Eminent Domain Cases Roil Communities Across Massachusetts

Several communities across Massachusetts are looking to take private property to build new schools.
October 27, 2017, 8am PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Bill Damon

Laura Krantz of the Boston Globe reports on several ongoing eminent domain disputes impacting communities around the state. In the city of Waltham, the mayor and city councilors are at odds over the potential eminent domain of a retirement home for priests that also hosts a number of community programs. The city wants the land to build a new high school, and the mayor argues that the priests violated an agreement that they had with the city not to market or sell the property for other uses.

In Massachusetts, municipalities have the power to seize land as long as they show that it is in the public interest. Cities and towns must compensate the property owner for the land’s fair market value but otherwise have broad power.

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For now, the mayor said, the proposal to seize the land is dead, because a majority of the council opposes it. But just last month she sent a three-page letter to the city explaining why that location is still ideal for a new school.

Jim Lampke, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Lawyers Association, said eminent domain is common but always a last resort when a community can’t reach a voluntary agreement with a property owner. He said he has not seen communities abuse the power.

Other eminent domain proposals in Brookline and Lowell, MA have received mixed, but mostly negative, responses from citizens and property owners with plans for new schools requiring the taking of private property.

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Published on Tuesday, October 10, 2017 in Boston Globe
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