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What do you think of local governments using the power of eminent domain to prevent development?

Open spaces and natural areas are becoming rare in urban townships throughout New Jersey. Being the most densely populated (people per square mile) state in the country, towns and the state government are trying to protect open spaces and undeveloped land. The township of Mount Laurel is no exception.

When developers tried to build 23 homes on a tract of undeveloped land, the town government took action. First, it tried to buy the land from the developers, MiPro Homes L.L.C. When they refused, the town used its power of eminent domain, an authority by which a government can seize private property, and took control of the property.

MiPro Homes sued the town for misuse of the power of eminent domain, and the case was appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which ruled that the township of Mount Laurel had the right to use eminent domain in order to protect the open space. The township and environmental groups have praised the ruling as a victory in the battle to reduce urban sprawl, while the real estate community fears that the ruling will give town governments the momentum to stop other developments, hurting private businesses.

Eminent Domain

Eminent domain is a legal power of government granted by the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that allows governments of all levels, from towns to the federal government, to acquire land held by private citizens or businesses if the acquisition would support the “public good” (Read more about the power of eminent domain.). Owners who have their property seized must be compensated fairly, according to the Constitution. Historically, the power of eminent domain has been used infrequently to complete public works projects like roads and highways.

In 2005, the Supreme Court case Kelo v. City of New London upheld that governments had the right to use eminent domain powers to take land if the land would be developed by a private company that would bring in extra jobs and property taxes and revitalize an urban area that was decreasing in value. The ruling is regarded as giving governments more authority to seize land.

Mount Laurel Township v. MiPro Homes L.L.C.

The township of Mount Laurel’s acquisition of MiPro Home’s land brought to light a question that had not been answered in Kelo v. City of New London: is it constitutional for governments to use the power of eminent domain to protect open spaces and prevent development, even though the land would be developed in a way that would bring more property taxes and jobs? In effect, does protecting open spaces provide for the “public good”?

The New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that the township did, indeed, have the right to seize the property, and in the opinion of the court, “Mount Laurel Township sought to limit development, thereby to limit the overcrowded schools, traffic congestion and pollution that accompanies development.” The court ruled that the town had the right to acquire the land, but that the town must pay the developer market value for the land.

The court cited the New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection’s (NJEP) “Smart Growth” campaign, which aims to reduce urban sprawl and protect open land. The NJEP says on its website that “ill-conceived land use and poorly designed development threatens our vital drinking-water supplies, devours our open space, spoils our landscape and creates traffic congestion that pollutes our air. Further, rampant sprawl imperils continued economic growth, jobs, housing and investment in New Jersey’s future.”

Environmental groups like the Sierra Club have praised the ruling as an important victory in the battle to reduce urban sprawl and in protecting undeveloped land. Jeff Tittlel of the Sierra Club said in a Philadelphia Inquirer article, “In the race for open space, New Jersey just picked up a lot of speed.”

However, developers are now fearing negative effects on their industry as a whole and that the ruling will provide the momentum for governments to seize more private land. Patrick O’Keefe, CEO of the New Jersey Builders Association said in a Bloomberg News article “The MiPro decision will have a chilling effect on prospective developers. It's a cloud over all real estate investments in New Jersey.”

To O’Keefe and other developers, this is especially damaging to their industry during a time in which it is already experiencing a slowdown. In New Jersey, new house construction dropped 16 percent, which is about 38,000 houses, and they say the potential to find investors is now harder because of the ruling.

What do you think?

Do you agree with the New Jersey Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Mount Laurel’s use of eminent domain to protect open space? Do you think that protecting open space and reducing urban sprawl are reasonable uses of the power of eminent domain? What about seizing property in order to provide for developers and the creation of jobs and new tax revenue? Would your opinions change if you owned the land? Join the discussion and let us know!
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charlottesville virginia
monticello high school
i think that this is not a good idea because some people have lived in their homes for a long time and for them to come in and take it is bad. The government doesn't give some people the sufficient money that the land or property is worth.

Miami Fla
Claude Jenkins
Mr Jones
I'd expect this view by Annenberg, a socialist/communist organization associated with Bill Ayers, et al. Free Enterprise will lose, but local officials will win using back door deals. They always do, in the name of "The People". Remember Stalin?


Damon H
Columbus, OH
I agree with the New Jersey Supreme Court's Decision to uphold the land in Mt. Laurel. It would reduce urban sprawl because if you build new homes, people in the city would come, move in and that would also cause overcrowding in high school and cost of living may go up as well.

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