Eminent Domain Reform Passes Both House and Senate

By: Lindsey Ward
By: Lindsey Ward

February 26, 2007

All across the state, localities have legally taken land from owners and used it to build roads or schools, things to better the community. However, a few cases in Virginia, the government has abused eminent domain rights. This new bill will put a stop to the abuse.

“For them to take my land which they have no reason to take at all, that isn't right and that's not what the founding fathers thought,” said Helen Marie Taylor, a land owner in Orange County.

The county of Orange wants to take an acre and half of land Mrs. Taylor owns to install sewer lines.

According the 2005 Supreme Court case, Kelo vs. City of New London, it's legal to transfer land from one private owner to another to advance economic development.

"Eminent domain is the idea that there are some public necessities that have to go forward even though it may be in convenient or unpleasant for a few land owners,” said Mark Johnson, Chairman of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

In Virginia, the abuse of this governmental right prompted several law makers to stand up for homeowners, including local Delegate Rob Bell, who proposed the bill in the House.

"We have crafted a law that says you just can’t take property and use it for any ole thing. You can only take it for legitimate public use the person can challenge in court he thinks what you're saying it's for is not really what its for,” said Delegate Rob Bell, R-58th District. “You can only take the land that you need. So, you can't take 5 acres and take another 25 and use it for something else."

Bell added that is exactly what happened in Hampton Roads.

“They took a little bit of land for VDOT, they only used 18 percent of it for the road and they took the rest of it and leased it to a shopping mall,” Bell said.

Although the case in Orange County isn't abuse, Mrs. Taylor said she’s happy to hear there are more regulations on eminent domain.

“They are redefining what is public uses that can be used and if they exercise their authority of eminent domain,” said Taylor.

Bell said if this legislation becomes law, Virginia will be the last of the thirteen colonies to pass a bill to protect homeowners from eminent domain.

The bill passed the House 84 to 14 and the Senate 36 to two. The next step for it to become law is Governor Kaine's signature.

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