The current Howard County Executive seems to be a full supporter of the Long Reach Village Center Urban Renewal. He made Welcome remarks at the first community meeting on April 30. He has a video on the County’s Long Reach page. He sent an email to Long Reach Stakeholders. When he had another commitment during the June 11 Long Reach Community Meeting, he spoke via a recorded video. Yet, based upon his past public service the County Executive should know somewhere in his memory and in his soul that the Long Reach Village Center does not actually meet the constitutional definition for a “blighted area.”
The County Executive ran for his office based upon being a “Proven Independent Leader;” he needs to be independent and lead and address this unconstitutional plan, rather than just accepting the plan that he inherited from the prior administration.
In 2005, the United States Supreme Court ruled on the widely publicized case of Kelo v. City of New London. The Court ruled that a government could take private property if it served the “public purpose” of promoting economic development. The Senator from the 9th District in Howard County requested an advice letter from the Office of the Maryland Attorney General. The Assistant Attorney General stated in his letter that the Maryland Courts had already been following the Supreme Court’s position in Kelo. The letter stated “I believe Maryland cases have long reflected the views on eminent domain articulated by the majority in Kelo. Ironically, if there is any impact from Kelo in Maryland, it might be a limiting one.”
However, even though the Kelo case really did not change the law in Maryland, the Senator, along with other members of his party, apparently had been awoken to this issue. Thus, began a series of attempts to change the law and Constitution in Maryland regarding condemnation and urban renewal.
In 2006, the Senator cosponsored SB 173, the Property Protection Act of 2006. The Act, citing the Supreme Court’s decision in Kelo, proposed several amendments to the Maryland Constitution which would have prohibited condemnation of private property for “urban renewal” or “community revitalization or redevelopment.”
A few weeks later, the Senator was the lone sponsor of SB 505 which proposed amendments to the Constitution to prohibit only in Howard County the use of eminent domain for among other reasons “urban renewal” or “community revitalization or redevelopment.” More specifically, it proposed a new subparagraph to Article III, Section 61 which stated “In Howard County, private property may not be condemned to carry out an urban renewal project.”
The Senator told the County delegation that “Someone has a right to have a vacant property.” In advocating for his position he said “I think property rights are so sacred they have to be in the constitution.” He added that he was proposing the change only applicable to Howard County because he did not “see a [statewide] constitutional amendment coming out of the Senate. I think individual jurisdictions in Maryland should have the right to make it more restrictive if they want to.”
The same day SB 505 was introduced, the Senator sponsored SB 704 which would have amended the definitions of “slum area” and “blighted area” in Article III, Section 61 of the State Constitution. Though the Senator’s purpose seemed to be to only limit urban renewal through condemnation, the changes would also apply to voluntary attempts at urban renewal such as in Long Reach. The proposal sought to change the definition of “blighted area” by raising the requirement of the number of buildings which no longer “justify fundamental repairs and adequate maintenance” from “a majority” to “ninety percent of the buildings.”
Had the Senator been successful in this proposal and had it been ratified by the voters in Maryland, even a casual observer would have realized that the current urban renewal in Long Reach does not meet the constitutional definition for a “blighted area.” In fact, it would have precluded many attempts at urban renewal in Howard County and Maryland.
Also at this time, the Senator cosponsored SB 813 which would have legislated that any property taken by a government by eminent domain would have to be put to a public use within five years from the date the government acquired the property. The bill would have given the former owner 3 months after the expiration of the five year period to petition a court to have the condemnation set aside.
Having been unsuccessful in the 2006 Legislative Session, in 2007 the Senator sponsored SB 294, The Property Protection Act of 2007. As with the Property Protection Act of 2006, the bill proposed amendments to the Maryland Constitution which would have prohibited condemnation of private property for “urban renewal” or “community revitalization or redevelopment.”
From working on all of these bills, this Senator must have a achieved a good understanding of the eminent domain, urban renewal, and the “blighted area” provisions in the Maryland Constitution. This Senator must know what a “blighted area” looks like and that Long Reach is not legally and constitutionally “blighted” as defined in Article III, Section 61 of the Maryland Constitution. This Senator in his current job is responsible for making sure that the laws and constitution are followed and must address the unconstitutional Long Reach Urban Renewal Plan.
The name of this Senator who sponsored these bills and who represented the 9th District in Howard County was Allan H. Kittleman–the current Howard County Executive.
And now you have the rest of the story.