Norwood holdouts pack up, move out: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 1/3/05

By Steve Kemme

After fighting for more than two years to stay in the house they have lived in for half their lifetimes, Joy and Carl Gamble Jr. have decided to pack up and move out.

A small moving van on Wednesday took some of the Gambles' possessions from their Atlantic Avenue house while they live temporarily at their daughter's house in Independence.

A large moving van will be there today to take the rest. The Gambles will move out on Friday.

"It's a very unhappy situation here," Joy Gamble said. "We're in our late 60s. It's a heck of a thing to be going through at our age."

The Gambles and four other property owners have waged a legal battle for two years to try to stop Norwood from using its eminent domain power to seize their property and turn them over to the developers of the proposed Rookwood Exchange.

This development, a $125 million complex of offices, shops, housing and restaurants, is expected to generate about $2 million a year in earnings tax revenue for financially struggling Norwood.

The Institute for Justice, a civil liberties law firm in Washington that has been representing the holdout property owners for free, still has pending court appeals.

But the Gambles' decision to leave means the end of this legal fight could be near.

During the contentious eminent-domain battle, 66 other families in the triangle-shaped neighborhood between Edwards and Edmondson roads and Interstate 71 have been eager to sell to developers and move out. But the legal battle has kept them in limbo and forced some families to pay two mortgages a month.

The Gambles' neighbors are not shedding any tears for them. Some blame them for the long delay and are angry with them.

"I don't have feel any sympathy toward them at all," said Anita Jones, who lives on Garland Avenue, one block from the Gambles. "In fact, they aggravate me."

Her husband, Rolston, needs an oxygen tank. They have been waiting for two years to close a deal on a house near a daughter in Mount Orab.

But they couldn't close until they sold their Norwood house.

"We've been sweating this out," Anita Jones said.

Paul Triance, who lives a few doors from the Gambles, was glad to hear they're leaving.

"It's a very happy day that they're moving out," said Triance, who lives with his wife, Lisa, and their two children. "It's been difficult for us. You hope nothing breaks down in your house. You basically just exist, waiting until the final outcome."

Seventeen months ago, Bob and Donna Laake moved out of their house in the proposed Rookwood Exchange site and bought a house in another part of Norwood.

"We thought we would make payments on two houses for just a couple of months," said Donna Laake, who is Norwood's health commissioner. "But we've been doing it for 17 months."

The Gambles don't walk away empty-handed. A jury awarded them $280,000 in a property valuation trial. The developers also agreed to give them $2,500 for moving and storage expenses.

"We lost - somewhat," Joy Gamble said. "We're still going to fight it. But we have to get out of our house."

Bert Gall, an attorney for the Institute for Justice, criticized the Rookwood Exchange developers, Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate and the Miller-Valentine Group, for not allowing the Gambles to stay in their house until the Ohio Supreme Court rules on their motion to stop their home from being demolished while their appeal in another court is decided.

"It's cruel to insist that they must leave while their motion before the Ohio Supreme Court is pending," Gall said.

The Institute fights eminent domain actions throughout the country. The law firm has an eminent-domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court that has similarities to the Norwood case.

Richard Tranter, attorney for the Rookwood Exchange developers, declined to respond directly to Gall's statements about the developers.

"Rather than dignify Mr. Gall's comments with a direct response, I merely note that the Institute continues to pour gasoline on a matter that has been resolved," Tranter said. "The focus now should be the 66 property owners who are counting on us to close on their properties without further interference or delay imposed by the Institute."

Donna Laake, who moved into the neighborhood in 1975, said it was a wonderful place to live. But the noise, traffic and lights brought on by the growing commercial development hurt.

"It's a shame they couldn't have picked up the whole neighborhood and moved it somewhere else," Laake said. "But we still keep in touch with our old neighbors. The friends we had when we lived there are still our friends."

The Cincinnati Enquirer: www.enquirer.com