- Primary purpose and intent language mean the reforms to the public use definition offer no real additional protection for property owners.
- Additionally, “blight” continues to be a recognized public use and the state urban renewal laws’ broad language continues to leave the door wide open for abuse.
The state of Maine edged toward providing stronger protections for its citizens’ property rights by passing Legislative Document 1870, which says that it is not a public use to condemn property “for the purposes of private retail, office, commercial, industrial or residential development.” The bill also specifies that eminent domain may not be used “primarily for the enhancement of tax revenue” or to “transfer to a person, nongovernmental entity, public-private partnership, corporation or other business entity.”
The use of qualifiers such as “primarily” means that the statute will be easy to circumvent, since local governments can assert some other primary purpose for private-to-private takings. Even worse, Maine’s new law also includes gaping exceptions for the acquisition of so-called “blighted” properties pursuant to the state’s ubiquitously broad urban renewal laws. Despite the state’s new, limited definition of public use, the urban renewal laws, as currently written, allow perfectly fine properties to be designated as “blighted,” condemned, and handed over to private developers. It is particularly important that these problems be addressed in a traditional vacation destination like Maine, as recent trends have seen commercial developers cutting deals with local governments to wipe out poorer, older neighborhoods and replace them with projects that cater to the wealthy. Thus, the Legislature needs to change the definition of blight to ensure that properties are evaluated on a parcel-by-parcel basis and subject to condemnation only if they are a real threat to the health and safety of the community. Until the Legislature acts to close these loopholes, the state’s eminent domain laws will continue to allow local governments to condemn homes, businesses, and places of worship for private profit.