An Introduction to Eminent Domain and its Application in the City of Detroit
Eminent domain is defined most succinctly as "the power of the sovereign to take property for the public use without the owner's consent." This power has been the subject of heated national debate concerning how much the right of Government may infringe upon the right of individual citizens. The basic question is "when and under what conditions may a municipality (be it city, township or state) exercise eminent domain legally?" A recent example of Detroit using eminent domain is in the acquiring and assembling of parcels of land to accommodate a new subdivision in the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood. An earlier, more notorious acquisition by the City of Detroit, of 465 acres in the Poletown neighborhood to accommodate a new General Motors assembly plant, is another example of the City exercising the power of eminent domain. There are some apparent similarities between these two examples, but there also are some not-so-apparent differences. Questions that this essay will consider are: where did the authority of eminent domain originate from, and what constraints are put upon the Government's right to exercise eminent domain? What are some of the issues that the sovereign must confront before using the power of eminent domain? Did the Poletown taking represent a valid use of eminent domain? Was the City's use of eminent domain for the new subdivision responsible? The central argument is that the Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center (as G.M. executives prefer to call it) did not constitute a legitimate excuse to demolish a neighborhood. What we [the City of Detroit] are doing on the riverfront and in other large development is not necessarily of benefit to Detroit... The contrast between the public dollar investment downtown and the tax abatement for General Motors as opposed to the neighborhoods and the money we're putting into them is a story in itself. This essay will address this comparison. Victoria Park a new housing development in the city will be used as a point of comparison.