Ray Summerour wants to continue running his independent grocery in Baptist Town, a historically black neighborhood in Marietta. The city wants the store for a community park and initiated condemnation proceedings after negotiations failed.
Summerour prevailed at the appeals court, and the city appealed to the Georgia Supreme Court, where the case is pending.
It’s the age-old dilemma of eminent domain: When should the public good override the property rights of the individual?
Marietta wants Summerour’s store, Brenda’s Grocery at 329 Allgood Road, as one of nine parcels for the new Elizabeth Porter Park. The $4.7 million project is to open next spring with a children’s splash pad and playground, picnic area and other amenities.
The storekeeper, though, says his business serves a different need; for many, it’s the only grocery within walking distance. “This is a low-income area,” he told the AJC. “People just don’t have the money to buy cars, so they rely on walking a lot.”
The appeals court ruled that Marietta had violated the Landowner’s Bill of Rights – enacted in 2006 to safeguard against government abuse of eminent domain powers – by not providing Summerour with details of the city’s appraisal of his property.
In its appeal to the Supreme Court, Marietta says it did comply with the law – and that even if it didn’t, the law doesn’t identify a remedy or a punishment for a violator, so compliance is not mandatory.
A high court ruling could determine the fates of both Brenda’s Grocery and the Homeowners Bill of Rights.
But the underlying issue remains: Is it right for a city to force a man to give up his livelihood – and a neighborhood, its only grocery – for a worthy purpose, a children’s park? Tell us what you think. Send comments by email to firstname.lastname@example.org
LAST WEEK: Are Fayette County property assessments too high?
Like their neighbors in Fulton County, some residents of Fayette County are also unhappy about their property tax assessments this year. The number of appeals (which had to be filed by June 22) in Fayette nearly doubled this year from last, with the county receiving 2,338 appeals out of about 43,000 assessments. The appeals process goes through several levels, up to a Superior Court hearing.
Here’s what some readers had to say:
Property taxes are essential, but wasteful spending of our taxes on pet projects rather than needed infrastructure repairs are what has most of us upset on the current rise. Our commissioners do a fairly good job of controlling costs, but sometimes [are] directing money in unnecessary directions rather than where it should go. With over 73 percent of property tax dollars going to the school board, we’ve seen massive waste over the years, from building new schools when not needed, then selling them at a massive loss, to purchasing property all over the county and not being used, to the expansive bus barn complex with acres of fully paved parking and brightly lit security lighting remaining on all night at a high cost. We’re not happy with the increases and will be filing an appeal. — Larry Blanks
The taxes are probably not too high. The problem is the big jump, however. And why shouldn’t they have to show you an actual appraisal and comps for your home? It isn’t fair for the burden of proof to be on the homeowner. — Sherry Moss
My home was assessed at about $100 per square foot in 2014-2016. My new assessment for 2017 is an increase of 68 percent to $168 per foot. There is absolutely no data to support an increase beyond $105 per square foot based on actual home sales within 200 yards of my home. My home will not sell for its county- assessed valuation, while other much larger homes in my subdivision are selling for significantly less. I have appealed and am prepared to go to the Superior Court if my intervening appeals are denied. I am at a loss to explain the mechanism by which a home, with no improvements other than the trees in our yard grew a little higher, can go up 68 percent and someone in the Assessors Office thinks that’s defensible. It isn’t. — Pete Rector
I did [appeal] the first time it happened because they assessed it at about $50,000 higher than what we bought it for, which for us was a big deal because we were extremely careful when buying a house to make sure that we could afford it! Every year it keeps shooting up, too. I didn’t appeal the past couple of years, mostly because it was a nuisance and I was busy, but now our assessment is literally double what we paid for our house only five years ago! Something is very wrong with that. — Sarah Smith
Jill Howard Church for the AJC