Taking Property

Editor, News-Register:

My name recently appeared in this newspaper in an article about proposed eminent domain in East Wheeling. I was identifieded by the mayor as being from “out-of-town.” One friend called and another came over with the newspaper clipping. Still others commented to me about the my name in the paper while having Monday morning coffee.

As I’ve followed the various press reports over the past two years, I’ve been surprised that no alternative vision for East Wheeling has been considered. At no time has the city interviewed me or my neighbors regarding the impact of losing our homes. A petition to save the homes, signed by residents, delivered to Congressman Mollohan’s office in 2009, went unanswered.

Being an outsider, arriving in Wheeling in 2006, has its advantages. I saw opportunity and value where tired, conformed and prejudiced eyes saw blight. I was attracted to East Wheeling for the strong double brick buildings that were affordable and have withstood the test of time. Leaded glass windows and beautiful interior woodwork and fireplaces are from another era. I value craftsmanship and this neighborhood’s history to the City of Wheeling.

I’ve rehabed property before. The first rule is to buy a good home that does not need much work. This applies in East Wheeling. Roofs are easy to fix, foundations are not.

Brick is good. Double brick is better. Even little piggies know that.

Unshifting land, proven to hold up in all kinds of weather, and well out of the flood plain is also good.

Walkable proximity to where you like to walk to -the public library – downtown, even the courthouse, where, unfortunately, I am going to be spending the next few years fighting to preserve my home from this hostile taking by the City of Wheeling.

Upon arriving in 2006, I learned that where I saw value, others in the community saw blight. Yet, I felt at home.

Presently the City of Wheeling is using the “bullet” of eminent domain in a capricious manner. They see a neighborhood “they” wouldn’t want to live in and conjecture that others wouldn’t want to live there either and decide to tear it down. It is a personal value judgment made from their perceived value of the neighborhood and the people who choose to buy and rent there.

“They’ve done this before,” was repeated to me by many people from all walks of life, ethnic backgrounds and income backgrounds regarding the subject of eminent domain use in Wheeling. The key word is “they.” Who are they? Are they “us”?

Eminent domain, when properly used, is a feature that benefits all of the public – new roads or road widening – or airspace so airplanes can legally fly over one’s property. In 1945 North Carolina farmers Thomas and Tinie Causby sued the federal government concerning military airplanes flying 63 feet over their barn, causing terrified chickens to die. They lost 150 chickens and their poultry farm business. The Causbys contended that the government had taken their property without just compensation by flying airplanes over their land. Until that time, common law doctrine held that ownership of the land “extended to the periphery of the universe.” The case was decided by the Supreme Court which ruled in favor of Causbys compensation. The Court also ruled that the doctrine of ownership to the heavens had no place in the modern world, a least as far as air rights are concerned, and the opportunity for a new transportation industry was established.

Since the U.S. Supreme Court case of Kelo vs. City of New London, in Connecticut, savvy political and private groups have joined together in threatening the bullet of eminent domain to acquire property that they want when the owner does not want to sell. Eminent domain cases in the United States today are not for airplanes and roads but for private corporations and personal interests. Like football.

In capricious cases, “we want it, we take it, you move on” is the modus-operandi.

I’ve watched senior citizens on fixed income being evicted by the city from East Wheeling during the 2010 Christmas Season. Their cab waited to take them to Wheling Island. The mayor boasted in this paper that the city has been able to acquire private properties at below fair market value. Those owners (and their renters) were thus taxed twice -once in the taking and again in supporting the proposed project with their taxes.

Who, exactly, is the mayor representing? “His” people, or special interests or are they one in the same?

Eminent domain takings have been on the upsurge since the Connecticut case. Resistance is also on the upsurge with legal practices now devoted to protecting private property rights from the capricious use of eminent domain. (See ownerscounsel.com, brighammoore.com, emdomain.com, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman-Siegel )

Where we once learned in civics class, “your home is your castle,” we now have to unlearn. If you want to keep your property you have to be prepared to fight for it. If the city can use “capricious-domain” to the least of our bretheren, they can do it to you.

Jerome Poynton