Baltimore County Property Owners Rally to Defeat State Eminent Domain Bill
In January 2000, County Executive C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger proposed Senate Bill 509, a piece of state legislation that allowed Baltimore County to use its power of condemnation in order to acquire 310 properties in Essex-Middle River, Dundalk, and Randallstown. The land, including valuable waterfront property, would have been transferred to private developers. Local homeowners and business owners mounted an aggressive campaign opposing the County’s use of eminent domain.1 They lobbied against the bill in the Maryland legislature, but lawmakers in Annapolis overwhelmingly voted in favor of giving Ruppersberger the condemnation powers he requested. At the request of the property owners, the Institute for Justice testified against the bill.
Rather than admitting defeat, the owners and supportive members of the community began gathering signatures for a petition to force a citizen referendum on the bill, a procedure that had not been used in Baltimore County in 30 years. The group managed to secure 44,000 signatures, far more than the 24,000 needed.2 The County grossly underestimated popular opposition to the idea of taking someone’s home for a private developer. The referendum measure fueled a voter turnout of higher than 72 percent, and 70 percent of voters cast ballots opposing SB 509.3 The plan to redevelop Baltimore’s east end continues, but today it must be done without the County using eminent domain to force the transfer of private property from one person to another.4
1 Joe Nawrozki & David Nitkin, “SB 509 Fires Up Passions,” Baltimore Sun, Oct. 15, 2000, at 1F.
2 David Nitkin & Joe Nawrozki, “Voters to Decide Fate of Condemnation Law,” Baltimore Sun, Nov. 6, 2000, at 1B.
3 David Nitkin & Joe Nawrozki, “Condemnation Bill Defeated,” Baltimore Sun, Nov. 8, 2000, at 1A.
4 Joe Nawrozki, “For Now, Smooth Sailing for East-Side Revival Plan,” Baltimore Sun, Aug 1, 2001, at 1B.