October 13, 2005
Eminent Domain Reform Panel
I was just on Smart Talk, a public affairs show on WITF, our local PBS station here in beautiful Harrisburg, PA, for a panel discussion on Kelo and eminent domain reform. The other guests were Dana Berliner of the Institute for Justice and Ed Troxell of the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs. Surprisingly enough, we all agreed on many issues. Dana and Ed predictably sparred a little bit over the inherent goodness of local government officials (e.g., whether eminent domain is used as a last resort), but Ed and his organization are in support of reasonable eminent domain reform so there wasn't anyone on the show arguing for local governments' ability to take homes and replace them with box stores.
Two of the more interesting issues that we discussed were raised by people who called into the show. One asked about the potential for future government condemnation of conservation easements. This seems like a real potential problem to me. Dana raised the very good point that if you take away government power to engage in economic development takings, you take away a lot of the potential desire for governments to take the conservation easements.
The other issue raised by a caller was what to do when the government no longer uses taken property for a public use. The example raised by the caller was land taken to protect a watershed twenty years ago that was recently sold to a developer who put houses on the property. One possible solution to this problem is to have the property revert back to the original owner when the government ceases using it for a public use. I'm not a big fan of reverter clauses because (a) I prefer to avoid future interests whenever possible; (b) if the reverter has too long a duration, finding the former owner (or successors) can be difficult; and (c) the owner already received compensation for the property.
If anyone has any thoughts on these issues, please leave a comment. [As always, comments require approval before posting, so there may be a delay]
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