The residents of a neighborhood in Atlanta, Georgia are battling the local government over its use of eminent domain to seize their homes and build a neighborhood park and pond. The city claims that the pond is necessary to ease street flooding in the area. The residents allege that the city’s actions are far more dubious. As in many eminent domain cases, the government’s condemnation of private property implicates issues of race, gentrification, and the expansion of power.
The doctrine of eminent domain authorizes the government to take property from private citizens if two conditions are satisfied: the taking is for a public use and the homeowner receives just compensation. Historically, each state has determined which activities constitute a public use. Georgia law permits land to be taken for the benefit of public redevelopment, but the legislative reforms and constitutional amendment passed after the U.S Supreme Court decided Kelo v. City of New London established that the state would not allow eminent domain to be used for private economic development.
The local government of Peoplestown claims that the seizure of the land is expressly for a public purpose. The city intends to plant a garden, erect gazebos and create ponds and retention areas to control storm water. It is exactly the planned use of the area that concerns residents there. The attempt to gentrify a neglected neighborhood through eminent domain may expand the definition of a public necessity beyond what was intended. The residents of Peoplestown are concerned that condemning undesirable neighborhoods to encourage private development could become a new justification for eminent domain. This scenario is even more problematic when the neighborhood is comprised of low income minorities and could be viewed as a systematic displacement of certain groups.
These same objections were voiced when House Bill 434 was passed in Georgia earlier this year. The legislation allows local authorities to condemn blighted property through eminent domain and convey the property to private parties for development. Before the bill, the law prohibited the conversion of seized property to private use for 20 years. The restriction prevented the government from quickly flopping property for its own financial gain.
While the bill requires the seizing authority to prove that the property is blighted and property owners can dispute that charge, if they lose, the government can then sell the property to a private developer. Those who opposed the bill claim that it was designed to allow governments to get rid of blighted properties in a new way. The fear is that this legislation expands eminent domain and disproportionately affects low income, neglected neighborhoods. This is exactly the what the residents of Peoplestown are trying to combat in their own legal battle.
The experienced team of attorneys at the Law Offices of Mark Weinstein, P.C. can help you litigate your real estate claims. Contact Mark Weinstein and his colleagues at (770) 888-7707 or visit them at http://www.markweinsteinlaw.com to find out how they can advise you.