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THE DARK SIDE: Somebody moved my bowling alley

David Ziemer

David Ziemer

The abuse of eminent domain in the United States is at least as old as the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in Berman v. Parker, 348 U.S. 26 (1954), in which the court shamelessly held that confiscating the property of homeowners and business owners, in order to transfer it to politically-connected cronies, was a valid public use, comparable to building a public road.

Of course, it was not a constitutional use of eminent domain, as was duly noted by Justice Clarence Thomas in his brilliant dissent in the equally infamous case of Kelo v. City of New London, (PDF) 545 U.S. 469, 522 (2005).

But there is plenty of eminent domain abuse right here in Wisconsin that is just as outrageous, at least from a constitutional perspective.

I live in Glendale, and I could walk to the Bayshore Mall, so you might think I go shopping there. But you would be mistaken. Instead, I fill up the gas tank in my Buick Roadmaster and drive right past the mall. I then drive through downtown, turn west and go all the way past the Waukesha County line, until I get to Brookfield Square.

Does Brookfield Square have better stores, you ask? I haven’t the faintest idea. I’ve never shopped at Bayshore. It’s not because of concerns about the quality of its stores (or lack thereof). No, I refuse to shop there because it was built through abuse of the eminent domain laws.

It is sick and wrong that restaurant owners and retailers in Glendale should have had to pay taxes to a government that turned around and used that money to subsidize the taxpaying businesses’ competitors.

Sometimes, eminent domain abuse is not just sick and wrong, but downright farcical.

Consider this story:

Before the taking, there was a perfectly good Walgreen’s in the old mall, and a perfectly good bowling alley down the road. The government paid Walgreen’s to move out of the mall, and Walgreen’s used that money to buy the bowling alley. Walgreen’s then tore down the bowling alley and built a new Walgreen’s on the site. The government then spent more taxpayer money to subsidize building a new bowling alley in Bayshore where the Walgreen’s used to be.

And people wonder why I hate the government so much.

I finally did go to Bayshore earlier this month, because my company paid for a shindig at the taxpayer-built bowling alley. I certainly would not have gone on my own dime.

It’s kind of like a bowling alley, but without the bowler subculture that a real bowling alley has. In addition, the liquor is overpriced, and the lanes seem to break down and need maintenance a lot more often than bowling lanes that were built 50 years earlier.

On the other hand, the employees were unanimously courteous and provided excellent service. You don’t always get that at a real bowling alley.

But I digress. After all, The Dark Side is not a place where we review the quality of bowling alleys; The Dark Side is a place where we deplore how our Constitution was destroyed.

And as far as I’m concerned, eminent domain abuse does not just violate the Takings Clause, but the Free Exercise Clause, too. After all, here on The Dark Side, the deification of Private Property is as close to religion as we get.

2 comments

  1. The old mall was an eyesore with poor parking and no office or living spaces. The new mall looks nice, has plenty of parking and is home to many professional offices and apartments. Sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.

  2. If our state legislatures would create and pass a bill that tightens the definition of blight, then our property rights would be greatly improved. But, until that happens, we’ll have to voice our opinions by voting city officials out of office who support the use of eminent domain to acquire property that, for all practical purposes, is not blighted. Orchestrating support within the community to generate publicity is another grass roots method of activism that many of us have used to stop unwarranted takings (remember Earl Geifer in Oak Creek and the City of Greenfield residents?). Either way, it’s time for change. Our legislatures need to spearhead some meaningful ‘post-kelo’ reform.

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