An Abuse of Condemnation Power CARROLL COUNTY

December 04, 1992

The Carroll County Commissioners' efforts to condemn a 750-square-foot parcel at the end of High Ridge Drive in Finksburg is unfortunate. The power of eminent domain -- government's right to obtain private property -- is not being used for the public's benefit, but to help a developer.

By condemning the 50-foot by 15-foot parcel and allowing it to be incorporated into a road, the commissioners are simply doing developer Aaron Green a huge favor. Instead of having to build a more expensive road from Nottingham Drive, Mr. Green would be able to extend High Ridge Drive into his development.

Residents of High Ridge Homeowners Association are rightfully angry at the decision and are opposing the county's condemnation process in Circuit Court. The association owns the parcel, part of the community's open space. When Mr. Green could not persuade the association to sell, he turned to the commissioners. With their power of eminent domain, the commissioners could attempt to accomplish what Mr. Green couldn't -- the forced sale of the property.

A number of the community members pointed out they purchased their homes with the understanding that High Ridge Drive would remain a quiet cul-de-sac. The fact that the county's master plan does not call for extending the road bolsters their argument.

Moreover, the most substantial argument against the condemnation is this: There is no demonstrable public benefit for it. Mr. Green, who is developing luxury housing on one-acre lots, is the sole beneficiary because he can reduce his development costs.

If Mr. Green were building a large amount of badly needed moderate-priced housing, and the cost of the access road might significantly increase the price of the units, he would be on firmer ground in asserting that the action has a public purpose.

In fact, there have been instances when the commissioners used eminent domain to obtain private property for private use. Those were usually for industrial development, which properly can be construed to have a public purpose because it provides jobs and increases the tax base.

But the commissioners are sending out the wrong message with this condemnation. They are making it appear that the rights of a developer are more important than those of the general public.

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