Proposed eminent domain amendment protects ‘the little guy’
October 18, 2012
RICHMOND—One item Virginia voters will see on the Nov. 6 ballot is a proposed state constitutional amendment regarding the use of eminent domain to take private property.
The amendment would, in part, restrict the use of eminent domain to property needed for a public use. That would ensure that condemning authorities cannot take privately owned land and give it to another private entity for development to create jobs or generate revenue.
Another element of the amendment includes fair compensation to property owners if they lose access to their property as the result of an eminent domain taking, according to Trey Davis, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation assistant director of governmental relations.
Farm Bureau is a major supporter of the amendment, but farmers are not the only people who’ve been muscled around by governments and utility companies in eminent domain cases, Davis said.
Joel Snively served 22 years as a Marine in posts around the world. Ironically, he said, one of his toughest battles was defending his private property rights at home. Five years ago Snively was approached to allow a utility easement on Stafford County land zoned for agricultural use.
“In my case they offered me a certain amount of money for an easement for an underground power line. They almost acted like they were renting the property from me for the purpose of putting a line in,” he said.
But when he didn’t agree to the request, a local court moved immediately to condemn the land through eminent domain.
“My land was condemned by a judge with no hearing. I never even got my day in court before the condemnation. They rammed the case through and then decided to sort out who got what,” Snively said. “They said I could farm this land, but they told me I couldn’t raise certain crops. My point is now I can’t use my land as I see fit. … In reality they own it except in title. They can restrict my movement on it, they can put up a barrier saying you can’t come onto the property, but under current law I still have the tax burden on it.”
After four years of legal wrangling Snively reached a settlement and has relocated to Augusta County to pursue his dream of starting a small farm operation. But he said his case is one of many that prove Virginia’s constitution needs to be amended.
“It’s not what they take that’s so valuable as what they take from your future,” Snively said. “They limit what you can do with the property in the future. … This amendment will help balance the scales when the little guy goes up against a big utility or government body in an eminent domain dispute.”
Contact Davis at 804-290-1017 or Norm Hyde, VFBF communications, at 804-290-1146.