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This isn't a case of government overreach

When our nation’s founding fathers put together the U.S. Constitution and later what is known as the Bill of Rights, they had a lot of bad memories. Memories of being forced to give up their homes to let British soldiers use them. Memories of property being confiscated without any means of protesting or compensation.

Consequently protections for our citizens were placed in the laws of our government. Officials couldn’t just seize someone’s personal property without justifiable public-interest reasons or without payment.

Despite the law, we know there have been abuses of eminent domain and supposed public concerns. But it doesn’t appear to us that the City of Wilson has committed any such sins in dealing with the former Travel Lodge motel on U.S. 301.

The business has been closed since 2007. A sign proclaims it is closed for renovations. But what has happened in the past few years can hardly be called renovations. It can be called neglect. And it certainly can be called a hazard.

The former motel’s swimming pool is filled with stagnant water. Nothing really prevents anyone, including children, from accessing that pool. Windows and doors are broken. The roof has given way in places. Building materials have fallen down.

Residents of the nearby Willow Springs subdivision have been trying to get action from the city to force improvements on the property. City officials have a list of nuisance citations they’ve filed against the owner since 2011. The owner owes the city $3,098.52 for nuisance abatement charges. The 2013 property tax has gone unpaid.

The city held a hearing in March, which the owner did not attend. The senior code enforcement officer recommended demolition of the property.

Last week the owner, Wilson resident Steven Leder, appealed that decision to Wilson City Council. In a 5-2 vote the council turned down his request for a delay and ordered demolition within 60 days. The decision could still be appealed in the court system.

“The whole thing kind of rubs me wrong because it’s like you can take a property from somebody,” Leder told the council. “It seems like an overreach of a governmental body even though it’s the law. I know it is but it’s like taking something without compensation.”

In cases where government overreaches not only the law but moral and ethical bounds we would be among the first to raise our voices in protest. But we just don’t see this as an example of overreach.

Property rights are sacred in their own way, but as with many rights there are also accompanying responsibilities. Among the most important responsibility is ensuring, as much as humanly possible, that one’s property rights don’t infringe on the rights to life and property of others.

It’s difficult not to see this former motel property as being a hazard to the community – not just now, but for the past few years and, without correction, in the future. Certainly it is also an eyesore, but aesthetics is not a reason for demolition. Safety and the property rights of nearby owners is a valid reason.

When our founding fathers considered laws to prevent governmental seizure of property, they were remembering their treatment at the hands of the British military. To suggest they had in mind situations such as the former Travel Lodge property is a stretch.

If Leder can find a quick solution to this situation other than demolition we wish him well, but it needs to be done now, not in a few more years.

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