Eminent Domain Abuse: Norfolk Style

This proposed taking is not for “public use” when it’s reportedly going to ultimately be sold to a private developer by Old Dominion University through its ODU Real Estate Foundation. 

By Bruce Branick | September 14, 2012

Photo courtesy of openmarket.org.

Eminent Domain is not a noxious disease, but can often be devastating and even fatal to the victim. Prime example? The veteran-owned and operated small business that was established in Norfolk, Virginia in 1934 is now under siege. Central Radio Company’s owners, Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson, have been involved in a two-year long legal battle opposed by a formidable alliance: the Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority (NRHA) and Old Dominion University’s Real Estate Foundation, hell-bent on kicking Central Radio out of their happy home, using that incredibly devious shucking tool, eminent domain, and rewarding Old Dominion University with alleged “unconstitutionally” stolen land. Using their real estate arm, Old Dominion would pass on the confiscated property, once seized by the city’s housing authority, to private developers.

Sure, under our Bill of Rights, specifically the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation,” the Norfolk City Fathers told Central Radio that’s what they were going to do. In effect telling Bob Wilson, vacate your property and by the way here’s a check for your trouble. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out. Well, first of all, this proposed taking is not for “public use” when it’s reportedly going to ultimately be sold to a private developer by Old Dominion University through its ODU Real Estate Foundation. Apparently, Old Dominion University has no plans to expand its campus. And the irony of this despicable action by the NRHA is that Central Radio has been in Norfolk longer than Old Dominion University.

Central Radio has been a Norfolk business for 78 years, 50 years on the same street, a small business employing 100 workers, just plain old-fashioned smart and creative, hard working Americans, a patriot’s dream, working in the interests of our nation, working in hush-hush electronics for our military, in shipyards, on air fields, and in laboratories.

You’d think Norfolk’s Chamber of Commerce, City Fathers, its citizens, Congress and our President would be proud as punch about an old time American-as-apple pie business that feeds so many families, puts so many children through school, and drops them into the college scene with regularity, think they would be praised to high heaven by everyone in the Old Dominion.

But, No! Behind the scenes, fermenting like cancer, this abuse of eminent domain is hard at work; it looks more like a conspiracy to steal another man’s land. Eminent domain abuse has stolen more land over the years than early cattle barons took from the Indians. Eminent domain is a kind of legal fiction that allows a person, a commercial group, a city, state, or country to ‘steal’ land, under the cover of law, from people who may have owned that land for over a century, often pay them less than the land is worth, and just as often cutting-up the property so badly it can no longer be used for its original purpose, because more money can be made, setting up a new mall, a special business, a memorial, a millionaire’s home…

This is not to declare that eminent domain is never a proper action by government. In cases where a greater public good exists like building a military base, a hospital or a public highway, for example, eminent domain is found to be a necessity. No one ever really likes eminent domain but the American people have come to accept it, when it’s fair and square and the process is not abused for personal gain.

Virginia, named after Queen Elizabeth, and the Norfolk area, is a military colossi, containing the backbone of the United States Navy also, the proud, the Marine Corps, Coast Guard, air contingents and portions of the FBI. Veteran Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson, have been outstanding in building and repairing the military’s most arcane electronics for decades.

This writer emailed Bob and Kelly, asking for a short “phone conversation,” but they are mired in their eminent domain lawsuit, and, instead, furnished three different e-sites explaining the travails they have hurdled since Central Radio Company was first assailed by threats of condemnation under the banner of “blight.” Thousands and thousands of words have been written about threats to Central Radio, as its attorney Joseph T. Waldo works for three eminent domain clients toward solving the infuriating dilemma, threatens to take their case to the Supreme Court of the land.

On November 6th, Virginia voters will have an opportunity to curb this out-of-control process of eminent domain to terrorize citizens, as it unconstitutionally “rewards,” as Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in so many words, “those with more, depriving those with less.”

Bob Wilson’s Central Radio Company problem, one victimized by eminent domain abuse, conjures up theKelo v. City of New London decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. Unfortunately for private property rights, Susette Kelo and her compatriots lost that case in a 5-4 decision leading to a nationwide epidemic of taking private property, not for public use but for private use, such as building a headquarters for a pharmaceutical company, or building a shopping center for commercial development or taking private property and leasing it to a foreign consortium for up to 99 years to build a toll road.

Fortunately, for Central Radio, they are also being represented by the Institute for Justice (IJ), which argued the Kelo case before the Supreme Court and helped bring the issue of eminent domain abuse to the public consciousness as never before across America. Their Castle Coalition project defending against eminent domain abuse is exemplary. The Central Radio case, however, has developed an unfortunate twist taking on a First Amendment aspect as the Norfolk city fathers have decided their 375-square foot banner hanging off the side of their building violates Norfolk’s sign code.

In the meantime, the silver lining to this terrible dark cloud of CRONY CAPITALISM is that Virginia’s Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli has encouraged Virginians to support a proposed state constitutional amendment on the November 6 ballot that would limit the seizure of private property by compensating property owners for their costs such as lost profits and access. Instead of burdening only the property owner throughout this process of eminent domain, the amendment would impose costs on the governing body as well and make them more accountable to the taxpayers. Maybe that would make these hyenas think twice before using the heavy hand of government to twist the Constitution into a pretzel and steal another citizen’s private property.

Bruce Branick served his nation for over 5 decades at sea. After three years of North Atlantic convoy duty as a Radioman in the U.S. Coast Guard’s Greenland Patrol and a fourth year attached to the Richmond Naval Air Station, a Florida Blimp Base concerned with Anti-submarine Warfare, he spent 50 years in the U.S. Merchant Marine as a Radio Officer, voyaging the world over from the Arctic to Antarctica, from Galveston to Istanbul, from Suez to Hong Kong. Mr. Branick, a contributor to

SFPPR News & Analysis

, is author of

Memoirs of a Loose Cannon

Two If By Sea