Vol 5 No. 48 - August 17, 2005

Pay attention to eminent domain ruling
By Louise Bolger

If you think it’s hot in Florida during the summer, you should have been in Washington D. C. in June. The town was really sizzling when the Supreme Court sent down a ruling regarding the interpretation of eminent domain, a ruling the residents of Florida should pay very close attention to.
Eminent domain, also called condemnation, is the process which allows the condemning authority, generally a government agency, to take property which is considered necessary for certain projects so long as just compensation is paid. Eminent domain projects may include road improvements, schools, public parks and stormwater facilities. Commonly, land for public improvement projects such as widening a road, are acquired through eminent domain.
A key attribute of eminent domain is that the government can exercise its power even if the owner does not wish to sell his property. In addition, the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution allows private property to be taken by eminent domain only for public use. This would mean that the project need not be actually open to the public to constitute a public use. Instead, generally only a public benefit is required.
The reason the Supreme Court’s decision, Kelo v. New London, Conn., is so controversial is that the court found it constitutional for the state of Connecticut and the city of New London to condemn 15 homes owned by seven families for "economic development" rather than public use. The owners brought suit against the state stating that the condemnation was not for public use as required by the Constitution. The court’s decision was by a very narrow margin of 5-4, Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who has since announced her retirement from the bench, was one of the dissenting votes. The Court did hold that the families receive just compensation for their homes, but in no way could they hold onto their property. The state of Connecticut in an effort to revitalize the city of New London, is unfortunately taking away the rights of individuals for non-public use
Florida is growing in both population and construction faster than most people ever anticipated ten years ago, and the need for new roadways, schools and parks is inevitable. This Supreme Court ruling could negatively impact Florida homeowners in years to come as the need for both public and private enterprise grows greater.
Under Florida law, as a homeowner if your property or a portion of your property is condemned, you have a right to an independent appraiser and attorney. Florida law also requires the condemning authority to pay for your legal, appraisal and other expert fees, such as engineers or surveyors, in addition to and separate from any settlement you receive.
The U.S. House of Representatives is actively trying to get the Supreme Court’s decision reversed. Keep a close eye on how this battle is finally settled, since it could substantially affect your rights, if Anna Maria’s population and traffic keeps growing,
Could the widening of Gulf Drive be in our future, or would it be for the "betterment" of the community to remove some of the older duplexes in Holmes Beach? Make sure your rights aren’t removed as well.

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