We get very few opportunities to write about eminent domain. For the most part, that's a good thing, because we usually write about takings when the government screws something up or a property owner disputes the government's purpose for the taking. Most recently, the subject has come up as municipalities try to find ways to clean up after natural disasters -- Hurricane Sandy, flooding, tornadoes, all have opened the doors to creative applications of the process.
The case we have been discussing was triggered when a barrier island community, not in Maryland, exercised its power of eminent domain to protect its homes and businesses from storm surges. The town was true to the Fifth Amendment by condemning a portion of land for public use and offering just compensation to the homeowners. The dispute arose when the property owners saw what the town was offering: Their view of the water was blocked by the higher dunes that were meant to protect the house, and the offer was not nearly enough to compensate them for the loss of such a valuable asset.
The trial court and the court of appeals found for the homeowners, and the homeowners were awarded $375,000. The town had figured the impact would be more in the range of $300; the town also had expert testimony saying that the project actually increased the value of the home, but the trial court would not allow it. Both courts agreed with the plaintiffs: The project increased the value of everyone's property -- the community as a whole benefitted from the higher dunes and deeper beaches -- so the increase in value was a wash.
As we said in our last post, the appeals court ruled just a few months before Hurricane Sandy decimated much of the coast near the barrier island. But the community's foresight paid off: The new dunes and beaches protected the homes and businesses from the worst of the storm and the storm surge. The property in question made it through the disaster almost unscathed.
That seemed to inform the New Jersey Supreme Court's decision.
We'll finish this up in our next post.
Source: Courthouse News Service, "Dune Project Award Sent Back for Recalculation," Chris Fry, July 10, 2013