Published January 13, 2015
The sign at the edge of Romulus, Mich. (search) proclaims: "Industry and its citizens working together." But try convincing cabinet shop owner Ed Hathcock.
"I just cannot imagine how we can give such a broad brush of power to local, municipal government," Hathcock said.
Hathcock's property abuts Detroit's airport where the county had planned a 1,300-acre industrial park. But when Hathcock turned down the county's buyout offer, the local government made a play to take his land to use on the project.
The Supreme Court of the United States (search)' recent ruling that local governments can seize private property for private economic development has put the affected property owners across the country in a fighting mood, but those in favor believe taking property is justified if it suits the public good.
"Our constituents, our citizens are saying: 'We want more opportunity; we want more jobs in the area,'" Wayne County executive Bob Ficano said.
The majority of landowners accepted Wayne County's buyout offer for the industrial park, but Hathcock claims he got a raw deal.
So the county took him to court to seize his land, wielding its power of eminent domain (search). Hathcock lost in two lower courts but won a ruling last year in Michigan's Supreme Court.
"Every American believes that ... they have sanctity in their land, that holding land is a right and that it's not a right that can be alienated by a politician because he feels he has a better use for it," Hathcock said.
Hathcock's victory reversed two decades of legal precedent in Michigan and made the state's eminent domain laws among the strictest in the nation. For a government to take land from a private property owner, it has to be for public projects only, such as road construction or for parks.
But many in government here say that Hathcock's case undercuts Michigan's ability to lure business.
"The economy now is global. A company says, 'Do I locate in China or do I locate in the Midwest? What are the advantages that I have?' One of the biggest advantages is being able to assemble land," Fiacano said.
Click in the video box above to watch a report by FOX News' Jeff Goldblatt.