By. Neil Williamson, President
Last night (10/18) Charlottesville City Council heard several residents admonish Albemarle County for a planned informational flyer to be included in their citizens’ property tax bills. Former Councilor Kevin Lynch called it “a troubling document”. Citizen Richard Statman rhetorically asked Albemarle County, “Have you no shame?”. Mayor Norris, while not agreeing with the citizen comments in their entirety, said he was “troubled by the misinformation in the insert”.
While the City has taken every opportunity to assert its ownership of the reservoirs as “holding all the cards”, the Free Enterprise Forum believes since the Ragged Mountain Reservoir is in Albemarle County there may yet be a trump card yet to be played in this game, eminent domain.
As an organization dedicated to private property rights, there are few instances where we believe the use of eminent domain powers to be justified. The water supply may just be one such area.
What if a private corporation was a land owner preventing a fifty year water supply plan from moving forward because of the direct impacts to their property?
If such a landowner was preventing a community from access to a community water resource, how would government respond?
While reminding the gentle reader that I am not an attorney, my read of Virginia law, the water authority would have the power to condemn the land and provide fair market value to make the landowner whole.
§ 1-219.1. Limitations on eminent domain.
A. The right to private property being a fundamental right, the General Assembly shall not pass any law whereby private property shall be taken or damaged for public uses without just compensation. The term “public uses” mentioned in Article I, Section 11 of the Constitution of Virginia is hereby defined as to embrace only the acquisition of property where: (i) the property is taken for the possession, ownership, occupation, and enjoyment of property by the public or a public corporation; (ii) the property is taken for construction, maintenance, or operation of public facilities by public corporations or by private entities provided that there is a written agreement with a public corporation providing for use of the facility by the public; (iii) the property is taken for the creation or functioning of any public service corporation, public service company, or railroad; (iv) the property is taken for the provision of any authorized utility service by a government utility corporation; (v) the property is taken for the elimination of blight provided that the property itself is a blighted property; or (vi) the property taken is in a redevelopment or conservation area and is abandoned or the acquisition is needed to clear title where one of the owners agrees to such acquisition or the acquisition is by agreement of all the owners. [emphasis added- nw]
So now what if the landowner in question was not a private landowner but the City of Charlottesville?
Would the same rules apply? Should they?
Is it time to pursue such a “nuclear” option?
Who could pursue this action? RWSA? ACSA?
How would such an eminent domain case impact the city/county relationship?
Considering where the relationship is today, could such litigation make it worse?
Once again, we find more questions than answers.
Neil Williamson, President
Neil Williamson is the President of The Free Enterprise Forum, a privately funded public policy organization covering the City of Charlottesville as well as Albemarle, Greene, Fluvanna and Nelson County. For more information visit the website www.freeenterpriseforum.org