Supporters Say Yes to Eminent Domain Restrictions, Point to Vinegar Hill

November 2, 2012

The neighborhood around West Main Street and Ridge Street in downtown Charlottesville looks a lot different today than it did fifty years ago. Lelia Brown, a 77-year-old Charlottesville resident and former teacher, remembers a thriving community.

"There were businesses, pool halls, cleaners-it really was a wealth of small businesses," said Brown.

But that all changed in 1962, when the Charlottesville City Council used eminent domain to tear down the Vinegar Hill neighborhood with promises of redevelopment that never materialized.

"Once it was torn down, that was the end of it," said Brown. "Not only did the businesses go, but so did some homes." In fact, 158 families were relocated.

The Virginia Eminent Domain Amendment, Question 1 is on the November 6, 2012 ballot. The measure would prohibit eminent domain from being used for private enterprise, job creation, tax revenue generation or economic development.

Delegate Rob Bell authored the amendment and says it will help protect private property. "It's supposed to be they an take property for necessary crucial public use like a road and not just because they want someone else to own the property," said Bell. "That's what the amendment will fix."

But critics say if it's not broken, don't fix it. "We already have the US Constitutional protection that ensure property owners when their property is taken they are paid just compensation by the government," said Delegate David Toscano. "We have a statute in Virginia that protects them from having their property taken and given to a private developer."

Critics of the amendment say it could end up costing taxpayers more money to build things like roads because it doesn't put a price tag on how people will be compensated for losing their property.

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