BY DAVID MARTIN
The city of Sugar Creek has forced dozens of residents from their homes for the purpose of turning over a hunk of land to a private developer. But Mayor Stan Salva keeps insisting that the city isn’t using its power of eminent domain.
Last year, Sugar Creek officials approved tax-increment financing (TIF) for a retail development at the corner of U.S. Highway 24 and Sterling Avenue. The decision provoked outrage, since the development covers an area that includes 57 homes. City officials essentially decided that having a new supermarket was worth the trauma of obliterating a neighborhood.
The state’s TIF law allows cities to condemn property and then turn it over to private development. It’s the hammer over the heads of property owners who might not wish to sell. Eventually, the government gets what it wants.
Yet Salva keeps behaving as if the homeowners in Sugar Creek parted willingly with their houses and baked cookies for the guys driving the bulldozers.
When demolition work began in April, Salva said eminent domain had not been used to get the homes. He repeats the falsehood in the most recent edition of “Sweet Talk,” the city newsletter. Salva apparently believes that if a sale is made without the city having to go to court, eminent domain was not a factor.
“The from the beginning the Board [of Aldermen] rejected eminent domain,” Salva writes. “… [A]ll homes were purchased and the property owners were compensated on a fair and equitable basis.”
Well, of course they were compensated fairly. Just compensation for the taking of private property is guaranteed in the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — the part of sentence that talks about eminent domain!
Anthony Martin, the state’s ombudsman for property rights, says it sounds as though Salva is engaging in Clintonian word parsing. (Lawmakers created the ombudsman’s position in the wake of the controversial 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld “takings” such as the one in Sugar Creek.)
“Look,” Martin says, “either he’s lying or he’s operating with a version of word usage that’s so morally anesthetized that … you’re not going to have a chance in arguing with him.”
Salva did not respond to requests for comment.