The once-settled issue of constitutionally protected property rights will soon be revisited by America’s highest court in a case with implications for the City of the Las Vegas.
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon hear a case brought by Rose Mary Knick, an eastern Pennsylvania woman, whose home was deemed public property by a local municipality because it allegedly was built on an ancestral burial ground. Knick’s “property takings” case against her local government is being closely watched by local developer Yohan Lowie, who has a $250 million takings case against the City of Las Vegas.
Despite America’s constitutional protections of private property, Las Vegas city officials have voted consistently to deny the property rights of Lowie for almost two years. Lowie legally purchased the Badlands golf course. It was zoned for single-family residences, and he intended to develop it. That’s his right as the owner of this now-private property. Unfortunately, the City Council has blocked his efforts to develop the property. The council’s decision is yet another glaring example of unwarranted government overreach.
He clearly is a victim of blatant local government excess: officials assuming the authority to place constraints on what a lawful owner does with his property. Lowie has filed a lawsuit seeking the right to develop his property or $250 million in damages. If the city loses this takings clause lawsuit, Las Vegas taxpayers will be on the hook.
A $250 million takings judgment would paralyze Las Vegas. That should be sufficient reason for city officials to exercise more caution in this case. They also should inform citizens why their elected representatives chose to violate a property owner’s constitutional rights and alert them to the possibility that such government action could lead to much higher taxes. Instead, the council blatantly denies Lowie’s rights without cause and leaves taxpayers in the dark, unaware of the risks to city revenues.
Elected council members are duty-bound to not encumber taxpayers with burdens that provide no clear benefits. Instead, they’re supposed to be risk-averse, dedicated to spending taxpayer money wisely. How does intentionally harming Lowie, by denying him a route to develop his own property — which has already led to a costly lawsuit — properly serve Las Vegas citizen-taxpayers?
Governments often try to mitigate risk by imposing new regulations that purportedly address a particular issue of the day. The city has done exactly that in the Lowie case. Council members and city bureaucrats have proposed a new Open Space/Golf Course Ordinance to dictate the use of Lowie’s property, as well as that of other open-space parcels throughout the city.
Overregulation of developers and private property owners will have a decidedly chilling impact on decisions to invest and build in the city of Las Vegas. And the timing couldn’t be worse. A decade after the Great Recession decimated Nevada’s economy, 2018 has been a year of pronounced recovery. In Southern Nevada, demand for new homes continues to outpace the supply of available residences. Similarly, commercial development is gaining momentum. But any government-imposed threats to fair and constitutional treatment of private property rights will undermine the economy and strangle tax revenue growth.
Soon, the nation’s highest court will put property-rights protection back in the spotlight. The Knick case will heighten awareness of government overreaching via takings and, hopefully, reinforce constitutional safeguards for property owners. Its outcome could have implications for the Lowie case.
City Council members would be well-advised to play it safe and approve Mr. Lowie’s applications. That would protect both his property rights and taxpayers’ wallets.
Niger Innis is chairman of the Congress of Racial Equality.