“The Supreme Court ruled yesterday that local governments may force property owners to sell out and make way for private economic development when officials decide it would benefit the public, even if the property is not blighted and the new project’s success is not guaranteed.” The quote is from Washington Post Staff Writer, Charles Lane, dated Friday, June 24, 2005.
Eminent Domain — Who’s Next
I remember when this ruling was announced, talk radio, editorials, letters to the editors and other forms of public media were full of anger, outrage and flat out disbelief that this could happen in our United States. However, with the passage of time, the outrage died down, other news items captured our attention and the discussion, if not the discord, faded away. Then, like a bolt of lightning, it hit home.
While campaigning in downtown Scranton, I visited Buona Pizza and spoke with Giovanni Piccolino. He explained to me the city intends to use “eminent domain” to take his family’s business and turn it over to a developer. The explanation, as I understand, is that improvement of the downtown hinges upon taking the Buona Pizza building from its current owner.
Growing up, I was taught “eminent domain” was to be used for public works that would benefit, will benefit, the entire public. Thanks to last year’s Supreme Court ruling it is apparent that now — the public good includes the right for a City or State government to seize your property then, in the hopes of increasing tax revenue, turn it over to a private developer.
Aside from being wholeheartedly opposed to the Supreme Court decision, I wonder what is going on with Scranton’s leadership. There is no question that the revitalization of downtown districts should be encouraged. Instead of strong-arming business owners, finances should be either lent or granted to those willing to take the risk to develop our commercial centers. Additionally, what kind of leadership opts to oust a successful member of the downtown community? One who set up shop forty years ago and stuck it out through the good times, bad times and sometimes downright horrible times. Not only has this business persevered all these years, Buona Pizza managed to thrive and succeed in a downtown where others failed.
It is my opinion that a true visionary, a genuine leader should reward loyalty and, in any grand downtown revitalization, in a positive manner exploit a landmark, legacy business. I think it is safe to say that the Piccolino family has earned this status.
What will happen to the downtown if this new venture, by replacing a successful business, fails? Who will be held responsible? Who will replace the tax money Buona Pizza was generating? There are many questions. It is especially reasonable to question the wisdom of trying to remove an established, successful business for what may turn out to be a grandiose flight of fancy. Whatever the answers may be, we must protect this family’s right to maintain ownership of their property.
Justice O’ Connor wrote in her dissenting opinion, “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.” Her words now ring true to Buona Pizza, the Piccolino Family, the citizens of Scranton and all residents of Northeast Pennsylvania.
Today we must make a stand, because if the City takes this one family’s property there will only be one question left — who is next?