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Real Estate & Property Law: Kelo and Beyond
By Greg Alvarez
As we move ever closer to some type of resolution to the electoral process that already seems like it has gone on far too long, the constant bombardment of news and propaganda can be a bit daunting. Here in New York we're gearing up for the Super Duper Stupendous Extravaganza which will be, for most of us, another drab Tuesday. But despite my attempts to steer clear of the hoopla, even the world of land use pulls me back into the fray. For instance, there is a report out of Chicago where, in the words of Hillary Clinton, "slum landlord business" magnate Tony Rezko was arrested on various charges you would expect of a sleazy developer.
Usually such a news item is of little moment on the national stage. But when he also knows the junior Senator from Illinois, who is also running for president, the stakes are raised. In particular, the 20-year connection between Rezko and Obama yielded an odd transaction back when the Senator just won his seat. Obama bought his house for $300,000 less than the asking price. As someone who is in the market for a new home, I can only bow to honor his good fortune. On top of that, the same day, Rezko's wife purchased the property next door for the retail price. Thereafter, Obama purchased a small portion of the neighboring lot to expand his yard. During his time in the state senate, Obama offered his clout in support of some of Rezko's projects. What all of this means is unclear. Is it another Whitewater, or just another wild goose chase? (Yes, both are seemingly the same thing). But behind it recalls the shady real estate deals that have become a hallmark of seemingly all presidential administrations. A little Teapot Dome, anyone?
In any event, the real tidbit into which I wanted to delve had to do with decisions that Americans have already made. An organization known as the Saint Consulting Group releases a yearly survey, the aptly-named Saint Index, which sets forth the pulse of America when it comes to land use. A co-worker passed it along to me, and I couldn't stop keeping my jaw from dropping to its limits. According to those surveyed, 78 percent of Americans believe there should be no new development in their hometown. Asked what type of new development they?d like to see in their community, one in three Americans said ?none,? by far the most popular choice. But when you get more specific, it gets even more confounding. For instance, people were more supportive of a new power plant than a Wal-Mart or a casino. According to the survey, people would rather have a landfill than a casino. For all those people who may need medical attention at one time or another during their lifetimes, fear one-third of your neighbors who said that they would oppose a hospital in their town. And what about for the Clintons and Obamas out there? Eighty-nine percent of Americans believe a candidate?s position on growth is important at election time.
Where we will be come November is way too hard to predict at this early stage of the game. Within days, if not already, the saga of Tony Rezko will no doubt be forgotten amongst the electorate. But either way, the lessons learned from the process of seeking an up or down vote on the candidates, and the issues, is that we land use professionals should be mindful of the sentiment that lies beneath any application brought before a land use board. It is difficult not to recall the lessons of Kelo, and how the decision incited such intense, popular fervor. And of course, it still continues. As reported in Professor Patty Salkin's Law of the Land blog, California is at it again with another eminent domain measure to reach voters in November. The people have spoken. And in this fantastic political system we have chosen as our mode of governance, they will continue to do so.
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