The world needs creative problem solvers. But small-business owner Jeremy Sark was not impressed when city officials in Mauldin, S.C. used out-of-the-box thinking to sidestep the state constitution and jeopardize his livelihood.
People have a right to use their property in safe, reasonable ways. And if the government wants to revoke that freedom, it must meet two conditions: It must ensure that the interference serves a public use, and it must provide just compensation before destroying someone’s business. Yet Mauldin plans to shut down Sark’s U-Haul rental franchise, which opened in 2013, without honoring either constitutional protection.
Instead of compensating Sark through eminent domain or following other normal procedures, the city simply declared his business illegal with a gimmick called “amortization.” The scheme is basically retroactive zoning.
Normally, regulators establish rules in advance and grandfather in safe, reasonable, preexisting enterprises. But amortization flips the process upside down. It allows cities to adopt rules after the fact, and then pick and choose which businesses can stay open.
Typically, enterprises marked for elimination get a grace period to prepare for the setback. Governments claim the delayed enforcement counts as compensation. But even in slow-motion, the hit does permanent damage once it arrives.
Entrepreneurs who launch and grow legitimate businesses suddenly find themselves out of bounds. They follow the rules, but the rules change. It’s like moving the goalposts after a kicker attempts a field goal. Or redefining words after a debater sits down. Or altering documents after a notary public stamps them.
One day a business is legal, and the next day it is not. And all the owner can do is watch the clock wind down.