On Wednesday we learned in a report from Lawrence Hammack with the Roanoke Times of the plight of the Burkholder family:
It seems the only people who want the property that is flanked on two sides by Carilion Clinic's growing medical complex are the current owners, Jay and Stephanie Burkholder.I've since gotten more detail on the saga. The efforts of the Roanoke housing authority are far more heavy-handed (and wasteful) than we thought. (It should be noted that this came to me in email form so I'm unable to provide a link to a source as I would normally do).
Yet the government is taking the land from the Burkholders.
Last month, a Roanoke judge approved the condemnation of the 3-acre tract as part of a redevelopment plan closely linked to Carilion's proposal to build a business park and medical school where aging industries once operated along South Jefferson Street.
Only now, Carilion says it has no interest in the Burkholders' property, which will soon be acquired through eminent domain by the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority.
Mark Loftis, an attorney for the housing authority, said the land is being taken as part of a master redevelopment plan for the area, which doesn't necessarily have to involve Carilion. One possibility is that Carilion would acquire the land and then sell it to a developer, as it did with a hotel being built in the area.
● In May, 2000 in a contract between Carilion and the city of Roanoke, Carilion agrees to pay fair market value for all property Roanoke acquires on its behalf.
● In 2004, Roanoke acquires the Mennel Milling flour mill property nearby (just across S. Jefferson Street) under threat of condemnation for $8 million. This requires Mennel Milling to build a replacement facility in Roanoke County for $31 million.
● In 2008, Roanoke sells the mill to Carilion for $560,000, on condition that Carilion tears it down, at an estimated cost of $500,000.
The flour mill was so important to the development back in 2000 that the Carilion boss said the deal with Roanoke was a non-starter without it. This year, Carilion said it has no plans to put anything on the empty land.
As for the Burkholders, ever since the heat started to rise, Carilion has begun to disavow any role in the taking of the their property or any interest in even having it.
● The housing authority has no plan for, or potential buyers of the property.
So, here’s where we stand: There’s no public use, benefit or purpose to come from the condemnation of the Burkholder property. But Roanoke will take it anyway because it can. The United States Supreme Court made it possible.
Head swimming? It gets worse. Carilion, under the terms of the 2000 contract, must pay Roanoke for the property. But don't shed tears. They will, of course, get it for a song. And, if Roanoke's largest employer can find a buyer, Carilion will make a tidy profit from the government's action.
As for the Burkholders, the couple whose lives are being smashed in this land-grab, will never be made whole. And taxpayers will have a hole on Reserve Avenue where once there was a thriving business.
For the love of God.
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Virginia's premier newspaper columnist, Bart Hinkle, has more:
Roanoke: Eminent-Domain Case Looks Like Kelo ReduxThat's what should disturb everyone. This government seizure can tomorrow easily involve your home or farm or business. The government will continue to seize private property "because it can." Nobody's safe.
When the Supreme Court handed down its disastrous 2005 ruling on eminent domain in Kelo v. New London, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor made a prediction. "Any property may now be taken for the benefit of another private party," she lamented, "but the fallout from this decision will not be random. The beneficiaries are likely to be those citizens with disproportionate influence and power in the political process, including large corporations and development firms." Kelo, in effect, took away David's slingshot and gave Goliath a bigger club.
Time is proving O'Connor right. So is the city of Roanoke.
In a case remarkably similar to New London, Conn.'s, seizure of Susette Kelo's home for economic development related to a Pfizer research facility, Roanoke has been fighting to seize a building housing a flooring company owned by Jay and Stephanie Burkholder for the benefit of Carilion Clinic (formerly Carilion Health System).
In 2001, the Roanoke City Council and the city's Redevelopment and Housing Authority mapped a redevelopment area around Jefferson Street, and hired a consultant who determined that a majority of the area was blighted or -- consider the implications of this -- "improperly developed."
The city began buying out property owners in the designated area.
The housing authority offered to buy out the Burkholders, too. They declined. So the housing authority decided to take their property by force. It initiated condemnation proceedings, even though the Burkholders' building was not designated a blighted property.
The Fifth Amendment's Takings Clause states: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." For decades, a plain reading of that language prevailed: "public use" had to mean something actually was employed by the public, as for example by riders on a railway. But the Supreme Court gradually twisted the meaning of the words. Public use became public purpose, which became public welfare, broadly defined -- meaning pretty much anything public officials want it to.
As a result, matters in many states now stand precisely where O'Connor warned they would: "The specter of condemnation hangs over all property. Nothing is to prevent the State from replacing any Motel 6 with a Ritz-Carlton, any home with a shopping mall, or any farm with a factory."
In the United States of America. How did we let this happen?