What Difference Does Property Make? Property Rights Abused in Denver

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Tom Messina wants to sell his property, a property that he has invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and two decades of his time. But the Denver Landmark Preservation Commission interfered when Tom tried to sell his diner.

It’s Christmas Day! Your loved ones are with you. The sounds of cooks prepping the feast, Uncle Joe’s booming voice reciting a bad joke and Johnny Mathis bellowing “The Christmas Song” are violently interrupted by the shouts of two fighting children.

“Mine!” Shouts the offending child.

“No. It’s mine. It was a gift!” Replies the rightful owner of the toy.

Many of you, I’m sure, have experienced such a situation. One child spies another’s toy and a sense of ownership overcomes them. They forget, completely, that the toy is not rightfully their’s. They are motivated to covet the toy because they feel they want it; it is meaningful to them. So, they decide to take it based only on an arbitrary declaration making it theirs.

“Unfair!” Claims the victim. Unfair indeed.

Change the cast of characters and this story becomes meaningful on an entirely different level. Instead of two children let’s make them the owner of Tom’s Diner in Denver and The Denver Landmark Preservation Commission. Also, let’s up the ante from a trivial toy to someone’s life’s work. Now, you have the essential idea behind the latest government-driven Denver-area attempted violation of property rights.

For 20 years, Tom Messina has worked a great number of nights and weekends, as is common in the restaurant business, to make his diner viable and viable it has become. Not as a diner but as the future site of needed housing for the community. Mr. Messina has decided to work with Greenwood Village-based Alberta Development Partners LLC in a $4.8 Million deal to re-develop the property.

Not so fast, Tom.

“Mine!” Yelled the Commission in response to some citizens who, apparently, never learned that it is wrong to take another child’s toy. They like the way the building makes them feel as they pass the diner. They also like the retro-architecture. That is all they think they need to dictate to Tom what he can do with his diner.

Mr. Messina bought the diner 20 years ago for $800,000. Apparently, Tom’s hard work and the fact that he likely leveraged his family’s future in a risky, entrepreneurial decision to buy the restaurant shouldn’t be a factor in determining what he will “be allowed” to do with it. “Allowed,” that is, by people who have done no such work. “Allowed” by people who have taken no such financial risk. “Allowed” by people who just breeze in and arbitrarily declare ownership of something that is clearly not their’s.

The Commission, you see, voted unanimously to declare Tom’s Diner a landmark, prohibiting him to develop his land. Not a single dissenting thought. Not a single concern for Tom or the fact that he was the one who kept the diner going for years. The next step in the assault on Tom’s life work is the Denver City Council.

Initially, the Commission had taken steps to ask the Council to put the force of law behind their ruling that Tom’s property is not really his. They have since withdrawn that request. Let’s hope this was due to a stroke of reason and a newfound respect for property rights. Still, if the Commission decides to proceed, they can.

In the past, there had to be a justification for this kind of government taking. A neighborhood had to be blighted, so in disrepair that the only way to turn things around would be for government to take the properties and facilitate development. That was all changed, of course, when the US Supreme Court decided against fundamental property rights in the Kelo decision. That precedent set the stage for the taking of Tom’s Diner.

Government’s rightful job is to defend property rights in the pursuit of happiness not to act arbitrarily based on how others feel. Government’s rightful job is to protect Tom and, in the process, set the stage for healthy, organic redevelopment and improved quality of life.

Property is good. Profit is good. Development helps neighborhoods improve. People like Tom are valuable. What they make and create is important.

Go Tom go!

Featured Author

Roger Bianco

Roger Bianco

Roger Bianco is a 20 year resident of Colorado, licensed financial professional, husband and father of three. He is a former congressional staffer and 2014 graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies. Currently, he serves as founder and co-chair of the LPR Mentor Group Program and as a member of the LPR Advisory Council.

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