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Real Estate & Property Law

: Kelo and Beyond

The Father of Kelo

By Greg Alvarez

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You never can tell what you're going to be. My five-year-old nephew just started kindergarten this month, and has the whole world in front of him. I still hopefully have some time left, and who knows how I'll end up spending it. Sometimes, even at age fifty-five, people have no idea what you'll become, either. Nothing occupies the thoughts of so many commentators as this question does when it comes to newly-minted Supreme Court justices. There was a lot of hubbub over the recent appointees of Chief Justice Roberts, and Samuel Alito. But what about back in 1975, when Republican President Gerald Ford appointed a seemingly conservative Court of Appeals Judge named John Paul Stevens to the nation's highest court? Thirty-two years later, Stevens is seen as part of the liberal faction on the Supreme Court, buoyed by his authorship of the Kelo decision back in 2005. Even now, at the age of eighty-seven, it's not so easy to pin Stevens down. He still has a few surprises up his sleeves, just like what happens across the landscape when it comes to how a town will be pegged and defined by its own identity.

Take for instance the case of Clearwater, Florida, which once foresaw itself as a tourist destination for beachgoers along the Gulf of Mexico. By the 1970s, the city was on the verge of economic collapse. L. Ron Hubbard and the devotees to his Church of Scientology saw the dying burg as an opportunity to form a beachhead, literally, on dry land. Up to 1975, Hubbard had operated his religious movement predominantly on his yacht. But that year, the Church secretly bought up the Fort Harrison Hotel, a venerable, but aging structure in downtown Clearwater. From there, the Church purchased other properties, planting itself firmly in the city. By now, the non-members of the Church that remain in Clearwater have grown to accept the institution. As one such resident notes, "I think there's been a slow shift from a very strong adversarial relationship to a tolerance." In the process, Scientology has come to define this town, attracting such luminaries as Tom Cruise and John Travolta to make the pilgrimage to further their faith. Who knew this was the path Clearwater would take.

And what about the path of many retirees these days, who have chosen to return from whence they came. According to one report, there are more than fifty residential enclaves connected with college campuses that cater to retirees' needs. Take for instance Kendal at Oberlin, a development near the Ohio campus of Oberlin College. As the marketing director for the facility notes, thirty-seven percent of the residents have some connection to the college, be it alumni or faculty. "The college has such appeal. . . . There's youth, there's energy, there's all kinds of activities." The residents can audit classes for free. At the Carol Woods Retirement Community near the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, they have a ten-year waiting list. This type of housing option caters toward the portion of the senior set looking to recapture their youth, and with energy still to burn. Who knew that college would remain such an integral part of its graduates throughout their lives, down to housing and entertaining them in their golden years.

It's not surprising that the man who gave us Kelo is an individual who, just like his court opinion, is more complex than at first blush. In a way, it's fitting that Justice Stevens is the mouthpiece for one of the most inflammatory land use cases to be decided by the Supreme Court in its history. Just as he has changed and shifted over the years, the same is true of the places that make up this nation, which morph and adapt based on the needs of its residents, and the economic and demographic forces that guide a place's destiny.

Full post as published by Kelo and Beyond on September 27, 2007 (boomark / email).

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