By J.D. Lucille | Reason
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled that it’s constitutional for government officials to use eminent domain to steal private property and transfer it to other private parties if they think the change of ownership will further economic development. The Kelo decision proved to be wildly unpopular and sparked legal reforms intended to block the practice. Now, the courts have a fresh opportunity to get ahead of public outrage as a New York town seeks to use eminent domain not to promote economic development, but to block it entirely.
“Southold Town will pursue eminent domain proceedings to turn a vacant Mattituck lot into a park to prevent the location from becoming a hardware store,” as Newsday summarized the dispute in September 2020. “The property owner and other critics of the proposal said the town should have moved on the land — which cost the owner $700,000 — before a development plan was in place and that using the condemnation process this way sets a bad precedent.”
Southold officials’ insistence on seizing the land for a park came after the Brinkmann family, which owns the parcel and plans to use it to expand their hardware chain, won a legal challenge to the town’s several-times-extended moratorium on building permits in the area. The moratorium was one of several tactics—including a $30,000 fee for a “Market and Municipal Impact Study” paid the month before the moratorium was imposed—invoked by the town to block development as some members of the community sought to freeze Southold in time as a museum of its current condition.