Good Thing It’s Not Called “Freetown”
Frenchtown, a historic French quarter of St. Charles, is the latest challenger of spurious eminent domain abuse.
In 2006, the St. Charles City Council voted to designate 15 acres of land in the Frenchtown area as “blighted.” Once again, the rationale for the “blight” designation had little to do with actual urban decay. Rather, it was ostensibly seen as little more than a policy tool to award property tax break incentives to wealthy developers. For a review of Missouri eminent domain abuse, I remind readers to check out Tim Lee’s comprehensive study.
The worst part of the story, however, is the shameless defense by the city’s eminent domain advocates:
Supporters of the measure argued that a large-scale effort was needed to combat longstanding decay and that a piecemeal approach […] wouldn’t work. They said eminent domain was a last-resort tactic that probably wouldn’t be used in most cases.
And yet these same advocates argue that eminent domain should be used in this situation. But what keeps future developers from appealing to the same logic? Surely, the eminent domain advocates recognize the slippery slope they have created. If property rights aren’t constitutionally protected, then there’s no reason to believe that any developer’s assets will be any more secure than the property they originally usurped.
What incentive do businesses have to relocate to a district that has already set a precedent for eminent domain abuses? What about the Homer Tourkakises of the world? Entrepreneurs who invest their time and savings into developing a vibrant business in St. Charles are now at the mercy of future political whims. Eminent domain doesn’t strengthen property values, it destroys them.
Who is the better steward of land resources: the vested individual with a business interest, or an unelected bureaucrat with a vision?