Virginia AG campaigns for eminent domain limits

BROCK VERGAKIS

NORFOLK, Va. (AP) — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli campaigned Thursday in favor of a proposed constitutional amendment that would make it harder for governments to take private land in Virginia.

The proposal would restrict eminent domain powers by allowing the taking of property only for public use, not for the purpose of private economic development that is deemed to benefit the public. The measure was prompted by a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court ruling allowing governments to seize property for private development.

Supporters of the amendment say it would protect individual property rights while opponents say it would make the costs of public projects more expensive for state and local governments.

Cuccinelli appeared at Central Radio Company, a government contractor that is fighting the condemnation of its property near Old Dominion University. The property was condemned by the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority as part of a plan by the university's real estate foundation to create a mixed-use development of shops, restaurants and apartments near campus in traditionally lower income areas.

Most of the development is already complete, but several property owners are holding out and trying to fight the use of eminent domain in court. The proposed amendment would not affect those properties, but Cuccinelli pointed to them as a reason why the amendment was needed to protect others in the future.

"The most egregious takings happen at the local level," said Cuccinelli, a Republican who is running for governor next year.

"You will find the housing authority's in this part of Virginia being among the most aggressive takers of property in the last 100, 200 years of Virginia," he said.

One of the company's owners, Robert Wilson, said he can't simply relocate to another part of town because part of his competitive edge securing Navy contracts to do repair work on ship systems, among other things, is the quick response time he has in his current location. He's only a few miles away from Naval Station Norfolk, the world's largest naval base.

"Our location is essential to us doing business," he said. "Without that we're dead in the water because the giants will gobble us up."

The proposal will appear on the November ballot.

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Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis