Eminent domain debated: Warren OH Tribune Chronicle, 4/29/07

By Stephen Oravecz

The sponsor of a bill making it harder for government to take private property through eminent domain said last week he will amend the proposed legislation to satisfy concerns raised by Warren’s mayor.

Sen. Timothy Grendell, R-Chesterland, said he expects a committee to make that and possibly other changes Tuesday, and the Senate could pass the bill this week or next.

In part, the bill would require governments to state why they are taking a property and giving the previous owner the right to buy it back if it is not used for that purpose. Warren Mayor Michael J. O’Brien, who is planning aggressive use of eminent domain for downtown renovation, objected to that language.

O’Brien said he expects the city to be able to prove certain properties are blighted even under the bill's tougher definitions of blight. Warren then plans to tear down dilapidate structures and sell the property to a developer to enhance the neighborhood.

‘‘I want to prevent a property owner who has been for decades preventing blighted property’’ from falling under the city’s control from being sold back to that owner.

‘‘If the property owner doesn’t take responsibility, then I feel government should step in and demolish a building to eradicate blight,’’ O’Brien said.

Grendell, a staunch supporter of private property rights, said his goal is to protect private property and make eminent domain a tool of last resort for cities that must deal with blighted areas.

Nevertheless, Grendell said O’Brien has a valid point. They spoke two weeks ago in a conference call that included Sen. Capri Cafaro, D-Hubbard.

Grendell said he would agree to remove urban renewal projects from the buy-back provision to make sure cities like Warren can use eminent domain for economic development.

On another issue, Cafaro and others have expressed concerns about the way blighted areas are selected. Under the bill, 90 percent of an area must be blighted before a government or agency can use eminent domain.

John Boccieri, D-New Middletown, called the 90 percent figure ‘‘arbitrary,’’ and he would like to see the figure set at 50 percent.

To address that concern, Grendell said he is willing to amend his bill to make it clear that the government using eminent domain draws the boundaries of the blighted area.

Grendell said he plans one other amendment to the bill that would help property owners who agree to sell land for an economic development project. Currently they have six month to reinvest profits from the sale without being required to pay capital gains taxes. Grendell wants to make Ohio conform to federal law which gives property owner three years to roll over the money.

Cafaro, who sits on the committee reviewing the eminent domain legislation, said she will propose one other amendment. She wants the bill to make it clear that port authorities have the right to use eminent domain for projects related directly to an airport, such as lengthening a runway.

The Legislature is considering two eminent domain bills.

Grendell’s legislation, Senate Bill 7, sets the rules for eminent domain. The other, Senate Bill 1, calls for a ballot issue that would require home-rule cities to follow the state regulations.

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