Norfolk, Virginia, While Abusing Eminent Domain To Seize 78-Year-Old Business, Attempts To Silence Free Speech

by Marc Scribner on June 18, 2012 · 19 comments

in Economy, Features, Property Rights

I’m a month behind on this story, but something terrible is underway in Norfolk, Virginia, that should disturb all Americans who value property rights and free speech. Central Radio Company, which first opened 78 years ago and has been at its current location of 1083 West 39th Street for 50 years, is currently under siege. First officials at the Norfolk Redevelopment and Housing Authority attempted to seize their property in order to transfer it to Old Dominion University, which currently has no specific site development plan for Central Radio’s property. The owners of the company, Bob Wilson and Kelly Dickinson, rightfully objected to the eminent domain proceedings. They then commissioned a 375-square-foot banner (left) and hung it on their building to protest the taking. Then this happened:

The banner worked. Almost immediately, Central Radio started getting calls and letters of support from Norfolk-area residents and businesses. And the banner itself has become a focal point for local groups opposed to the city’s abuse of its eminent-domain authority.

Not surprisingly, Norfolk officials have quickly moved to silence Central Radio. Two weeks after the banner went up, city inspectors cited Central Radio for displaying a sign larger than 60 square feet – even though ODU has several banners that are just as large on its buildings nearby. The city ordered Central Radio either to take down the banner by May 5 or be fined up to $1,000 per day.

Obeying the city would muzzle Central Radio’s free speech rights. Hoping to avoid the fate of the many other neighborhood buildings around Central Radio that have already been knocked down, the company is using the banner to send an important message that can be viewed from several hundred feet away.

A 60-square-foot banner would be virtually invisible to the thousands of people who pass by each day on busy Hampton Boulevard. And even if Central Radio could put up other signs elsewhere, they would not have the same impact as a banner located on the company’s own property.

Thankfully, Central Radio Co. is fighting back against these egregious constitutional abuses. In May, our friends at the libertarian public interest law firm Institute for Justice filed suit in federal court challenging the city’s take-down order on First Amendment grounds. IJ is hosting a rally and picnic on July 5 at Central Radio Company (Facebook Event link). We strongly support Messrs. Wilson and Dickinson in their fight to protect their rights to property and free speech from Norfolk’s government thugs.

John June 18, 2012 at 8:32 pm

The government can do whatever it wants if it’s not the federal government. Ask any Republican. States can control your body, your health insurance, nominate people to dissolve your local government. It’s the Republican way now. As long as it’s not federal government, any government power is ok with them.

americanexpatchiangmai June 24, 2012 at 10:05 pm

I guess John believes that if we re-elect Obama and other democrats all the way down, this seizing of our rights will end. Seems like in the last 4 years, the opposite has been happening all over the country. I live in California, and we haven’t seen a vocal real republican try anything in our state for about thirty years or more, and we have the most oppressive nanny state in the world out here. I for one, would like to see a republican replace some of these socialist democrats. I think John boy is a little off his rocker.

Jim Collins June 21, 2012 at 9:45 am

I’m pretty sure that you have that backwards John. It’s the Democrats who do this.

HorrifiedOnlooker June 21, 2012 at 10:26 am

Republican or Democrat makes no difference. The parties don’t exist for the benefit of the “people”, they exist to gain control of government and the levers of power to use for their own ends. This is called”statism” and has been the scourge of this country for decades

Luke June 21, 2012 at 3:52 pm

Perhaps a silly idea, but one that would perhaps skirt the city ordinance in a hilarious and thumb-to-the-nose manner, and still allow Central Radio to spread their message: Cut the banner into 7 equal pieces (making them each less than 60 sq ft) and hang them adjacent to each other!

marfdrat June 24, 2012 at 12:47 pm

That’s an awesome idea, Luke. I’m sure, though, that the sign nazis would figure out a way to declare that against the law, too.

Paul June 21, 2012 at 8:36 pm

They could just cut the sign into 60 sq ft blocks and leave it as is. And then sue because ODU not being fined violates equal protection.

David Smith June 22, 2012 at 8:22 pm

You know: If I was an activist w a radio station in the area, I would be tempted to give the company a (small) bit of free air time w a “carefully” written and very brief message identifying the city and the officials trying this blatant piracy.

Chris June 24, 2012 at 11:27 am

Would only work at night, but I wonder if there are any laws against projecting a movie or slide show on the building. Maybe from a van thats not parked on the property?

trebor June 24, 2012 at 3:10 pm

Would two or three banners, next to each other,
with the wording divided onto them, comply with the regulations?

Suhm Duhm Gai June 24, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Just cut the sign into 4 pieces and post them close enough to each other so they still get the message out. Only told not to put a sign bigger than 60 ft, not 4 20ft signs.

Puzzling June 25, 2012 at 4:39 am

The firm can now expect costly local or state tax investigations, surprise fire code inspections and violations, OSHA inspectors, and perhaps even harassment of owners by police coming and going from the property.

michael June 25, 2012 at 8:21 am

find the max measurement allowable for banners. Then you cut up this banner into 4 equal parts that are at the specs of the largest allowed and then put it back up…

Alice Lillie June 25, 2012 at 8:57 am

It is clearly not a free country any more. First the government is claiming private property as its own. Now the owners are being fined $1000 a day for displaying a banner on it. Could it be that the content of the banner has something to do with the persecution? Of course it does. The real reason for the fine is resistance to the taking.

I hope they resist all the harder. The Institute for Justice does wonderful work. Their involvement gives some hope to the rightful owners.

Meanwhile, I am posting this on Facebook in hopes it goes viral. Hope you do the same.

Karen Jourden June 26, 2012 at 4:16 pm

My husband from Virginia and he says that it is a shame that Virginia would do this illegal thing to someone.

million June 27, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Virginia is in the process of amending their constitution to make eminent domain harder for the “takers”. Norfolk’s local government, i.e. taxpayers, is going to find this taking to be very expensive, not to mention the legal bills for their sign ordinance that abuses the 1st Amendment.

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