Eminent Domain - Fox29 WFLX TV, West Palm Beach, FL-news & weather

Monday, February, 13, 2006

Eminent Domain

In the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, the framers write a provision for eminent domain, allowing the government to take private property for public use, with just compensation. That paves the way for homes to be demolished and replaced by new roads. It also clears the way for schools, airports, hospitals, landfills and military bases....

Earl Mallory, a Jupiter attorney says, "Eminent domain is important power of government. Otherwise they would not have the ability to build things. How would each homeowner make their own sewage treatment facility?"

Mallory believes in Eminent Domain, but believes it's been abused.

He points to Kelo vs. New London, Connecticut. In that case, The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled eminent domain can now be used to take private property, against the owner's wishes, for not only public use, but also private development.

The Connecticut case causes concerns for homeowners here in Riviera Beach. Homes in the city, may be taken over, not for a school or a road, but so a developer can use the property for a marina development project.

Jackie Loriol has lived in Riviera Beach since 1974. We first met Jackie Four months ago. At that time, she vowed to take on the developers, in order to stay in her house. Jackie told us, “this is the U.S., private property belongs to people who paid for it."

But now she has changed her mind and is selling. Jackie said, “We have such mixed feelings about leaving, we don't want to leave. After 31 years, going to be sad to part with, had to be done, can't live under the condition of home taken away because of eminent domain.”

The Loriols have fought city hall, but now they believe it's time to move forward, and they say the developer has given them enough money to buy another house in Palm Beach County. In the past, they were offered $230,000 dollars to sell their home. And while Jackie won't tell us her final selling price, she says it's 3 to 4 times that number.

Developers like Robert Healey of the Viking Group, have decided not to wait for the homes to be taken over by eminent domain. He's buying property now to build a big waterfront project. He says his vision of Riviera Beach, “is to create a town with restaurants and shops.”

Healey's partner in the project is Riviera Beach Mayor Michael Brown. It's the growth of tax dollars that interests Mayor Brown. He wants to help Healey develop prime beach front property, where the mayor says the crime rate is sky high.

The mayor admits the dwindling tax base is combined with the growing needs of residents. He says, “The poorest people in the community, the kids and family and elderly, are being cheated, because the place where their government is supposed to get revenue from is getting no revenue.”

In Jackie's case, she purchased this home in 1974 and by law, appraisals can only go up only 3 percent a year. Jackie pays just 67 dollars a year to the city in property taxes. The Loriols say they never would have accepted a deal with a developer, without the threat that their home would be taken over through eminent domain. The mayor says, without eminent domain, tax revenues stay low and so do services. He says, “Right now our police department is 60 to 70 officers short and we don't have the equipment we need to have effective police department. Why? Because we don't have the money.”

This is a fight, to be continued inside city hall and probably the courts. And you may soon have a say in the eminent domain debate. State Representative Edwin Rice is trying to get the issue on the November ballot.

If passed in the state capital, voters would decide if private property can be taken over by the government to promote economic development.

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