No one wants to have his or her home taken away for no good reason. But you can't stop progress. And if the city or town wants to seize and tear down property under eminent domain, the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, has given it permission.
One of the first places to have been affected was Happy Valley, a community whose houses date back to the Revolutionary War. Happy Valley overlooks the Chipchop Lake, only 40 miles from New York.
The residents are as happy as any can be these days, considering the price of gasoline, the war and a recent high-school drug problem, which is now under control.
The day after the Supreme Court ruling, the three Happy Valley supervisors and noted developer Simon Legree arrived at the Fenstress property. The house was built soon after the Revolution and has been lived in by members of the family ever since.
Legree took out his digital camera and said, "It will be perfect. The shopping mall will be over there by the magnolias, the condos where those trees are now, and a business tower will be here when we bulldoze the house."
Fenstress came out of his house and asked the group, "What's up?"
Legree said, "Nothing that concerns you. These supervisors want to make this place a decent one for everyone. If it means taking your property away, that's the way the cookie crumbles."
"You can't do that," Fenstress said. "It's my house and I have no intention of selling it."
"You apparently have never heard of eminent domain," a supervisor said. "We're not going to seize your land, we are going to improve it.
"Mr. Legree is one of the greatest developers on the East Coast," he continued. "Whenever he sees a farmhouse, he thinks 'Wal-Mart.' "
Fenstress said, "I'll sue."
"The case has already been decided," Legree snorted. "The Supreme Court has ruled that you can't stop the building of a Holiday Inn just to keep your house."
"The Constitution says a man's home is his castle," Fentress said.
"Not anymore," said Legree. "A man's home is whatever the developer wants it to be."
A supervisor said: "We're not talking about land -- we're talking about taxes. One Dunkin' Donuts is worth more in taxes than you will make in a lifetime."
Fenstress was furious. "How can you do this to me?" he yelled.
"We're not doing it just to you," another supervisor said. "We're doing it to everybody in the neighborhood. Legree wants protection in case he has to expand."
"Let me ask a question," Fenstress said to the supervisor. "How much money is Legree contributing to your election campaign?"
"I resent that. We don't condemn property for political reasons. That would be unethical."
Another supervisor said, "If we thought Legree would benefit financially from tearing your house down, we would not rule in his favor."
Legree told Fenstress, "You're lucky your house is going to be taken and you'll get a fair price for it."
Fentress replied, "But where am I going to live?"
A supervisor said, "Ask the Supreme Court."
(c) 2005, Tribune Media Services