Judge clears way for commercial, residential project — Cincinnati (OH) Post, 12/2/04

By Kimball Perry

A judge ruled Wednesday that a developer can tear down a Norwood building the city took from a private citizen using eminent domain, literally clearing the way for construction of a commercial and residential development to begin as soon as the first of the year.

Hamilton County Common Pleas Court Judge Beth Myers sided with developer Jeffrey Anderson and the city of Norwood, who want the building razed. Norwood won a court case that allowed it to use its power to seize property owned by Joe Horney and transfer it to the developer.

"Frankly, it's good news. It indicates that this project can continue to move forward," said attorney Tim Burke, representing Norwood.

After the city won its court case against Horney, it placed $233,000 — the purchase price — with the Clerk of Courts and then deeded the property to Anderson.

Horney and his attorneys at the Institute of Justice, the Washington, D.C.-based agency fighting eminent domain cases nationally, asked the judge to keep the building intact until the resolution of his appeal.

Burke and attorneys for the developer contended that Horney had no right to appeal because the property was no longer his.

"It was bad enough that the Court allowed the City to take our clients' property for Jeffrey Anderson's private benefit. It's even worse that it has allowed Anderson to take the wrecking ball to their home and businesses during their appeal," noted Bert Gall, an Institute for Justice attorney.

In her ruling, though, Myers warned Norwood and the developer that they are taking risks by razing the building and beginning construction on the project.

"Norwood and/or Rookwood may be required to return the property" if Horney is successful on appeal, Myers noted in her Wednesday decision.

The financially strapped city has insisted it needs the property for the proposed Rookwood Exchange development — 200 condominiums, apartments, retail space and 550,000 square feet of office space — to bring an additional $1.8 million annually in earnings tax into the city's coffers. The development also will generate an additional $300,000 per year for Norwood schools.

Already, 65 of the 70 parcels needed for the development are under contract.

"I'm happiest for the 65 property owners who have been waiting for two years for their properties to be closed on," said Richard Tranter, an attorney for the city.

Similar court decisions are expected in four other cases in which Norwood is using eminent domain to seize property for the development.

Anderson has commitments from new tenants for the development.

Retailer Crate and Barrel will be joining the Sheakley Group of Companies, provider of outsourced business services including unemployment cost control and workers' compensation administration, which will move its 500 employees and corporate headquarters from Tri-County to Rookwood, Tranter said.

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