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Prince William County chairman supports amendment limiting eminent domain

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Prince William County Chairman Corey A. Stewart introduced a resolution Tuesday backing a state constitutional amendment that supporters say will strengthen property rights and curtail eminent domain.

Stewart (R-At Large) proposed the resolution at the Board of County Supervisors meeting, and the supervisors are likely to vote on it next week.

He said in a statement that the proposed constitutional amendment, which voters will decide Nov. 6, would ensure that landowners are compensated fairly while restricting local governments’ ability to seize property for public use. If the amendment is approved, officials could not use eminent domain to take property for economic development purposes.

Prince William would be the largest locality in the state to support the amendment if supervisors approve it, Stewart said.

Some Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly and municipalities are concerned that the amendment is too broad and could have unintended consequences. The Virginia Association of Counties opposes the amendment.

In a statement, Stewart cited the case of a Norfolk businessman. Bob Wilson, owner of Central Radio Co., is fighting the Norfolk housing authority’s efforts to acquire his property to expand Old Dominion University, according to the Virginian-Pilot. Stewart called that action “abhorrent.”

“As a local official, I am deeply aware of the danger eminent domain presents if not used in its proper role. By voting in favor of this constitutional amendment, Virginia voters will be doing their part in restoring the role of government to its proper scope,” Stewart said in the statement.

Although the amendment “sounds like apple pie and motherhood,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D) said, she and other local government officials say it could force municipalities to pay more for appropriate eminent domain uses.

Bulova cited a provision in the law that allows property owners to apply to be reimbursed for “lost profits” because of government action.

“Does that mean that a store owner can file a claim against the county because a road was closed . . . for a parade?” Bulova asked.

She said that the amendment is unclear and that Fairfax officials are worried about paying more for capital projects as a result. Bulova said the Fairfax board doesn’t intend to take a formal position on the amendment.

The Virginia General Assembly was one of many state legislatures that examined the issue of private property and eminent domain after a 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding the right of a Connecticut city to condemn private property for redevelopment.

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