Libertarian Law Firm Fights Eminent Domain Abuse in North Carolina
Property rights just won big in North Carolina.
With the help of Institute for Justice, a non-profit libertarian public interest law firm, property owners in Mt. Airy, NC created an organization to keep local officials from violating property owners’ rights. The Mt. Airy Property Rights Alliance (MAPRA), as they are now called, were able to put an end to the city’s plan to use privately owned property in their redevelopment effort recently. And IJ wants you to know how it all went down.
The grassroots movement was launched when the city decided to include privately owned businesses and homes in the redevelopment plan put together by the Mt. Airy Redevelopment Commission, a committee created by the City Board of Commissioners.
The original plan was to give the new board the authority to initiate efforts to redevelop government-owned property in the city. But the newly-created commission had other plans. That’s when private properties were added to the mix.
When the city began eyeing an abandoned factory known as the Spencer’s property, a building that had once been a children’s clothing manufacturer, everyone started to pay attention.
In September of 2015, the redevelopment commission notified that the Westside Redevelopment Plan announced that at least 20 privately owned properties had been declared “blighted.” The 20 new parcels, along with the former factory, made it to the final list of properties targeted by the city’s new commission. If owners didn’t cooperate, the commission would authorize eminent domain, and properties would become officially condemned. At the time, Commissioner Steve Yokeley told The Mount Airy News that owners who weren’t “interested in developing” their property on their own would have their property taken away.
But eminent domain is designated as a public tool, which is to say, officials often make use of it to build roads and bridges, not to pick and choose which corporations or constructors get to develop a designated area for economic purposes.
In order to fight the local officials, IJ and MAPRA targeted the media without mercy.
By launching a major PR campaign and having the media focus on the eminent domain issue, the two groups forced the city commission to debate the case at every subsequent meeting. The result was eye-popping.
As the media helped grassroots organization make the inclusion of private properties in the new development plan a hot topic, the four of the five city commissioners, as well as the mayor were pressured to go against the city plan during their reelection campaigns. Once the elections were over, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-1 to dissolve the Mt. Airy Redevelopment Commission. As the board took on the responsibility of taking on the project on their own, they decided to redraw the boundaries of the redevelopment plan, and all privately owned properties remained protected.
Eminent domain is the central subject of Steven Greenhut’s book Abuse of Power: How the government misuses eminent domain. According to Greenhut, major corporations and developers often refer to local government officials whenever they see an opportunity to earn big on the expense of property they do not own. The Mt. Airy case is a great example.
With the help of a strong and aggressive PR campaign, IJ and MAPRA beat the local government officials, giving private property owners a reason to hope that the same could be done again.