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Several elderly residents of a Yorktown, Indiana, neighborhood are gearing up for a fight to protect their properties. The residents live near Morrow’s Meadow, and they include an 81-year-old widow, a 90-year-old woman, and a couple who bought their house 52 years ago. Now, they could lose their properties because the town wants to bulldoze the homes and create public space, as well as a private development including a tech firm and a restaurant.
The residents fear that if they do not agree to sell their property voluntarily, the town might use eminent domain powers to take their land. However, Indiana law prevents municipal governments from condemning homes in good condition for private developments. Because the town’s plans involve both public space and private establishments, people are already questioning whether the town would abuse its eminent domain power to obtain the properties.
In 2005, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled on a case called Kelo v. City of New London. The Court decided it was lawful and constitutional for a government to take private land and transfer it to another private owner, as long as it would further economic development in the community. The Court held that if the community would benefit from the private development due to economic growth, it can constitute a “public use” as required by the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.
As a backlash against the Kelo ruling, many states implemented their own laws limiting the condemnation powers of municipal governments. These laws aimed to curb eminent domain abuse when it came to private developments. Developers and corporations can have a lot of influence on politicians, and they may convince officials to use eminent domain powers so the developer gets the land it wants. Laws like Indiana’s try to prevent such abuse of power.
Yorktown has not yet tried to use eminent domain to take the homes of some of its dedicated residents. In addition, the residents obtained 105,000 signatures from people across the United States and presented the petition at a recent Yorktown town meeting. They also have several advocacy groups on their side, some of which are arguing that the town could build its public space on land it already owns instead of displacing these elderly residents. We’ll keep an eye on the situation to see if Yorktown decides to use its condemnation powers or not.
While most eminent domain cases revolve around the amount of just compensation that landowners deserve, some cases challenge the validity of the eminent domain power itself. Anytime a government brings a condemnation action, have an experienced attorney examine whether the government is within its constitutional and lawful power or not.
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