For landowners, their is no more controversial case than the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision in Kelo v. City of New London permitting the use of eminent domain to transfer private property from one owner to another under the guise of furthering economic development. In response to this 2005 decision, dozens of state legislatures passed bills curbing the effects of Kelo, including Texas, which made it illegal for a municipality to condemn property solely for private economic development. Yet that is exactly what Mayor Bill White and the City of Houston have seemingly done.
In a front page story, Sunday’s Houston Chronicle details the fate of a miniscule parcel of property – .09 acres – that lies at the very heart of a $12.5 million land sale.
“The complex case, involving a series of land transactions and a web of relationships between elected officials at City Hall and developers, raises the question of whether the city abused its power in taking land it now is hard-pressed to prove that it needed, land that a developer was seeking to control.
“It looks as if the city of Houston was all too eager to bulldoze the people — and condemn the property — that prevented a powerful political donor from realizing his ambitions,” said Andrew Wheat, research director for Texans for Public Justice, a nonpartisan watchdog group that has conducted several studies of the use of eminent domain law in Texas.”
The complete text of the Chronicle’s story, including an excellent analysis of the legal issues, can be found here.