Sunday, April 25, 2004

Letter: Legal questions demand answers

The Commercial Appeal
Letters to the Editor

In 1819, Memphis's founders (being developers themselves) employed a checks and balances mechanism to protect the promenade from future developers.

They gave Memphians a perpetual easement, with the stipulation that the property always be a public promenade. They allowed the underlying land to pass to their heirs, who for all practical purposes cannot do anything with it while the easement remains.

If an easement's stipulations are violated, the landowners may sue to stop the violations or ask the court to dissolve the easement. In the 1960s, the heirs sued the city to prohibit leasing a portion of the promenade to a commercial developer. The Tennessee Supreme Court upheld the heirs.

Given that precedent, what does the RDC plan to do? It seems they would abandon the easement, reverting full control of the property to the heirs. Then they would have the city take the land by eminent domain, paying the heirs current market value.

That raises three disturbing questions:
  • Should the RDC and the city be allowed to destroy a valuable possession of the citizens of Memphis (the easement) without appropriate public process?
  • Will Memphians then be forced to pay for something that was already theirs?
  • If the proposed development fails to provide sufficient revenue to cover the debt service, will future generations of Memphians foot the bill?

Arguably, the only logical purpose of abandoning the easement, then buying the land at today's prices, is to enable commercial development. It appears that taxpayers, not developers, would bear the brunt of the business risks.

Regardless of how one feels about the esthetics of the proposed development, these questions demand to be answered.

Michael Cromer
Copyright 2004, - Memphis, TN.

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