Eminent domain is moving to the forefront of chattering as the government moves to condemn Joy Ford’s property next to Music Row.
The chatter isn’t necessarily among officialdom but rather from what talk radio guys are drumming up and in letters to editors.
Sure, it is easy to paint the scenario as bad people taking advantage of an elderly widow. Those money grubbing speculators want Ford’s property via government action as it was put.
But study the situation differently and it would be interesting to see how opposed people might be to the concept of eminent domain. For example, let’s just say the Ford property was an all-nude strip joint or a store that sold porn.
How many people from the community would argue against condemning the property? Would Institute of Justice attorneys have raced here to fight that issue as they did in Connecticut and ultimately lost in the U.S. Supreme Court?
The scenario isn’t that far-fetched. Some day, the city could condemn Déjà Vu at 12th Avenue South and Demonbreun Street and sell it at cost to an adjacent developer.
When it comes to the eminent domain issue, few understand how and when it can be used for economic development, that is, for the purpose of revitalizing an area for the greater good of the entire community.
The government simply can’t take just any property anywhere in the city for economic development purposes. It can’t deem just any property as blighted. Only properties within a redevelopment district can be blighted and condemned for economic development purposes.
Déjà Vu and Ford’s property are in the same redevelopment district as The Gulch.
Interestingly, there are people who are OK with using eminent domain for roads or sewer lines because on the surface that property isn’t being sold to a private developer. The thought being that the property isn’t going to “benefit” a private developer.
Yet, oftentimes, cities build roads and sewers to encourage growth and development. Sometimes that can mean one developer or a single company.
When cities run sewer lines to open land, it’s not for the sake of the squirrels or deer.
The Metropolitan Development and Housing Agency (MDHA) administers the district and is the agency that handles condemnation.
MDHA last condemned a property for economic development about three years ago in a redevelopment district in East Nashville. That property housed a crime-ridden market. Now, it’s Martin’s Corner, a mixed-use development.
The area including Ford’s property and Déjà Vu was deemed blighted a decade ago when the city created a redevelopment district.
Generally speaking, the area was rundown. Shops were boarded up along Demonbreun Street and the former Barbara Mandrell Theater sat empty. The Gulch had open land, not to mention more than one adult business in the footprint.
The Country Music Hall of Fame was leaving for downtown and area property owners wanted something done to revive the area. Property owners were given notice of the plans and all should have known of the potential for the city to condemn land.
That was the time to fight it. So, the writing has been on the wall for a decade.
Still, condemning a property is the last resort and only comes when the private developer or MDHA are unsuccessful at buying the property in question.
Houston-based Lionstone reached an impasse, as did MDHA. It’s tough to negotiate when the owner simply doesn’t want to sell.
To fight the condemnation, Ford may try relying on the narrower rules that Tennessee put in law a couple of years ago in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding a government’s ability to condemn a property and sell it to a private developer in Connecticut. New rules include more narrowly defining blight.
Ford’s property could be viewed as being in the gray area. It doesn’t have the same crime situation as the property in East Nashville.
She seems to be operating a viable business in the 1980s-era building. But so is Déjà Vu and on some nights it is doing a booming business.
The developer could build around the Ford property, however. In which case, her property wouldn’t be worth nearly as much as has been offered — in the neighborhood of $1 million — and space in the new office building.
At what price is victory?
If Ford happens to win, does that mean she and her family will stand with the owners of Déjà Vu and others to fight condemnation of the strip-club property on principle?
After all, a principle is a principle.
The Chatter Class appears Mondays in The City Paper. Comments may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org