Howard County Maryland Blog

Local Politics and Current Events

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:

Crowd condemns ground rent system and City ‘quick take’ gets review by Md. court.

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.

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6 Responses to “Eminent Domain vs. Ground Rent”

  1. Good post.

  2. Melissa said

    There was an effort last year to help reform the ED issues after the Kelo v. New London CT case came down. I think Sen. Allan Kittleman had a large hand in it. Basically the SCT decision said states could decide how to limit ED themselves, but the Balto contingent balked because they have been in the middle of ED actions for some time (Baltimore 5000?) and didn’t want to stop.
    If we want to make sure we afford citizens more protection from govt takings, we need to contact our legislators and let them know the issue is still important to us and ask them to re-address it this session. (I also agree that the ground rent has outlived its usefulness and should be phased out or, at the very least, reformed to give the surplus over the late fee back to the homeowner, not the ground rent holder. Neither the government nor banks can keep the excess after a home sale to satify a debt or judgement. Talk about an unearned windfall.)

    It will be interesting to see who comes on line in support of these practices and what special interest “Talking Points” they’ve been conned into spouting…

  3. tomberkhouse said

    Great post. This (eminent domain)is one of the most serious issues facing property owners. After the whole Kelo case last year, in which the APA (American Planning Association) supported the city of New London, I vowed to never join the APA. It’s a disgrace. The whole barometer of “public good” has been so distorted by crazy politicians such as O’Malley and Dutch Ruppersberger, for the benefit of their developer friends. The Courts have done little to block these egregious takings of people’s property (which often is the person’s childhood home). I will DEFINITELY be contacting my local legislators about getting some legislation passed to curb this activity.

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