ANNAPOLIS – Placing restrictions on the government’s power of eminent domain would hinder economic development and growth, a Baltimore City official Wednesday told legislators who are being asked to consider a new law that would sharply restrict the government’s power to seize private property.
“If the General Assembly puts new restrictions on eminent domain it would be enormously difficult to change with the times,” said Joshua N. Auerbach, assistant solicitor for the Baltimore City Department of Law. “The ability to use eminent domain was essential to the achievement of the Inner Harbor project, and the more you raise the bar above just compensation, the more you raise the possibility that the Inner Harbors of the future will not be created.”
Auerbach said hundreds of properties had to be acquired in order to obtain the land for the Inner Harbor, which has now become the symbolic centerpiece of the city, attracting millions of tourists and creating thousands of jobs.
The properties would not have been obtained if it weren’t for the power of eminent domain, he said.
On Tuesday Republican lawmakers announced plans to introduce a constitutional amendment to prohibit government from taking property for private developments. It is clear there is bipartisan support in Annapolis for some kind of restrictions on eminent domain, though a constitutional amendment may not be the ultimate solution.
“There are probably fifty bills and counting on this issue,” said Delegate Maggie McIntosh, D-Baltimore, chairwoman of the Environmental Matters Committee. “We’ll deal with them and look at whether or not we need to make changes to Maryland law.”
Eminent domain became a political issue in June, after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that government could seize private property as long as it was for a legitimate public purpose such as economic development.
But Auerbach, who co-authored Baltimore’s friend-of-the-court brief in the controversial decision, said the Supreme Court decision, known as the Kelo case, didn’t actually do anything to change the law.
“Baltimore felt the Kelo case was correctly decided,” he said. “We saw Kelo as a case of playing defense — because Kelo is consistent with prior law does not change anything.”
The impact of Kelo, however, can be seen in states and municipalities across the country where legislators are beginning to re-examine their positions on eminent domain. In some states such as Alabama, Texas and Delaware, new restrictions on eminent domain have already been passed, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures.