All across the nation, states are restricting the use of eminent domain in the wake of the 2005 Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. New London, which confirmed states' power to take property for economic development projects. Some states have passed legislation banning eminent domain for economic development, while others require landowners to be compensated as much as 200 percent of their property value. But a measure in Utah, requiring that 80 percent of landowners must agree to redevelopment projects that involve eminent domain, is actually one step towards reaching consensus in the assembly of land, says Lincoln Institute fellow Yu-Hung Hong.
"We live in a very complex world where homeowners' preferences are diverse. It's unrealistic to expect that members within a community will always agree with their local government -- or among themselves -- on neighborhood redevelopment. So when disagreements emerge, one way to mediate disputes is majority rule," says Hong, co-editor of the book Analyzing Land Readjustment.
Democratic decision-making and community empowerment are central to land readjustment, a method of assembling land for large projects in use in some Asian and European countries that gives property owners the option of being part of the redevelopment project, as equity shareholders or recipients of a portion of the final project. Once most owners agree to land readjustment, holdouts have less of a standing, because the project has been embraced by a majority.
In the United States, land readjustment requires special legislation, which has been a major stumbling block preventing public officials from experimenting with it. But measures like Utah's could be a back-door way of introducing the concept. An 80 percent rule "is empowering the affected parties to determine collectively the future of their living environment," says Hong. "That's the spirit of land readjustment."