Eminent-domain victors get keys back: Cincinnati OH Enquirer, 10/21/06

By Steve Kemme

The owners of the three properties involved in the Norwood [OH] eminent-domain case now can enter their dwellings any time they want.

On Friday, attorneys for the developer who lost the precedent-setting eminent domain battle in the Ohio Supreme Court turned over the keys to those properties and to the gate at the entrance of the 11-acre site.

The transfer of keys occurred before a hearing in the courtroom of Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Beth Myers. Certain issues such as compensation for damage to the properties and for attorneys' fees still need to be resolved.

The property owners - Joy and Carl Gamble Jr., Joe Horney, and Sanae Ichikawa-Burton and Matthew Burton - now can go onto the properties without asking the developer's permission.

The Gambles, Horney and Burton won their legal battle against Norwood and the Rookwood Partners to get their properties back. Rookwood Partners wanted to build a $125 million commercial development on the site bordered by Interstate 71 and Edwards and Edmondson roads. The developer had acquired all but the three properties on the 75-parcel site.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled July 26 that Norwood illegally used eminent domain to seize the properties and ordered their return.

The Gambles had lived in their house for 35 years before being forced to leave almost two years ago. Horney had rented out his two-family house, and the Burtons had converted a house on the site into a math and reading learning center.

Joy Gamble and Sanae Ichikawa-Burton said they are happy to have unlimited access, but they're not happy about the condition of their properties.

Gamble said their property has been vandalized while in the developer's possession.

"It should be given back to us in the condition it was when we were forced to leave," she said. "The Ohio Supreme Court said to give us our home back, not an unlivable pile of junk."

Ichikawa-Burton said water has seeped into the basement of her former learning center, creating a potential mold problem. There has been other damage, too, she said.

"We are not going to take the property back the way it is," she said. "It's a mess. They need to repair everything."

Horney was out of town Friday and could not be reached for comment.

Attorneys for all the parties hope to reach an agreement on what damage to the properties the Rookwood Partners must repair, who will pay for restoring utilities to the properties and whether the developer and Norwood must pay the fees of the attorneys for the Gambles, the Burtons and Horney.

The Institute for Justice, a civil-liberties law firm in Washington, represented the Gambles, the Burtons and Horney at no charge.

Institute attorneys Scott Bullock and Bert Gall said Ohio law requires the losers of eminent-domain cases to pay the winners' attorney fees, regardless of whether any fees were charged. Attorneys for the Rookwood Partners and Norwood will be disputing that.

Another point of dispute is how much of the $1 million set aside in property valuation deposits controlled by the court must be returned to Rookwood Partners.

Tim Burke, attorney for Norwood, said Rookwood Partners believe all the money should be returned. With the court's permission, $273,544 has been withdrawn from those accounts to pay mortgages and fees to attorneys in the property valuation part of the eminent-domain case.

Myers encouraged attorneys in this case to continue trying to reach an agreement on all these issues.

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