Warshawsky Muffler has operated in Rockford, Ill., for 70 years, but that’s scheduled to change.
The Rockford City Council said it may seize the three properties owned by S&L Warshawsky’s Inc. in order to allow a private developer to build a parking lot, according to the Rockford Register Star.
The city decided earlier this year to support the redevelopment of the Amerock building at 416 S. Main St. into a $50 million convention center and hotel. The city argues it needs the Warshawsky property to fulfill its end of the development agreement with Gorman & Co., the private development firm responsible for renovations. The space would be converted into parking for the hotel’s use.
At a council meeting on Aug. 18, the city authorized the use of eminent domain to take the Warshawsky property if the owners won’t agree to the city’s offer to buy the land. Eminent domain allows a unit of government to take property as long as it’s for “public use,” and as long as it offers the owner “just compensation” for the loss.
Unfortunately, there’s likely nothing the auto shop owners could do to stop it if they aren’t interested in selling. In a controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Kelo v. City of New London, the court ruled 5-4 that the expected benefits of economic growth could qualify private redevelopment plans as a “public use” under the Fifth Amendment.
Not only is the development taking private property, but taxpayers are on the hook for a large part of the cost. The project is reportedly being funded primarily by “state and federal tax credits, which will pay for 45 percent of construction costs.”
Governments should not use eminent domain to transfer private property to other private parties. For property rights to have any meaning, they need to actually belong to the owner – which means governments can’t simply decide to transfer them to others whenever it’s convenient.