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David whips Goliath: Man vs. the state
Mary Walsh's op-ed column on eminent domain.

 A constitutional amendment can help to preserve the American dream of homeownership and property rights.
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Date published: 10/14/2012

YOUR HOME is your castle, isn't it? It's where you hang your hat at the end of the day, raise your children, plant your garden, barbecue in the backyard, or tinker in your garage. When you come home from a trip, it's the simple comfort of a cup of tea in the kitchen or sleeping in your own bed. There's no place like home. But what happens to your American dream if the government wants your property for a bigger mall?

Perhaps you think your property is safe from the ever-reaching tentacles of government encroachment. I met recently with Spotsylvania County's very own David. Dale Swanson didn't look much like David but she soundly whipped Goliath. She used to think her property was safe until the day a D-9 bulldozer appeared in her front yard. She was notified of "property inspections" for the mall expansion and the now defunct, infamous Harrison Road connector. On her small pond they brought barges, and bulldozer tracks damaged her road. One wonders what mammoth-size bulldozers and barges have to do with inspections. Obviously, far more damage was done to Dale's property than was necessary.

Dale's 6-acre property became a centerpiece of punitive destruction after she opposed the mall road. An appraiser placed the damage to her property at $98,000, for which she has yet to be compensated. At first, it was rumored that the mall was paying for the road. Slowly, the details began to emerge in stories by Dan Telvock in the The Free Lance-Star that the homeowners' land would be taxed to pay for the road under the newly created Community Development Authority.


The tax allotted to Dale's property, not including her regular property tax, was $64,000 per year for the next 100 years. A tax of this amount would have forced her from her home and destroyed the market value of her property, which has been in her family for 200 years. In fact, when Dale tried to refinance her house, her banker told her that since she'd been in the newspaper and her land had been basically condemned, the bank would not be able to assist with her refinancing. The words of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall in 1819 echo through to our day: "The power to tax involves the power to destroy."

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Mary Walsh is a freelance writer who lives in Spotsylvania County.