Homeowners fight to stay in Norwood : Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 4/19/05

By Sharon Coolidge

A developer has begun bulldozing property near Interstate 71 to build a multimillion-dollar office and shopping complex in Norwood, but three property owners aren't giving up their battle to stay.

The Washington-based Institute for Justice brought its fight Monday to the Ohio 1st District Court of Appeals, arguing that Norwood never should have been allowed to seize the owners' property through eminent domain because the property wasn't deteriorating.

Norwood city laws permit the use of eminent domain for urban renewal when an area is blighted or in danger of becoming blighted. The city said the property was deteriorating and dangerous because fire crews could not adequately access properties.

Tim Burke, who represents the city, said Norwood City Council had the right to use eminent domain because taking the property will benefit the public through urban renewal and will spur economic redevelopment.

"This is about balancing public welfare versus the private good," Burke said.

The institute's attorney, Dana Berliner, said economic development is not mentioned in the city's ordinance that outlines the eminent domain action.

"The question is not whether it's a good or bad project," Berliner said. "It's whether Norwood violated its statutes in taking the property."

The Institute for Justice, which represents homeowners Joy and Carl Gamble and rental property owner Joe Horney, is appealing a June 2004 decision by Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Beth Myers.

Myers ruled that Norwood could take their homes and businesses through eminent domain, paving the way for the city to transfer the property to developers Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group.

A third person, who owns the Kumon Learning Center, also is fighting the eminent domain action, but was not part of Monday's appeal. The owners of Wilker Design and Holistic Healing Center were part of the original case, but have since sold their property to the developers and dropped their appeal.

The developers want to expand Rookwood Commons and build Rookwood Exchange, a $175 million complex of offices, shops, living units and restaurants.

The case dates to 2002, when Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group proposed the development, which would sit on a triangular piece of property bounded by Interstate 71 and Edmondson and Edwards roads. The development required demolishing 71 properties.

The developers suggested using eminent domain as a way to take the property, but city officials insisted that they first try to obtain the property privately. Sixty-six owners agreed to sell for a minimum of 25 percent above fair market value, but five owners wanted to stay, including the Gambles and Horney.

Appeals Court Judges Robert Gorman, Lee. H Hildebrant Jr. and Mark Painter will issue a decision sometime in the next few months. The court has said the homes and businesses on the three properties in question cannot be destroyed until the issue is resolved.

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