Results: Amendment to limit eminent domain passes
By Jillian NolinThe Virginian-Pilot© November 7, 2012
Voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment that some officials contend will make it nearly impossible for Virginia localities to seize private property for redevelopment.
As of 10:30 p.m., the statewide amendment had 76 percent approval, which was enough for The Associated Press to call it.
"When you give the voters a chance to affirm their constitutional rights, they take it," sponsor Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, said late Tuesday night.
"You don't really own your property if the government can take it from you and give it to someone else," he added.
The amendment's passage shows that property owners are fed up with the "abuse of power," said Central Radio business owner Bob Wilson, who is fighting the Norfolk Housing and Redevelopment Authority's efforts to seize his property. The housing authority is attempting to acquire five properties for a private, mixed-use development project near Old Dominion University.
"It's going to put it right back to where it was supposed to be from the start," Wilson said Tuesday night. "They're going to have to negotiate in good faith with property owners."
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli visited Norfolk in September and cited Central Radio as an example of why the amendment was needed. At the time, Cuccinelli said housing authorities have been the "most aggressive at grabbing property" in the commonwealth, and he pointed to southeastern Virginia as being the worst.
The amendment won't alter Wilson's case. But it will force localities, or their agents, to compensate property owners for lost profits and access in addition to purchasing their land. Governments will also have to prove that the seized property would be used for public use.
The General Assembly passed limitations on the use of eminent domain in 2007, two years after a controversial U.S. Supreme Court ruling that public entities could take private property and transfer it to a private business for economic development. Bell said the high court's 2005 decision was a "wake-up call."
The amendment goes further than the 2007 legislation did and requires a future constitutional amendment to undo the new restrictions.
"You've literally taken the power away from the politicians and given it to the voters," Bell said.
Local officials, such as Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim, have said that the amendment would greatly limit their use of the legal tool. In Hampton Roads, Norfolk and Portsmouth have been particularly reliant on eminent domain.
Norfolk used it to transform the neighborhood of East Ocean View; Portsmouth leaders used the threat of eminent domain to acquire the abandoned Mid-City Shopping Center in the mid-2000s.
Norfolk officials also say MacArthur Center would not have happened without the power of eminent domain.
Jillian Nolin, 757-446-2326, firstname.lastname@example.org
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