Letter: Eminent domain is dangerous
In your Feb. 21 issue, Gazette reader and Mathews County resident Arthur Jennette ("A traffic accident waiting to happen," Readers Write) makes the suggestion that a traffic/egress problem at the Main Street Center near the junction of Highways 17 and 14 in Gloucester Court House be solved with the forced removal of barriers that a property owner of adjacent land has placed on his parking surface; or that Gloucester County should exercise its "takings" power and annex the smaller private property for the good and safety—and convenience—of the driving public.
Whoa, Boy! Slow Down. Can we back away from this impasse?
I wasn’t around when the Main Street Center was conceived by private parties, but with tenants like the U.S. Post Office and the county library (in a former supermarket space), it’s likely that there was some thought given to the traffic flow that would occur prior to the granting by the county of development permits for such a large footprint of commercial and "civic" activity. Lots of times accommodations are made with developers, even those disguised in trusts, who promise increased sales tax revenues to localities in exchange for going light on the required off-site demands. Why not go back and look at the minutes of those meetings and the haggling that went on? Perhaps we’ll discover brother fighting brother, or you know, "you rub my back, I’ll rub yours" sorts of stuff.
I’m told that traffic signals were a rarity in Gloucester only a few years back, but something is most certainly called for at the Main Street Center’s westerly throat according to Mr. Jennette. (That’s the approach just north of the new Fox Mill Run bridge.) A traffic signal might be annoying for those going to work and coming home—posing yet another reason to brake and spoil their 65 mph sprint from the Walmart turnoff to the present traffic signal at 17 and 14. But these are the compromises of growth and modernity; and our increasing lack of patience. Perhaps it’s patience that’s most needed here. And acknowledgment of private property rights.
Common sense would dictate that the cost of any such needed traffic accommodation such as a signal be paid for by the owners of the Main Street Center for whom its addition would be beneficial to its visitors and for whom the convenience would accrue. Instead, the center has sued the adjacent property owners which include a church. Now, that’s not Christian.
Those who live in adjoining counties would not share in this cost unless they frequented the businesses at the center. There, they might be faced with higher prices from the 10 business tenants that reflect the increased rent commensurate with the cost to the owners of placing a traffic signal to accommodate the commuter from Mathews County. Or we might revisit earlier times and put a road tax in place for hurried commuters who live outside the county. In the popular language of some, that would spread the pain around. Ugh! That’s not sounding like charitable Virginians or Christians.
But please, dear citizens, don’t suggest that your governments steal more private lands—even parking lots—through "eminent domain." That is criminal, on both sides.