Public Power, Private Gain: Maryland



The Maryland legislature is remarkably willing to authorize municipalities to use eminent domain for redevelopment projects. It approved eminent domain for 11 cities in just one legislative session. Baltimore is especially fond of eminent domain and used it to remove many small minority-owned businesses in its downtown area for future private development. At the end of 2002, the City approved a project that could displace as many as 800 households for businesses and newer private homes. Maryland officials seem unaware of the overwhelming disapproval of these tactics by Maryland citizens. A referendum in Baltimore County defeated the use of eminent domain for another private redevelopment project by a vote of 70 percent of voters. The differing agendas of bureaucrats and citizens are bound to cause conflict in the coming years.

Legislative Actions


During its 2002 session, the Maryland state legislature enacted laws authorizing the use of eminent domain for urban redevelopment projects in Capitol Heights,283 Charlestown,284 Cottage City,285 Goldsboro,286 Greensboro,287 Henderson,288 Hillsboro,289 Landover Hills,290 Marydel,291 Preston292 and Ridgely.293 These broadly worded “slum clearance” bills will allow the cities to condemn any land within designated urban renewal districts and then sell it to private developers. The cities also have the power to alter the boundaries of those districts without notifying property owners potentially affected by the changes.




Private Use Condemnations



The City condemned approximately 127 properties, including many small businesses, in the west side of downtown Baltimore as part of a $350-million redevelopment plan.294 Under the plan, the properties will be turned over to private developers to build hotels, retail stores, offices and residences. The $70 million Centerpoint retail and residential development required the condemnation of many businesses, and now the City is looking at expanding the project and taking still more property.295


Among the many businesses removed in order to make way for the type of chain retail behemoths favored by the City were Hippodrome Hatters (a 70-year old family business), Sunny’s Surplus, and the Paramount Hotel, an attractive 120 room Beaux-Arts hotel.296 Some area merchants were able to relocate nearby; others closed or moved to a less desirable location.297 Many other businesses are still in limbo. Young Cho runs a successful beauty salon that also falls within the planned condemnation area. Cho, a Korean immigrant, had saved for 15 years to buy the property. She, along with many other businesses, is still waiting to find out if she will lose her livelihood and the business for which she worked so hard.298



In December 2002, the Baltimore City Council passed legislation that gives the City the power to condemn about 3,000 properties for an east side redevelopment project anchored by a biotechnology research park and up to 2,000 new and renovated homes. East Baltimore Development Inc. is overseeing the project, which is expected to displace around 800 households in the neighborhood and purportedly will be completed over the next 10 years.299 Apparently the City and developer subscribe to the notion that they have to destroy the village in order to save it.


*These numbers were compiled from news sources. Many cases go unreported, and news reports often do not specify the number of properties against which condemnations were filed or threatened.

†Compiled by the Maryland State Judiciary (includes condemnations for traditional public uses).

283 See HB 648, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

284 See SB 312, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

285 See HB 639, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

286 See SB 191, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

287 See SB 193, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

288 See SB 190, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

289 See SB 692, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

290 See HB 635, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

291 See SB 189, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

292 See SB 690, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

293 See SB 691, 416th Sess. (Md. 2002).

294 Scott Calvert, “Building up the West Side,” The Baltimore Sun, June 16, 2002, at 1F; Nora Achrati, “City Ordered to Pay $219,000 for Site,” The Baltimore Sun, Apr. 19, 2002, at 3B.

295 Scott Calvert, “Building up the West Side,” The Baltimore Sun, June 16, 2002, at 1F; Christopher Sherman, “West Side Redevelopment Initiative May Expand,” The Daily Record (Baltimore, MD), June 26, 2002, at News.

296 Tom Pelton, “City’s West Side Buyout to Begin,” The Baltimore Sun, Nov. 20, 1999, at 1B; Tom Pelton, “Hotel Dispute Delays Renewal,” The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 22, 2001, at 1A.

297 Ezra Fieser, “West Side Revitalization Begins at Centerpoint,” The Daily Record (Baltimore, MD), June 6, 2002, at News.

298 Gerard Shields, “Urban Renewal, Property Rights Collide in City,” The Baltimore Sun, Jan. 12, 1999, at 1A.

299 Laura Vozzella, “City Council Approves Measure for East-Side Urban Renewal Plan,” The Baltimore Sun, Dec. 7, 2002, at 2B.