May 24, 2006

Stopping Wal-Mart via Eminent Domain?

The town of Hercules, Calif. is considering using eminent domain to take 17.27 acres away from Wal-Mart, which is planning a store "near an upscale new residential neighborhood next to San Pablo Bay," according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

It's an interesting twist on the recent Supreme Court decision that allowed eminent domain takings for private development, if such development would improve the public good. What about the argument that stopping a particular development would serve the public good?

Many residents "fear that a giant discount store would wreak havoc on a half-decade of planning for a bayside village of high-end shops and homes designed to be friendly toward pedestrians," the paper reports.

I'm not sure I approve of seizing private land to stop big-box, pedestrian-hostile development -- I'm not a fan of that decision altogether. I do strongly favor zoning that keeps such developments away from neighborhoods where walkable streetscapes are important, though. I'm not clear why zoning in Hercules didn't mandate a maximum size and specific siting of businesses desired in the area and prevent big-box building in the first place. Yet another reason why wise zoning is important if you want a well-planned neighborhood business district.

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