I read with interest the story about the people in Mableton who are to lose their homes for a DOT project. Eminent domain has long been of interest to me and this instance brings it right to the top.
The U.S. Constitution recognizes there may be public needs that require a government to force someone off their property (with adequate compensation). However, property rights are among the most precious of our rights as Americans, so the ability of government to force an owner to give up property is a very delicate matter.
I’m not familiar with the area in Mableton where this project is planned, so I have no idea about merit.
It’s a little disturbing that the agenda item from the commissioners’ meeting reads as though this road project is all about improving safety, but the MDJ story tells me it’s also about a makeover for the area. The principle objective seems to be creation of a “town square,” part of a grand redevelopment scheme based on Mableton’s “Form Based Code” plan.
Eminent domain becomes worrisome when the objective is not tightly focused on a measurable and valuable public benefit. Who decides this project warrants forcing these people out of homes they don’t want to leave? What important public benefit is expected and how certain is that result?
This isn’t just idle contemplation. A few years ago, Cobb County hired a consultant to plan a recreational trail network through East Cobb. Affected property owners were not informed and were not involved.
Some years afterward, I ran across the consultant’s report. The proposed trail was to run through a series of backyards, including mine. In the report, there was no mention that the trail route crossed several parcels of private property. At that point in time I was not yet aware of Cobb’s casual view of property rights.
The eminent domain case in the MDJ story was approved unanimously by Cobb Commissioners. As always, the eminent domain cases are included in the “consent” agenda. The consent agenda is a list of perhaps two dozen items requiring commissioner approval but not “worthy” of voting on individually. They are voted on en masse. Cobb Commissioners never address or discuss eminent domain cases in open meetings. Almost every meeting agenda has eminent domain cases, always in the consent agenda, never discussed, always approved unanimously. Not exactly the level of attention that might be expected for something so sensitive.
City of Marietta advertises in the newspaper upcoming eminent domain cases with hearings before City Council. I’ve seen signs posted in other places (for example, Sandy Springs) announcing hearings to be held on eminent domain cases. Obviously, some local governments take eminent domain more seriously.
I understand that most cases do not involve taking homes. It’s usually a slice off the front yard or similar.
Most of the Cobb cases seem to be for sidewalk projects, leaving me puzzled about why the county insists on placing sidewalks in places where people evidently don’t want them and where afterward it’s obvious no one uses them.
Maybe this would be a good time for Cobb County to have some public discussion about what is and is not appropriate for invoking the power of eminent domain.