Part of an Ohio family’s property is being seized so a local government can build a bicycle path. Authorities in Washington Township, Ohio, used eminent domain to seize a swath of land that runs through a farm owned by Jennie Granato and her family.
The bike path would take up most of Granato’s front lawn and run within a few feet of her front door. Granato’s family has reportedly lived on the property for more than 150 years.
The entity that is building the bike path, the Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission, never held a public hearing on the issue and never allowed Granato’s uncle to speak about the land grab at a public meeting. Instead, the Commission sent bulldozers and workmen to the Granato property, where they started tearing out trees and the lawn.
Driving Down Property Values
Granato believes that the Commission may have delayed hearings in an attempt to drive down her property values. That way the Montgomery County government, which built the path, could reduce the amount by which it had to reimburse property owners.
Once the path is done, bicycles will be whizzing by Granato’s front door at 10 to 20 miles an hour. In other words, Granato and her family are now in danger every time they walk out their front door.
If that wasn’t outrageous enough, Granato believes that seeing the destruction and desecration of the family home caused her 85-year-old grandmother to have a heart attack. The elderly woman eventually died of the heart attack.
How Eminent Domain Threatens Property Values
This incident is a classic example of eminent domain abuse, which is a growing problem around the United States. Under our legal system, governments have the right to seize property for legitimate purposes such as road building.
The problem is that eminent domain is now being used for a wide variety of reasons, including economic development. The Supreme Court even ruled that it was constitutional for the City of New London, Connecticut, to seize an entire residential neighborhood, bulldoze the homes, and give the property to the pharmaceutical company Pfizer. That outrageous action; Kelo v. New London, is still on the books.
At least the Granato’s property is being seized for a public use, no matter how questionable. In many cases, governments simply seize property and turn it over to big corporations because they pay more taxes. Government officials want a higher tax base because more taxes mean higher salaries for them.
Projects like the bike bath in Montgomery County, Ohio, make work for government officials and their relatives. Somebody will have to clean and maintain the bike path; that’s a good job for somebody’s nephew. They also make money for the contractors that work on such projects. Some of that money is kicked back to elected and unelected officials in the form of campaign donations or plain old-fashioned bribes.
The bike path that now covers the Granato lawn cost $5 million to build. That, of course, is a lot of profit for contractors and other politically connected individuals.
Neighborhoods Can Be Seized under Eminent Domain
Eminent domain can now be used against entire neighborhoods and whole communities. The city council in my hometown of Denver allowed the Denver Urban Renewal Authority to declare a 29 square block area known as the Welton Corridor, the historic African American neighborhood of Five Points, blighted.
Five Points residents are afraid that the City government will try to seize property to get land to build shopping centers or stores. The Denver Urban Renewal Authority has tried to seize private property and turn it over to Wal-Mart in the past.
Another reason why the government wants to seize land in the Welton Corridor is that it is along a light rail line. The presence of the light rail makes the land an ideal location for new apartment buildings and condominiums. That way it could be turned into a commuter neighborhood for middle class professionals that live in Denver, but work in the suburbs.
Eminent domain is a major threat to property rights all over the country because it allows governments to seize property for almost any reason. There are currently no restrictions on use in a number of states.
How to Protect Your Property from Eminent Domain
Protecting property from eminent domain can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible. The best way to keep your property safe is to buy land that is not likely to be seized for eminent domain.
Don’t buy properties that are close to major transportation arteries such as highways or commuter rail lines. These often attract developers’ attention; a high traffic count lures major retailers while residential developers often build near public transportation systems.
Try avoiding historic neighborhoods near the civic center and areas where gentrification (the replacement of working class people with the upper class) is occurring. Many city governments use eminent domain to force out the working class and minorities. That appears to be what the city and county of Denver is doing in Five Points.
Beyond that, involvement in local government can help. Many city councils and county boards are controlled by real estate developers and their pawns. They use eminent domain to get their hands on property in order to develop it for big money.
Try to find a community with a local government controlled by the residents, not the special interests. That can be difficult, but it isn’t impossible.
Legal Protections for Property Limited
Eminent domain is a growing problem, and it is getting worse. There is a backlash against it, and efforts to pass state laws banning it. Unfortunately, Congress hasn’t taken up the issue on a national level yet.
Eminent domain abuse needs to be addressed because it threatens property rights across the United States. If it isn’t, many more families could lose their homes in the name of “development.”