Special Interests vs. Virginia Taxpayers; Property-Rights Debate Points to Constitutional Amendment

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 23, 2006 | Go to article overview

Special Interests vs. Virginia Taxpayers; Property-Rights Debate Points to Constitutional Amendment


Byline: Jeremy Hopkins, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Just as the fox cannot be trusted to protect the hen house, the Virginia General Assembly once again proved it cannot be trusted to protect Virginians' private property.

The Supreme Court's infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London, which allows the government to take property from one person simply to give it to another, caused most states to take action to prohibit such abuses. However, the General Assembly refuses to limit the power of eminent domain in Virginia. It ended its 2006 legislative session without passing legislation to eliminate the abuses in Kelo.

The General Assembly's refusal to protect Virginia property owners is even more troublesome given Virginia's track record. The abuses in Kelo are not new to Virginians. In 2003, the Virginia Supreme Court allowed the City of Hampton to take Frank and Dora Ottofaro's property and give 82 percent of the Ottofaros' property to a private developer. In 2005, the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority attempted to take a small-business owner's property to build a parking lot for the Coca-Cola company, which owned the adjacent property.

The most egregious abuse occurred in Halifax County, where the County Board of Supervisors took one man's property solely to construct a paved driveway for the man's neighbor. In that case, a politically connected family asked the board to take its neighbor's property to construct a paved driveway to serve the family's property. The family then cut the board a check for the purchase price of the neighbor's property.

The driveway, which adds great value to the family's property, serves only the family and its visitors. The driveway extends 4/10 of a mile and dead-ends into the family's property. The Halifax County Circuit Court ruled that Virginia law does not prohibit such takings.

Not only has the General Assembly refused to correct such abuses, it also continues to carelessly dispense the power of eminent domain to countless entities, both public and private. Most representatives cannot name a fraction of the entities that can take Virginians' homes, farms and businesses. The General Assembly has even given mosquito-control commissions the power to take Virginians' property. The result of the General Assembly's delegations of power is that Virginians' homes, farms, and businesses are now subject to the whim of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats and corporate officials who wield immense power over the property of individual Virginians.

The only thing more disturbing than the number of entities able to take Virginians' property is the amount of power the General Assembly has given many of these same entities. The Virginia Code allows housing authorities to take one man's home simply because his neighbor's property is "blighted." In other words, if your neighbor fails to maintain his home, the housing authority can take your home. …

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