Opponents of eminent domain finally have something to celebrate. After a public campaign, Target Corp. has decided not to build a store on condemned property in Arlington Heights, Ill.
Five years ago, the Village trustees declared the International Plaza shopping center and other properties blighted, setting the stage for condemnation under eminent domain. The business owners who were to lose their stores fought the "blight" designation in court but failed.
Yet they didn't give up. They and their supporters held protests at trustee meetings. They were aided by the Sam Adams Alliance and Foundation, which launched a letter, telephone and flyer campaign that threatened to boycott Target if the company went through with its plan to occupy property seized by the government.
In late May, the Alliance triumphantly announced, "Target backed out of their contract with the Village. International Plaza tenants have saved the property from eminent domain abuse, at least for the time being".
The Village attorney said pending lawsuits by tenants of the shopping center were one reason for Target's decision.
It's only a reprieve. The trustees smell big bucks, so they may try to find another major chain to be the principal retailer in the 35-acre development area. In the past, several retailers have been more than willing to build on stolen property. So the residents of Arlington Heights and the Sam Adams Alliance may need to launch another campaign.
Nevertheless, Target's announcement is good news indeed.
The "takings" clause in the Constitution's Fifth Amendment says government cannot take private property "for public use without just compensation." I object to anyone having his property taken by force, but at least traditionally, this power of eminent domain ("superior ownership") was limited to the building of highways, bridges and parks -- things meant for general public benefit. But over the last 40 years, governments have redefined "public use" to include private use that they argue has public benefit. Towns began to condemn properties said to be "blighted" and hand them over to private developers, who promised higher tax revenues and jobs.
In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court blessed this outrageous argument in the infamous Kelo v. New London case. Fortunately, a public backlash followed the ruling, and 41 states have put restrictions on eminent domain for private development. But many of these laws have loopholes for "blighted" property.