Warren may use eminent domain: Warren OH Tribune Chronicle, 3/6/07

By Amy McCullough

[Warren OH] Mayor Michael J. O’Brien said he wants to use eminent domain to ‘‘aggressively’’ pursue several parcels of land downtown that he says are vacant and blighted.

O’Brien said he would like to acquire seven to 10 properties owned by three people off East Market Street as part what is called the Campbell Court Property. The hope is to market a larger piece of land for commercial development.

He declined to give the names of all the owners or the exact locations of the properties, but said the former Jackson’s Lounge, owned by Donald Guarnieri, is an example of the types of properties being considered.

‘‘I’m intentionally being vague because of the possibility of still negotiating prices,’’ O’Brien said.

A message left for Guarnieri was not returned Monday.

Warren Redevelopment and Planning Corp. already purchased and demolished 279 E. Market St, a partially burned, vacant structure, as part of the larger development project.

The mayor said last week that eminent domain has not been brought up in negotiations with the property owners.

‘‘When the law department is comfortable with moving forward, it is my request that we do the eminent domain issue aggressively in the downtown area,’’ the mayor said.

‘‘Once we capture the buildings and demolish them, we would then begin with the new enhancements (a list of business incentives and utility credits) that city council is proposing and we would be able to acquire development projects,’’ O’Brien said.

Repeated messages left for Law Director Gregory Hicks over the last week were not returned but O’Brien said the Law Department is still researching the issue.

He also acknowledged several pieces of legislation moving through both the Ohio Statehouse that would change existing eminent domain laws. One Senate resolution introduced by Sen. Kevin Coughlin, R-Cuyahoga Falls, would bring the issue before voters statewide and could eventually lead to the amendment of the state constitution.

The Supreme Court ruled in 2005 to allow government to use eminent domain to take private property for public benefit with some safeguards.

As a result of that ruling, State Sen. Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland, pushed to start a task force charged with clarifying Ohio’s eminent domain laws. He also sponsored one of two senate bills on the issue.

‘‘I believe Ohio voters want the opportunity to support private property rights at the ballot box,’’ Coughlin said in a statement. ‘‘Eminent domain should be used sparingly and only when it benefits the public as a whole. Our laws should reflect that and leave no wiggle room for government to abuse its power.’’

O’Brien said the Law Department is taking the proposed changes into consideration as it researches the issue.

According to Tribune Chronicle archives, the last time the city sued for eminent domain was in the mid-1990s. The lawsuit stated the city was unable to reach an agreement with any of the owners in connection to a Summit Street N.W. widening project.

Warren City Council passed a resolution on Dec. 14, 1994, declaring it necessary for the city to claim the land, according to archive reports.

Warren OH Tribune Chronicle: http://www.tribune-chronicle.com