Eminent domination

In the most recent session of my Planning Process course, our Graduate Studies director offered a guest lecture on planning and land-use law. Central to the presentation, of course, was eminent domain. I’ll spare my readers the details of the discussion, and the prior discussion board messages that led to my forthcoming post, but I thought that I’d share this hypothetical, somewhat extreme scenario to shed some light on what I see wrong with government intervention in the market via subsidies and tax abatements, and with the vexingly broad reading of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment.


I own Nathan’s Hardware and Lumber. Lowe’s has come to town, much to my dismay. Unfortunately, taxes that my business has paid will now go toward subsidizing this obvious boon to the local economy. (After all, why would Lowe’s or any of its peers come somewhere if they’re not sooooo wanted that public officials throw tax dollars in their direction?) Nevertheless, I vow to carry on. I provide expertise, unbeatable service and selection, and fair (if not as cheap as Lowe’s) pricing.

Then I learn that the city wants greatly widen the road that leads to the Lowe’s site in order to alleviate congestion that the new Lowe’s shopping plaza (Barnes and Noble, anyone? Maybe Panera?) will create. My property stands in the way of this. Enter Eminent Domain. Building a Lowe’s in itself might not be a public use, but road improvements constitute Constitutionally viable grounds for Takings. All of a sudden, government intervention in a the market economy has cost me my livelihood and forced me to give up my property essentially so that a company that could hurt my business, anyway, has it a little easier.

One might argue that with the compensation that I receive for forced sale of my property I can rebuild my business elsewhere. But between the possibilities of zoning obstacles and increased property values (New business growth -> higher values) and the taxpayer-supported competition that Lowe’s creates, this seems much less plausible.

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