Task force refines eminent domain regs: Cincinnati (OH) Enquirer, 7/31/06

By Gregory Korte

Recommendations from a[n Ohio] state task force studying eminent domain could allow private entities – like utilities and cemeteries – more leeway in taking private property than government agencies.

State Rep. Bill Seitz, R- Green Township, successfully derailed a recommendation that would have required private companies and organizations to hold public hearings before using eminent domain.

The task force voted 19-6 to require public involvement early in the process for government agencies that take land, but did not extend that requirement to non-governmental entities.

The issue came during the final hearing today of the Eminent Domain Study Task Force, which is recommending a comprehensive rewrite of the state takings law to the Ohio General Assembly.

“I don’t want to sit here on the last day of a multi-month task force and make changes to long-settled law about the ability of private entities to take land for purposes that have been around since the invention of gas lights,” Seitz said. “It’s not our job to tell private entities with eminent domain powers for public use how to go about it.”

A recent Legislative Service Commission report listed 94 different categories of unelected agencies – including such private entities as telegraph companies, railroads, cemeteries and even dinosaur-bone museums – that have eminent domain power in Ohio.

The task force will also recommend that the Ohio General Assembly consider shifting the burden of proof in an eminent domain case from the property owner to the government.

That recommendation came out of last week’s Ohio Supreme Court decision in Norwood v. Horney, which arose out of the city of Norwood’s attempt to take homes off I-71 for an office and shopping complex. The decision reversed more than 50 years of precedent and found parts of the state’s eminent domain law unconstitutional.

Specifically, the court said that cities cannot use a vague definition of “deteriorating area” to justify taking properties for a developer.

The task force – which is expected to meet all day today in order to keep a Tuesday deadline – also adopted several other recommendations made by Hamilton County Probate Judge James C. Cissell this morning. They include:
  • Government agencies should be required to share their appraisals with property owners before initiating court action.
  • Property owners should have the right to repurchase property from the government if the project is abandoned.
  • Courts should allow an expedited appeal on the government’s right to take – replacing existing law that a taking cannot be appealed until after a jury trial on amount of compensation.
  • No changes to the “quick-take” provision that allows the state to take property immediately for roads or other public emergency. That was the mechanism Cincinnati City Council used to take the home of Emma Dimasi, an 80-year-old widow who lived in her home for 47 years, for a $4 million Dixmyth Avenue widening project. Her case is still on appeal.

Cincinnati Enquirer: http://news.enquirer.com