Eminent domain weighed in Kent Council considers seizure of property owned by Right Dimensions: Ravenna OH Record-Courier, 8/6/07

By Matt Fredmonsky

The phrase "eminent domain" can stir feelings of both hope and anger.

Municipalities declare it is necessary for doing the public good. In Cleveland, council members there approved the use of eminent domain in April 2006 to push through the Flats redevelopment project much to the chagrin of some east bank land owners.

Despite the issue's often controversial reputation, an official vote on the use of eminent domain will be cast by Kent City Council this month. City officials are looking at property owned by La Mirada, Calif., real estate development firm Right Dimensions. The land is located in a downtown block previously targeted by the firm for a large-scale redevelopment project.

Council will hold a community development committee meeting after its regular council meeting Aug. 15 at which time city administrators will present a resolution of necessity for implementing eminent domain to seize the firm's College Street property.

Right Dimensions President Andrew Lombardo approached city officials in 2004 and proposed a multi-million dollar reinvestment project in the block bordered by Haymaker Parkway, Depeyster and South Water streets. The $13 million proposal included a three-story, mixed-use development. After spending approximately 18 months on the project, city officials declined in June 2006 to renew an agreement that would have continued a partnership with Right Dimensions.

The project failed largely due to property acquisition. However, Right Dimensions was able to purchase property at 129 and 131 E. College St. for $230,000.

City officials discussed the idea of using eminent domain to seize the firm's property as early as August 2006, when Kent City Manager Dave Ruller said Kent would consider eminent domain to continue moving forward with the project.

In June 2007, Kent officials began watching a debate at the state house in Columbus about criteria for implementing the land-grab practice. Last month, Councilman William Schultz asked city administrators for an informational presentation on the process.

Councilman Garrett Ferrara said he believes council will likely vote to implement eminent domain on the Right Dimensions property.

"Unless the city comes to an agreement with Right Dimensions," Ferrara said.

When council members allowed the agreement with Right Dimensions to expire, a series of events unfolded to keep the project moving. Houses on city-owned land next door to the property were demolished. The city obtained options on the remaining parcels in the block.

The firm filed a lawsuit in March 2007 seeking more than $25,000 in damages claiming city employees damaged the structures owned by Right Dimensions.

Lombardo had no comment on the lawsuit, which is pending in court, but said his firm will fight any eminent domain action. He contends city officials have taken unlawful steps in the past to damage the property in an attempt to force a sale.

"There's something behind the scenes, and I don't know what it is," Lombardo said.

Ruller said the city has no motive for seizing the land other than to remove blighted structures and spur a development project that could include Kent State University.

The city could look to create a project similar to the original proposed downtown village in combination with a hotel and conference center.

"Whereas Right Dimensions was not building that into their project, we felt there was an opportunity to combine those things," Ruller said. "It's premature to say that's the final product."

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