To the editor:
Alexandrians should be aware their real estate — be it a home, a business or a piece of land — is not protected against our city officials or politically connected developers who want that property. We must be alert to the city’s misuse of eminent domain.
Fear of government’s abuse of eminent domain increased in 2005 when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a city’s taking of property from one private owner to give to another for development was legal under the Fifth Amendment.
This ruling sparked a movement across the United States to protect individuals’ property from government seizure. In Virginia, during the 2011 session, a bill was passed in favor of amending Virginia’s Constitution to explicitly protect private property. The amendment addresses the power of local and state governments to take property from its lawful owners for so-called “public use.” The use of eminent domain makes it legal for the City of Alexandria to take a property at “market value” and then sell it to a private resident or a developer or corporation.
The city has already threatened to use this abusive power. Earlier this year the city offered to buy property from The Old Dominion Boat Club at the foot of King Street. The Old Dominion Boat Club did not want to sell property it has owned since 1883. City Attorney Jim Banks declared eminent domain remained a tool available to the city council to take this property from its legal owners.
Our council continues to look at private property as available for whatever plans it has for development of the waterfront. Our elected officials should declare they will not use eminent domain to take from one private owner for the benefit of another person, company or developer.
Each council member should pledge that he or she will use eminent domain only for truly essential public needs, such as transportation, schools, power and sewer.
We the people of Alexandria must be vigilant. Our government’s threat to use its immense power of eminent domain for nonessential government functions should be a warning to all Alexandrians their property rights are held in little regard by this council.
Our city council threatens each of us when it threatens one of us.
– Beal Lowen, Alexandria