Monday, August 28, 2006

Your domain? My domain? NOPE! Eminent domain!!!

I dropped off my car to get serviced at our family mechanic on Wednesday morning
since the check engine light was on for the first time and the car shook when I started it.
The lot outside the auto place looked emptier than usual. There didn't seem to be much going on, but I figured it was because of the Fourth of July weekend lull.
So I tell Tony, the proprietor of said establishment, my car woes and he tells me he'll give it a look, but he can't promise anything since he is closing.
I said "What?"
He laughed sadly and repeated "What?"
Now I have to add here that I have gone with my dad to this mechanic since I was a kid, and he is the only mechanic who has really ever worked on my various cars over the years (not always to the best end however) but he has always been our mechanic. My mom hates him, since he did a really bad job on her car once and screwed her over, but my dad swears by him.
So I don't understand why he would close such a successful, long running business.
I tell him this, and he agrees, but explains to me that the city wanted his land, and so they took it. He had to be out of the area within the week.
I was shocked.
He further explained that the city didn't pay him enough for it for him to buy another place and start over, so he was closing the business for good.
After handing him my keys, I looked around all the land that surrounds the auto shop with a hard stare.
I remembered then that this area had been under consideration for years, the city wanted it for some urban renewal project.
I looked behind the mechanics where the old Greyhound station used to be, now a disassembled, weed choked yard, and a large wasteland that was once the giant lot where Maritime Autos shiniest, newest cars were kept. There is a small family owned gas station that ages ago I had heard the city was going to buy out, that in the meantime had upgraded and added a Dunkin Donuts, right by the 95 N on- ramp.
In the lot right in front of Professional Auto Center was an old, Victorian style house.
It is slated for demolition, its gingerbread style shingles weathered and falling off. Its doors have DANGER: ASBESTOS signs plastered on them, and the front porch had yellow caution tape where the welcoming railing had once been.
As a kid, I used to watch that house when I would come to drop off my dad's beat up old Nissan truck. I always noticed that there looked like an impossible number of people lived in this shabby house, and they were always brown. I wondered how uncomfortable it must be, having strangers and gas fumes right outside your doorstep every time you went to get the mail or ride your bike.
The rose bushes that the hardworking tenants would care for, despite the house's age and disrepair stood alone, no longer cared for or noticed. The yellow caution tape fell unheeded into their brambles.

I wondered where those hardworking families lived now that their old house was going to be destroyed. I wonder what the city wants to build here, what was so important to the area; something that was so vital that many homeowners and business owners livelihoods need to be seized? I wondered just then if the justices of the Supreme Court really knew how far their pens reached, how deeply their words and decisions were felt across the country in the lives of everyday Americans.
The "takings clause" serves to let city and state governments take private property as long as it is for "public use" and the private owners are compensated.
The lines in Tonys face as he tries to smile through his hard luck story show me what the takings clause really means.

No one in America thinks that once a house is bought, or a business is owned that some land baron, some city council or condo developer with a gleam in his eye can start a legal fight to take it all away. Not Tony, not Suzette Kelo, not anyone. Its ironic that this case originated in my home state and it is on a visit back to this place that I see my first example of what this ruling means.

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