A divided Supreme Court this week ruled that commercial developers can force unwilling property owners to sell if their projects “serve a public good.” The case marks the first time a government’s been permitted to condemn property for a purpose other than a public need, like building a highway or clearing a slum. Critics say it changes decades of public policy and lets powerful business interests trump the rights of home and land owners. Joe Johnson is state policy advisor for the Iowa Farm Bureau, and explains the state has a safeguard in place for owners of ag land. In Iowa, he says, there’s a law on the books saying condemnation and the policy of eminent domain cannot be used to force the sale of agricultural land for private development. Johnson says Iowans are lucky to have that legal protection.He says the ruling will “raise the eyebrows of property owners” in Iowa and across the nation, if it means government can come condemn your land for private development. Johnson says he could understand home and business owners being concerned about that. In other states that don’t have laws like the Iowa statute, farmers say they could be forced to sell land near towns that want the space for development. A group in Iowa formed to oppose unplanned development, “One Thousand Friends of Iowa,” promotes responsible land use. Jonna Higgins-Freese is executive director of the group, which has fought some plans it calls “urban sprawl.” Higgins-Freese says in this case the ruling was narrowly defined, with the Supreme Court deferring to local officials. She says in this case the town in the case had worked hard to show it had a well-defined economic-development plan and the taking of land was “in the best interest of the community as a whole.” She says land use decisions should always be made by fair, open and democratic processes, not through back-room deals made by private individuals who have their own interests at heart. While some critics see the high court’s decision as opening the door to abuse of private property rights, the court said it wants local governments and state legislatures to set policy, and will abide by that.
You are here: / / Supreme Court ruling could impact property owners