By Jeanne Houck
One hundred sixteen down, seven to go.
That's how Newport officials see the progress of their quest to negotiate a sale price with all 123 Cote Brilliante property owners whose houses, churches and businesses are to be razed for a retail-office-residential development.
But for a few details, four of the last 11 holdouts have agreed upon a sale price for their homes, City Manager Phil Ciafardini confirmed Friday, leaving just seven left.
Three of the property owners settling were among about a dozen who sued earlier this year in Campbell Circuit Court, claiming the city had unlawfully declared their neighborhood blighted and therefore subject to a forced buy-out under state law.
But Campbell Circuit Judge Leonard Kopowski ruled in June that the city was entitled to use eminent domain, which allows governments to take property for a public purpose, at a fair price to the property owner.
Said Ciafardini: "Our goal always was to reach a fair and equitable settlement with all property owners, and we remain true to that end result," he said. "We're down to a few and we're still trying to reach out to their legal counsel, trying to come up with a similar settlement."
Don't hold your breath, warns Cold Spring attorney Bob Blau, who represents three home owners who have not given up their court battle.
Their appeal of Kopowski's decision is pending before the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
"They're not anxious to have anyone tear down their family homes," Blau said.
The Newport City Commission voted in August to sign a development agreement with Bear Creek Capital of Montgomery, Ohio, to develop the property, which is 55 acres between Memorial Parkway and Carothers Road, just west of Interstate 471. It formerly included 96 homes, two churches and one business.
The city commission also voted to authorize the issuance of $92 million in industrial building revenue bonds for the project.
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Owners of private property can proceed with their lawsuits that say a suburb is inappropriately preparing to condemn and take property for a developer's commercial project, a court ruled Friday.
The four property owners may sue the city now rather than wait until the city of Norwood begins court proceedings to take their property so a developer can build a retail, condominium and office project, the 1st Ohio District Court of Appeals ruled.
The property owners say the city has wrongly declared the neighborhood blighted and is misusing its power of eminent domain - the authority to buy and take private property for public projects such as highways - to clear the way for private developers to obtain the land.
The decision sends the case back to Judge Robert Ruehlman of Hamilton County Common Pleas Court, who had dismissed the property owners' complaint last year.
Norwood's lawyer, Timothy Burke, said he was unhappy with the appeals court's ruling. Burke said, however, he was pleased with another part of the ruling, which will allow the city to go ahead this fall with court hearings to set the market value to be paid for other private properties.
A message seeking comment was left Friday with Jeffrey Anderson, developer of the proposed Rookwood Exchange project.
The Institute for Justice, a public-interest law firm representing the property owners in this case, has litigated similar eminent domain issues in Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlantic City, N.J., Canton, Miss., and Mesa, Ariz.
The Washington, D.C.-based law firm represented private property owners last year in the Cleveland suburb of Lakewood. In November, Lakewood voters rejected a referendum to support the city's plan to use eminent domain to acquire land a developer wanted for a proposed $151 million condo, entertainment and shopping complex. Anderson also was involved in plans for the Lakewood development.
Akron Beacon-Journal: http://www.ohio.com/mld/beaconjournal
CAPTION: GAMBLE V. NORWOOD, 09-03-04
APPEAL NO.(S): C-040019; TRIAL NO.(S): A-0307160
CATEGORY: REAL PROPERTY - APPELLATE REVIEW/CIVIL
SUMMARY: The trial court erred in dismissing for lack of jurisdiction the declaratory-judgment actions of certain property owners seeking to challenge a municipal ordinance designating their neighborhood as a blighted, deteriorated, or deteriorating area, a necessary step for the municipality to seize their property through eminent domain: Although declaratory-judgment actions cannot be used to bypass adjudicatory hearings in special statutory proceedings, where no appropriation actions had begun, the property owners were entitled to seek declaratory relief challenging the city’s designation given its injurious effect on not only the marketability of their property but also their good-housekeeping incentive; but where appropriation proceedings had already begun against other owners, affording them the opportunity they sought to challenge the designation, it could not be said that the trial court erred in dismissing their claims as an attempt to bypass the appropriation actions against them, and those pending appropriation actions effectively mooted their appeals from the denial of declaratory relief.
JUDGMENT: REVERSED AND CAUSE REMANDED IN PART; APPEALS DISMISSED IN PART
JUDGES: OPINION by GORMAN, P.J.; DOAN and SUNDERMANN, JJ., CONCUR.