Fairfax County’s business community is reacting warily to the Virginia General Assembly’s passage of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for state and local governments to seize private property under the principle of eminent domain.
On Monday, the Virginia Senate voted 23-17 in favor of the proposed amendment while the House of Delegates backed it by a vote of 80-18. Their resolutions will put the amendment on the November ballot. Virginia’s constitution can only be altered after the amendment passes the General Assembly twice, with an election in between. Then it must be ratified by voters.
Although the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce is a strong supporter of property rights, members of the business community are also concerned about the proposed amendment’s impact on the sort of public-private partnerships that are remaking the Beltway and Tysons Corner.
“We had a very lengthy discussion about this, and there were members on both sides of the fence,” Jim Corcoran, president and chief executive of the Fairfax County chamber, said in an interview Wednesday. “Our concern is that that could exclude the use of public-private partnerships.”
The Fairfax County chamber, which has taken a neutral position on the legislation, has encouraged lawmakers, through floor debate and in writing, to clarify the legislature’s intent in regard to the sort of public-private undertakings such as the construction of HOT lanes or building transportation improvements.
Other business groups have been unequivocal in their opposition to the amendment. The Northern Virginia Chamber Partnership, which includes the Dulles Regional, Greater Reston and Loudoun County chambers of commerce, issued a statement earlier this year saying the amendment would have a terrible impact on projects that would strengthen the region’s businesses.
Tony Howard, president and chief executive of the Loudoun Chamber of Commerce, said in a written statement that the measure “suffers from serious flaws that have the potential to stop critical infrastructure in its tracks and to jeopardize Virginia’s economic recovery.”
The proposed amendment would restrict governments from taking private property except for strictly public purposes, such as a highway, and prohibit them from taking property for jobs creation or redevelopment. The tea party and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli have lobbied for the proposed amendment, which was prompted by a 2005 Supreme Court decision upholding a Connecticut town’s seizure of private land for redevelopment.