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Alexandria Boat Club Fight Spotlights Virginia Eminent Domain Debate

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The city of Alexandria threatened to take the parking spaces seen here, owned and leased out by the Old Dominion Boat Club, using the power of eminent domain.
Michael Pope
The city of Alexandria threatened to take the parking spaces seen here, owned and leased out by the Old Dominion Boat Club, using the power of eminent domain.

Voters will be considering the fate of an amendment to the Virginia constitution on eminent domain, and nowhere is the debate hotter than the intersection of King St. and The Strand. This is where the Old Dominion Boat Club owns land the Alexandria city government has threatened to take, using the power of eminent domain to seize land to aid with flood mitigation.

The situation is, of course, complicated. Members of the club rent the land out for parking spaces, which produces revenue. Republican Councilman Frank Fannon is a member of the Boat Club and a supporter of the amendment that would limit how local governments can use the power of eminent domain.

"Does the city need to buy the property to do the flood mitigation or can they lease the property from the Boat Club?" asks Fannon.

Taking the property using eminent domain may become more difficult after the election, because the amendment creates the ability of landowners to seek damages from local governments if they can prove the property taken results in loss of profits or access. Fannon says he supports the amendment as a way to protect private property rights.

"If you're a property owner in the commonwealth, and you're concerned about governmental overreach you need to vote 'Yes' on November 6 for the constitutional amendment," says Fannon.

State Senator Barbara Favola, a Democrat, disagrees.

"The projects that eminent domain comes into play are projects which actually improve people's lives," says Favola. "They are projects that people want."

Favola says voters should not support the amendment because it will increase the cost of road building projects across the state. She also warns that the amendment might have unintended consequences.

"There may be a perverse incentive now to look at residential properties rather than commercial properties when jurisdictions might be looking at eminent domain, because this compensation for lost profits is going to be a complicating factor," she says.

If the amendment succeeds, the General Assembly will need another law, outlining the definition of lost profits and access.

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Michael Pope is a reporter with the Connection Newspapers who provides special coverage of Northern Virginia for WAMU 88.5. His story for the Connection can be found at ConnectionNewspapers.com.

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