Local, state and federal governments have used eminent domain to steal privately owned property and homes for years. In most cases, eminent domain has been used to remove blighted properties or properties that are in the path of a public development project such as a highway, road or airport. However, too many government entities have used eminent domain to take away private property for unethical reasons, often just pure greed.
In northern Kentucky, there was a long legal fight against eminent domain when a city wanted to take over private property so that a private builder could build stores on the same property. Eventually, a home owner won out and was able to save his home, but not after a long and expensive legal fight.
Perhaps two of the greediest and most unethical cases of government use of eminent domain involve a privately owned airport in New Jersey and a privately owned parking lot in Seattle.
Readington Township is a small community of 16,000 people located about 36 miles west southwest of Newark, New Jersey. In 1939, the Solberg family opened a private airport on their own land. Seventy-four years and 3 generations later, the airport is still privately owned by the Solberg family.
However, the Solbergs may be on the verge of losing their privately owned airport and one of their main sources of income if the Readington Township Committee has their way. The committee decided that they want the airport for themselves as a municipal airport so they can garner the proceeds of its operation. Earlier this month, they passed an ordinance to literally seize ownership of the airport from the Solberg family by use of eminent domain.
This is nothing more than a case of pure greed and power on the part of the Readington Township Committee. In 2006, they filed a condemnation lawsuit against the Solbergs in an attempt to force them to sell the airport to the township, but the lawsuit failed. Now they are trying to use eminent domain to steal the airport outright.
At the public meeting held on Nov. 6, every area resident attending the meeting spoke against seizing the airport. Not one person was in favor of what the committee was intent on doing. Going against all public opinion, the committee voted to seize the airport anyway by use of eminent domain.
In 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in the case of Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. v. Borough of Paulsboro stating that the use of eminent domain for development can only be done in cases of blighted areas. According to the case record:
“Gallenthin Realty Development, Inc. owns a sixty-three-acre parcel of largely vacant wetlands in the Borough of Paulsboro. In 2003, Paulsboro classified the Gallenthin property as ‘in need of redevelopment’ under N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(e) because the property’s unimproved condition rendered it ‘not fully productive.’ Such a classification subjects property to taking by eminent domain. N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-8(c). The trial court and Appellate Division upheld Paulsboro’s redevelopment designation.”
“Because the New Jersey Constitution authorizes government redevelopment of only ‘blighted areas,’ we conclude that the Legislature did not intend N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(e) to apply in circumstances where the sole basis for redevelopment is that the property is ‘not fully productive.’ We therefore invalidate Paulsboro’s redevelopment classification concerning the Gallenthin property and hold that N.J.S.A. 40A:12A-5(e) applies only to areas that, as a whole, are stagnant and unproductive because of issues of title, diversity of ownership, or other similar conditions.”
In the case of the Solberg airport, the land is not blighted nor is it to be redeveloped; therefore the seizure by eminent domain should be deemed illegal. The Solberg family has already spent around $2 million in legal defense of their property and now they are faced with even more legal expenses. The possibility has been raised that the township is trying to bankrupt the family in order to steal their land and their livelihood.
In Seattle, eminent domain is being used to seize a privately owned parking lot so that the city can make it a municipally owned parking lot. No redevelopment and no blight are involved. What makes this case so distasteful and repugnant to any sense of human decency is that the parking lot is owned by 103 year old Myrtle Woldson. The Seattle city council is so greedy that they are trying to steal the land of an elderly woman for the sole purpose of greed.
Mark Hyman, who reported this story on Wednesday, concluded:
“When government officials seize private property merely because they want it then citizens have lost all private ownership protections.” (Click here to see Mark Hyman’s video.)
On July 4 1776, 56 brave men risked their lives and everything they owned when they signed their names to the Declaration of Independence. Struggling under the greedy tyranny of the British monarchy, they penned these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”
The people of Readington Township and Seattle need to follow the instructions of our Founding Fathers and abolish their local governments and establish new ones that will honor the rights of the people. The same holds with our federal government, but that’s another story for another time.