THE GOOD FIGHT ‌ Eminent Domain 

Radical Republicans threaten property values

In a state that was founded on the principle of human slavery, it is not surprising that some people still hold property rights to be the highest value in society.

This principle is being tested in the General Assembly right now as the state Senate debates what to do with House Bill 4503, the most recent attempt by Republican extremists to enact property rights protections so radical as to essentially end all zoning and land use planning in South Carolina.

Under H. 4503, county and municipal governments would be required to pay landowners if public zoning decisions prevented landowners from obtaining the full speculative value of their property. Purported to be a law that protects property values, it would in fact have the opposite effect, according to William L. Want, professor of land use law at the Charleston School of Law.

Writing recently in The Post and Courier, Want stated, "if a coastal community zoned to prevent 10-story hotels or other communities zoned to prevent industrial facilities or hog farms next to homes, they would have to pay off the developers using our tax dollars." The cost would be prohibitive, essentially ending all efforts by communities to maintain quality of life by environmental or aesthetic zoning.

"Behemoth beachfront hotels and pig farms are lining up at the state's borders," Want warns.

In working this bill through the House, Republicans have once again played the plutocrat-in-populist-clothing gag. Whenever they seek to screw the little guy in the name of the corporations, they first dress up like the little guy to lead him into the trap. In this case, they put on overalls and the rhetorical straw hat, pretending they were out to protect Old McDonald and rest of the farmers and small landowners from those urban politicians and pointy-headed intellectuals who wanted to control their land.

Don't be fooled.

The man who introduced H. 4503 was none other than Rep. Tracy Edge (R-N. Myrtle Beach). When he is not in Columbia leading the crusade against sane land use policy, Edge works as vice president of the Burroughs & Chapin Co., the giant developer that created Myrtle Beach and keeps it under the corporate thumb. (For the inside story on how B&C controls its Horry County fiefdom, see my book, Banana Republic: A Year in the Heart of Myrtle Beach.)

Burroughs & Chapin's assault on the democratic process — both in Horry County and in Richland County, where it has been angling for years to create a giant development on the Congaree River flood plain — is so egregious that it is no wonder that the corporate giant would dispatch its lieutenant to lead the legislative assault on local sovereignty.

"Local government is the core component of our democracy and much of what it deals with involves land use," writes Want. "The S.C. House bill would take away this local authority and place land use decisions in the hands of any individual who cares to operate completely at odds with the will of the community."

The reason the radical property rights crowd — led by the real estate lobby — think this is the year they might actually succeed in passing their "regulatory takings" legislation is because they have piggy-backed it onto another bill that is almost sure to pass. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the City of New Bedford, Conn., could seize private property for use by other private interests, if it were done for the "greater public good" of economic development.

State lawmakers went into a tizzy to make sure nothing like that ever happens in South Carolina. Sen. Chip Campsen (R-Charleston) proposed a constitutional amendment to prevent eminent domain from ever being used in such a manner as it was in Connecticut. It was probably unnecessary. The state Supreme Court has consistently held that eminent domain could be used only to take land for public use. But the amendment passed the Senate, and radical property rights advocates in the House saw this as the vehicle to move their agenda forward. H. 4503 is an amendment to Campsen's constitutional amendment.

There is evidence that cooler heads will prevail in Columbia. The P&C has editorialized against H. 4503 twice in recent weeks. The Coastal Conservation League is rallying opposition to H. 4503. In one recent e-message to their supporters, the CCL wrote that "Rather than being a boon to landowners, the takings bill would be an 'Attorney and Appraisers Relief Act.'"

In his syndicated column, S.C. Statehouse Report, Andy Brack also took on H. 4503, saying, "the House bill would put private interests ahead of community interests," Brack quoted Want as saying. "Let's hope lawmakers exercise better judgment throughout the rest of the session, particularly when it comes to land use."

Let's hope.


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