7/31/2007

Senate had the right idea: Akron OH Beacon-Journal, 7/16/07

Letter to the Editor

By Michael G. McFeely, Willoughby

The Ohio House was wrong to block efforts to reform eminent-domain law with a constitutional amendment. Many of us were dismayed when the U.S. Supreme Court refused to curb abuse of these powers, and we had hoped the states would step in to strengthen property rights.

Gov. Ted Strickland signed compromise legislation July 10. But the Ohio Senate was on the right track in its efforts to reform eminent-domain law. Local governments have not respected property rights, so these rights must be given clearly written constitutional protections that override home rule.

Your June 26 editorial headlined ``Hard bargain'' called for the House to hold firm against the Senate's version of eminent-domain reform, which you described as onerous, arguing that local entities do not recklessly use eminent domain. Let's take a look at how local governments have used and abused eminent domain.

When the Ohio Supreme Court ruled last year on eminent-domain use in Norwood, it found that local officials had abused their authority, and the court restored ownership of homes and businesses to their rightful owners. The significant thing to note about this ruling was that it was unanimous, which means that the issue wasn't even a close call, and yet Norwood officials had voted to trash property rights. In this case, a retired couple were driven out of their home when the city applied its version of eminent-domain law.

In December, the city of Cuyahoga Falls enacted a blight definition with conditions that include age, obsolescence, lack of open space, density, street layout, lot layout, proximity to other blighted properties, and something called ``incompatible land use.'' A parcel only has to have two of these criteria to be declared blighted and taken. Property rights should not dissolve in so many subjective ways.

The owner of Akron's Katmandu restaurant was threatened with the taking of his business by eminent domain for a car dealership, before selling under duress. Was that really necessary?

In Cleveland, a developer made only a half-hearted attempt to purchase property in the Flats and instead just handed over the acquisition of land to the Port Authority with its eminent-domain powers. You can do that when you have government on your side. Was seizing property in the Flats really a ``tool of last resort,'' as your editorial described eminent domain?

In March, I testified before the Ohio Senate that if home rule were to prevail in defining blight, local governments would be both the rule-making authority and the beneficiary in eminent-domain cases, hardly a fair and impartial environment for property owners. Local governments that are trying to raise the tax base and thereby tax revenue - and governments never say they have enough tax revenue - would continue to set the bar low for defining blight and the taking of homes and businesses.


Akron OH Beacon-Journal: http://www.ohio.com