by Cat Lazaroff
(ENS) WASHINGTON --
will have easier access to federal courts in zoning disputes and other conflicts over land use if a bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives Thursday becomes law. Critics of the bill, including members of the Clinton administration, say it will allow developers to override local decisions to curb sprawl.
The bill would let landowners take disputes over land "takings" directly to federal courts, without a prior hearing in state courts. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution bars the taking of private property for public use without just compensation. Landowners have used this provision to demand compensation when federal laws such as the Endangered Species Act prevent them from developing their property.
The House bill known as the "Property Rights Implementation Act," [H.R.2372] which passed 226-182, argues that it is unjust to require property owners to spend years battling with local and state authorities before getting a federal hearing.
"Property rights claims are subjected to second class treatment," said Representative Charles Canady, Republican of Florida, who wrote the bill. "That is the truth and we need to change it."
"Those citizens who have had their constitutional rights violated have a right to their day in court," he said.
But the Clinton administration has said the President will veto the bill, because it would "harm neighboring property owners, weaken local public health, safety and environmental protections and lower the quality of life" in communities by undermining the authority of local officials. The bill "would improperly and seriously interfere with needed property rights protections at all levels of government, especially local protections for neighborhoods and communities," the White House said.
Vice President Al Gore said that "by creating a threat of expensive litigation that would favor the wealthy developer over the common homeowner," the legislation would compromise the rights of communities to choose what kind of development to permit.
and consumer groups oppose the bill, as do some state coalitions including the Conference of Chief Justices, the National Association of Counties and the National League of Cities. The giant coalition of labor unions AFL-CIO and the U.S. Catholic Conference have also spoken out against the bill.
"It is very disappointing that anti-environmental leaders in Congress voted to help developers override local protections against sprawl," said Deron Lovaas of the Sierra Club’s Challenge to Sprawl Campaign. "We should be providing cities, counties and states with more power to curb suburban sprawl, not less. The so-called Private Property Rights Implementation Act heads in the wrong direction and goes against what Americans say they want."
The Sierra Club says House Majority Whip Tom Delay, Republican of Texas, has "made it clear that he will use this bill to gauge support for other, broader property rights legislation designed to undo environmental safeguards."
"Members of Congress who voted for this bill have made it clear that there will be future attacks on the environment," said Lovaas. "People should be concerned that their right to decide how their communities are shaped is being taken away from them. Citizens, not special interests, should have the final say about putting the brakes on suburban sprawl."
Representative Sherwood Boehlert, Republican of New York, led the battle in the House against the bill, calling it "the most egregious attack on local zoning prerogatives in the history of the republic."
Canady’s legislation would allow wealthy developers to sidestep local authorities by shifting land disputes to federal court, Boehlert said.
"This bill disempowers citizens and their towns, cities and counties and skews local zoning rules to give developers the upper hand," said Boehlert.
A competing version of the bill, drafted by Boehlert, would have given landowners ready access to federal courts in federal land disputes, but would have prevented developers from appealing local land use decisions in federal courts. That bill was defeated by a 234 to 179 vote.
March 27, 2000 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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