Constitutional Amendment Affects Property Owner Rights

Everyone is acutely aware of the upcoming Presidential election ….  but there’s more than one question on the ballot.   Here in Virginia, there are constitutional amendments being voted on, and one is very much a real estate issue.   It has to do with Section 11 of Article 1 (The Bill of Rights) of the Constitution of VIRGINIA, and it is about protecting the most basic right of property owners…the right to continue to OWN their property.

You see, in 2005 in Connecticut, the government used eminent domain to force the sale of privately held property to allow for redevelopment…private, commercial redevelopment.

The purpose of eminent domain is to allow the government to seize privately owned real estate when there is a public need.  Most commonly, we see eminent domain used to acquire property for infrastructure for public utilities (water, electricity), or transportation (railroads, roads).  However, in the case in Connecticut, the redevelopment plans were quite different.  The argument was that the redevelopment would create jobs and revitalize the area, broadening the tax base, etc and therefore it was for “public benefit”.  They successfully used eminent domain for this project, but the case was very controversial.

When the actions were upheld by the Supreme Court, Virginia took a stand.  Virginia’s General Assembly enacted legislation to protect property owners’ rights, and to prevent similar takings.  The only problem is that another vote of the General Assembly could overturn that legislation, and as easily as it was enacted it could be reversed.  By amending our constitution, we ensure that any further change would again require a public vote.  In other words, we’re strengthening the law.  The language also ensures a fairer payment to the owner for their property in cases where eminent domain powers are exercised.

My 2 cents… it’s important.  As a REALTOR, one of the rights I most appreciate is the right to own my very own little piece of America.  My property is MINE.  And you can’t get your grubby little hands on it… not unless you pay me a price that makes me change my mind.  I value this right.  I hope you do, too.

Having said that, be aware that everything has a “down side”.  The Town of Leesburg, for example, has come out as being opposed to this constitutional change.  They say it will make it too difficult and too expensive to force someone to surrender their property for the common good.  Sometimes we will NEED a particular piece of property for a road or … something… and tax payers will foot a higher bill as a result.

As a tax payer I do not wish to pay a higher price for necessities.  But, more than  that, I never want to be forced to surrender my property.  It’s mine.  So, I support the change.

You might think this is a non-issue.  Let me give you a local real life example:

In the Town of Leesburg is a trailer park.  Many people do not like trailer parks.  The town would like to see this redeveloped.  However, the owners are making A LOT of money on the trailer park, so it’s not likely that this land will be sold in a traditional transaction.  I do see that at some point a town council might consider the use of eminent domain powers to force the owners to surrender the property for redevelopment (this is not on the agenda,  I am not aware of any current plans or hopes to do this, I am just saying I imagine it could happen in the future).  With this new amendment that would be very difficult.

You see, I believe that it is up to the owner of a property to determine it’s highest and best use, and that the only exception to this should be for absolute necessities.  And when those situations arise, the property owners being forced to surrender their property should be justly compensated.  Do you agree?  Here’s your chance to tell us….

Vote YES to allow Section 11 of Article 1 of the Constitution of Virginia to be amended using the proposed language.

To see the November 2012 Ballot in Loudoun County, click HERE.

To see what’s on the November 2012 Ballot in Fairfax County, click HERE.

To learn more about this issue, click HERE.

Thanks for tuning in, and for caring enough about our country to go out to the polls on November 6th.

Vicky Chrisner, REALTOR

Fieldstone Real Estate


[email protected]


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