Magistrate sides with Chippewa landowners — The (Cleveland OH) Plain Dealer, 11/4/04

By Terry Oblander

The Medina County [OH] Park District wants to buy a 68-acre farm on the west side of Chippewa Lake to save it from developers.

Its purchase offer: $530,000.

A court decision issued yesterday to settle a boundary dispute for the property may prove costly, though.

Maloa and Bill Palmer never really wanted to sell the land they had farmed for 28 years and hoped to leave it to their three daughters. But if they did sell, the land would become their retirement nest egg, she said.

Their price tag: $3 million.

Park Director Thomas James said the park board decided last year to go to court to take the 68 acres by eminent domain because the two sides were so far apart and so were the appraisals commissioned by each. Eminent domain is a legal process that allows a governmental body to seize private property for the public good after paying the property owners a fair price.

"There's little likelihood of a solution when there's that big of a difference in the appraisals," he said.

Maloa Palmer sees the court action as an unconstitutional land grab by the county park system.

The Palmers' farm is sandwiched between two parcels already owned by the park district 50 acres on the north and 320 on the south. James said the district just wants to preserve the shoreline of the state's largest natural spring-fed lake from further residential or commercial development.

Relying on deeds more than 150 years old that define the property in terms of "chains and links," Medina County magistrate James Leaver yesterday ruled that the Palmer property extends into Chippewa Lake not to the shoreline as the park board argued.

Leaver ruled that the property extended into the lake, giving the Palmers valuable rights to the portion of the lake.

Most of the land beneath the waters of Chippewa Lake is owned by Chippewa Lake Properties Inc., a subsidiary of Continental Business Enterprises Inc. In 1998, county voters rejected an 0.25 percent sales tax that would have raised $3.7 million needed to buy the 360-acre lake.

Meanwhile, the Palmers are pushing a plan to build 36 homes on their 68 acres and 36 adjoining acres. Medina County Planning Commission staff members have recommended that the planning commission disapprove the plan for several reasons, including the eminent domain action. But, Maloa Palmer said she and her husband have no intention of building the housing development, Chippewa Lake View Estates. She said the plan was developed to demonstrate to the court that its development value is much higher than the county's offer.

The eminent domain trial has been set for Dec. 8 in Common Pleas Judge Christopher Collier's courtroom.

The Plain dealer: www.cleveland.com