real property, eminent domain, land use, development rights
In 1975, thirty years ahead of the Supreme Court’s controversial Kelo decision, the Court of Appeals of Maryland, in Prince George’s County v. Collington Crossroads, Inc, upheld the constitutionality of economic development takings in Maryland. Specifically, the Court of Appeals held that condemning private property for the development of an industrial park meets “public use” and is thus constitutional. This paper explores the landmark Collington case from a legal, but also a historical perspective.
The paper begins by mapping Maryland’s eminent domain law as it has evolved by way of constitutional amendment and judicial interpretation. As you will learn, Maryland’s courts historically have interpreted “public use” broadly and have almost always deferred to the legislature’s eminent domain efforts. The paper next explores the fundamental disagreement over the correct interpretation of “public use” between a career trial court judge and a young Appeals judge then recently appointed to the Court of Appeals of Maryland. In these sections, the political landscape in Maryland, characterized by unprecedented growth in all three branches of Maryland’s government, is also discussed. By describing the parties, the different judges that presided over the Collington controversy, and the political landscape of 1970s Maryland, I hope to give the reader a glimpse of the different forces at play that shaped the landmark Collington decision.
Against this backdrop, the paper then evaluates whether the Prince George’s County (“PG County”) economic development land condemnation was successful. Although the industrial park failed to attract desirable businesses and the media, business leaders, and even Maryland’s governor unanimously declared the industrial park a failure, this paper argues that PG County nonetheless benefited from the land condemnation to the extent that it appropriated land that had since appreciated substantially in value. While only compensating Collington Crossroads, Inc. $2.5 million for its 323-acre tract of land in 1976, that same tract of land appreciated to approximately $38 million in 1987. As such, PG County effectively banked on Collington Crossroads’ real-estate investment.
In conclusion, the paper argues that the Court of Appeals of Maryland, despite the unfairness of the situation, decided Collington correctly. This is because the takings clause is comprised of two elements, “public use” and “just compensation.” The former speaks to legitimacy; the latter speaks to fairness. As the Court of Appeals was only asked to decide whether economic development constituted “public use,” but not asked to decide “just compensation,” the paper concludes that the Court of Appeals correctly decided the Collington case.