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Objection! Suffolk Law Ignores Rights of Property Owners

The Virginian-Pilot
By Joseph T. Waldo

After reading your Oct. 7 editorial promoting Suffolk's attempts to downzone property under its newly adopted Uniform Development Ordinance (UDO), I am compelled to say, "Hold your horses!" How can you take a position when you don't have all the facts? No one doubts The Pilot's respect for the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. But what about our rights under the Fifth Amendment "that no property shall be taken without just compensation"?

In Suffolk, several property owners have raised a constitutional challenge to a law that will take away a protected constitutional right -- the right to own property secure in the knowledge that it cannot be taken for public use without just compensation.

For decades, little thought has been given to protecting our special American right to own private property. Governmental takings of private property, through regulatory rules and aggressive eminent domain practices, have whittled away at property owners' rights.

Just this summer, in a landmark property-rights decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the city of Los Angeles for an abuse of municipal muscle-flexing against a private property owner. In Virginia, the General Assembly has convened a bipartisan effort to study eminent domain reform.

At a public hearing on eminent domain on Oct. 6, Newport News Del. Alan Diamonstein was quoted by The Pilot: "The right to condemn someone's property is a right to condemn their life."

No sensible citizen would deny that solid land-use regulations or fair eminent domain laws are needed for the public good. But when property owners acquire and hold property based on its zoning, only to see its value dissipate overnight by downzoning or condemnation, they are entitled to know that the laws will be applied equally to all. They should be assured that when private property is taken for the public good, a property owner will be compensated fairly and made whole for any loss.

Sad to say, that is not always the case in Virginia. Hold your horses, Mr. Editor!