By Sharon Coolidge
A Hamilton County jury Friday put a price tag on the first of five properties at the heart of a two-year eminent domain battle in Norwood being watched nationally.
Jurors said Joe Horney's rental home on Atlantic Avenue is worth $233,000, which is $125,000 less than the $358,000 he argued that his property is worth. But the jury's value is $43,000 more than the $190,000 the city offered to pay for it so it could be torn down to make way for a high-end development.
The triangular-shaped neighborhood where Horney's home is located is at the center of a legal tug of war pitting the city of Norwood, 66 property owners and the developers of the proposed Rookwood Exchange against Horney and four other property owners and the Institute for Justice, a civil-liberties law firm in Washington, D.C.
Horney and the four other owners, including three businesses and another homeowner, challenged Norwood's use of a state law used to seize their properties in order to turn them over to Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate and the Miller-Valentine Group.
The developers want to build the Rookwood Exchange, a $125 million complex of offices, shops, housing and restaurants. The homes and the businesses on all 71 properties in the neighborhood would have to be demolished for the project, between Edwards Road and Interstate 71.
In June, a Hamilton County judge upheld Norwood's right to seize the property.
The jury's verdict Friday means he is the first of the five who can appeal that judge's decision to another court, which will continue the legal battle and delay the development.
Horney will appeal the eminent-domain action in 30 days, but the appeals court might wait to hear all five cases at once, his lawyer in the eminent-domain action, Scott Bullock, said.
"I didn't lose my house today," Horney said. "This issue goes on.
"You can't place a value on something you don't want to sell. Now I can focus on the city's right to take my property."
The other property-value hearings, which happen one at a time, are expected to be completed by mid-November.
Lawyer Tim Burke, who represents Norwood in the case, said the city won't challenge the jury's verdict.
"It's close enough to what was offered that it wouldn't be economical to appeal," Burke said.
The Institute for Justice, which is representing the property owners for free, wants to appeal, which lets them again challenge a city's use of using eminent domain to take properties from their owners.
But first, according to Ohio law, juries must determine the price Norwood must pay for the properties.
Jurors are asked to determine the property's "best market value."
Horney and his wife, Carol Gooch, bought the property in 1986 for $63,000, always intending it to be a rental property. Since then, it has increased in value, he said. The real-estate developer earlier offered the couple $200,000, which they rejected.
The eight-person jury deliberated a little more than five hours before arriving on a value.
The sticking point came when jurors looked at how much income the property could generate in the coming years, said one of the jurors, Pam Brown, a 47-year-old Forest Park woman.
Two female jurors, both of whom wanted Norwood to pay Horney $300,000, abstained from voting. In the hearing, Ohio law requires only six members to come to an agreement.
One juror suggested Norwood pay $180,000, the amount the house was refinanced for last year, Brown said.
Others, she said, wanted the city to pay $260,000, and one juror refused to go lower than $240,000.
In the end, the jurors took the dollar amount each believed Norwood should pay Horney and averaged them together.
"That's how we came up with $233,000," Brown said.
After juries determine the selling price of each of the five properties, the Institute of Justice will file its appeal.
Horney and the other holdouts say they will continue to appeal and are prepared to take their case to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
The Cincinnati Enquirer: www.enquirer.com