parents. We felt like that was against the true spirit of economic development," said Neal.

Neal says what happened ten years ago to his family, is now going to get worse.

In a 5 to 4 ruling on Thursday the supreme court says local governments can take property for economic development if it's still for the public's good.

Traditionally property is condemned for road widening or a public building.

Neal warns the ruling may lead to private landowners competing with municipalities.

"It certainly gives municipalities carte blanche," said Neal.

And what Economic Development is, will be up to city councils to decide.

But College Station City Attorney Harvey Cargill says there's no need to worry.

"The public purpose has to be there and if it isn't -- you can't do it. So folks shouldn't get too excited and think they'll come in and take my property," said Cargill.

Although it is possible.

"You could classify this as a tool for the economic development department to use. Again, it has to go to the council," said College Station Assistant City Manager Glenn Brown.

It may be too early to tell just how the ruling will effect us locally.

But for those who've been there before, there's no doubt -- landowners will lose out.

"The Supreme Court is saying, in practicality, maybe you do need to worry," said Neal.

In response to this ruling, San Antonio State Congressman Frank Corte, Jr. says he will propose a constitutional amendment limiting the eminent domain powers of local governments.

He's asking Governor Perry to add the issue to the agenda of the current special session.


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