Eminent Domain vs. Ground Rent
Posted by Ed C on Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Two stories, both in the Baltimore Sun, both published on the same day:
First the ground rent system has been getting a lot of coverage over the past few weeks and I have not heard anyone speak out in defense of the system. For whatever reason, the issue has caught the media’s attention and that has the lawmakers in Annapolis listening and ready to take quick action:
The meeting came two days before the opening of the 2007 General Assembly session, at which ground rent is expected to be a top legislative issue.
Key lawmakers and Gov.-elect Martin O’Malley’s administration plan to meet hours before the session opens tomorrow to discuss phasing out the arcane ground rent system. O’Malley has vowed to play a central role in reform of the centuries-old law.
Okay. But here’s the quote that caught my eye:
“I’ve been involved in property for 30-something years, and I’ve never seen a case where you could lose your property with no hearing of any kind,” he [Ron Weaver] said – other than through being ejected for nonpayment of ground rent.
Well I guess Mr Weaver has never invested in property that Baltimore (under Mayor O’Malley) wanted. Yesterday, Baltimore City attorneys were defending their favorite method of property seizure, a near-instantaneous version of eminent domain called “quick take” before Maryland’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
The case started when the city seized a bar called The Magnet at 1924 N. Charles St and 20 other properties last year.
The city filed a quick take petition on The Magnet in March, immediately gaining possession of the property without a hearing. (emphasis added)
Valsamaki learned of the seizure in an affidavit reading, “The property … must be in possession of the Mayor and City Council of Baltimore at the earliest time in order to assist in a business expansion of the area.” He had 10 days to challenge the seizure, which he did, calling the city’s stated reason for taking his property “patently insufficient.”
So, the city takes property owned for 32 years that was a man and his wife’s livelihood, without a hearing. Well, they must of had a good reason, right? Well, not exactly.
City attorneys argued that without a near-instantaneous version of eminent domain called “quick take,” Baltimore’s urban renewal efforts would wither on the vine. But attorneys for a Charles North bar owner challenged the constitutionality of a process that grants officials immediate ownership of property without having to prove why they need it so urgently or for what specific purpose.
The pointed questions and comments of two Court of Appeals judges conveyed strong skepticism of Baltimore’s redevelopment policy, particularly the wisdom in taking someone’s land first, then figuring out what to do with it later – because the legality of eminent domain centers on taking property only for the public good.
“When the city filed the quick take, it had no clue as to what it intended to do with this piece of property?” Judge Alan M. Wilner asked Baltimore’s attorney, adding later: “You don’t see a constitutional issue here?”
In May, in what land-use officials called the first time the court has blocked a Baltimore quick take seizure, Circuit Court Judge John Philip Miller ruled that city economic development officials failed to show “sufficient grounds” to warrant taking a Charles North bar and package goods shop called The Magnet.
Maybe while Gov-elect O’Malley and those key lawmakers are rushing to “protect homeowners” from ground rent seizures they could also address the the abuse of eminent domain.