Toledo may use eminent domain to build road through Southwyck: Toledo OH Blade, 9/15/07

By Tom Troy

More than once, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has stood in front of brightly painted architectural drawings depicting an excited, transformed “Village at Southwyck,” with fountains, curving streets, greenery, and well-dressed shoppers — but with no way to make it happen.

A new plan emerging from the Finkbeiner administration this week for Southwyck provides a way — eminent domain.

A resolution introduced to Toledo City Council would allow the administration to begin eminent-domain proceedings against the owners of Southwyck Shopping Center for the purpose of building a road.

The legislation says the city needs a new road through the middle of the mall to connect Brownstone and Cheyenne boulevards on a straight line.

The proposed right-of-way would be 100 feet wide, and would require the city to take ownership of portions of the three major parcels that make up the mall.

Mr. Finkbeiner said the road fits with the Village at Southwyck concept proposed by developer Larry Dillin.

“[Mr. Dillin] feels that it’s very important that that mall be broken up, that there be a connecting road running north and south, to link the beltway road,” the mayor said, referring to Southwyck Boulevard.

Mr. Finkbeiner said plans for improving Reynolds Road and on Southwyck Boulevard “are a high priority for the administration, and part of that is a road that would bisect the village.”

Built in 1972, Southwyck Shopping Center has steadily lost tenants over the last eight years, and faces the loss of its remaining anchor — Dillard’s.

Dillard’s announced last month that its Southwyck store would close in 60 days, sometime after a new Dillard’s opens in the Shops at Fallen Timbers in Maumee, expected about Oct. 3.

Todd Davies, commissioner of economic development for Mr. Finkbeiner, said Southwyck “is pulling down the rest of the area.”

“We still want to work with the property owners. We’re at the point where if they’re not going to move, we are,” Mr. Davies said.

Dreiseszun & Morgan of Kansas City is the managing partner for the mall ownership group, which includes Bill Dillard, Sherman Dreiseszun, and his nephew and business partner Tom Morgan. Mr. Dillard is chairman and chief executive officer of Dillard’s Inc.

The Dillard’s store and its adjacent parking lot is owned by shopping-center operator M.G. “Buddy” Herring, Jr., president and chief executive of the M.G. Herring Group, Dallas. Calls to the offices of Mr. Herring and Mr. Dillard were not returned.

District 2 Councilman Rob Ludeman said he met with Mr. Dillard within the last two months.

“I believe the term eminent domain was brought up,” Mr. Ludeman said. “He didn’t seem to like that.”

Mr. Ludeman said if the land is purchased through eminent domain, the city would pay only fair market value, which is less than the amount developer Larry Dillin has offered for the property.

The Lucas County Auditor values the property at about $15 million.

“This is to move Mr. Dillard and Mr. Herring off dead-center. This is the step we need to take to bring [Southwyck revitalization] to fruition. It is blight, and it has had a residual effect on all the surrounding area, residential and commercial,” Mr. Ludeman said.

Once used solely for public projects, such as roads, eminent domain has become controversial in recent years as cities have used the power to transfer property from one private owner to another offering a more lucrative development.

The Ohio Supreme Court last year struck down as unconstitutional a portion of the state’s eminent domain law and criticized the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood for targeting buildings that were in good condition and whose owners were not property-tax delinquent.

It was not clear whether the city of Toledo would cite blight as the reason for seeking control of Southwyck.

The administration says the purpose of the proposed road is “to improve the public infrastructure.”

Don Monroe, senior development specialist under Mayor Finkbeiner, said the goal is to increase residential access through the area.

The Ohio General Assembly enacted a new law, to take effect Oct. 10, setting more restrictive limits on eminent domain, but the law would not apply in Toledo, which has home-rule powers, said state Sen. Teresa Fedor (D., Toledo).

Toledo used the power of eminent domain to remove 83 homes and 15 businesses from a large swath of North Toledo centering on Stickney Avenue near I-75 in 1999 to allow construction of the $1.2 billion Toledo Jeep Assembly Plant.

The owners of one of those businesses, Kim’s Auto & Truck Service Inc., 3708 Stickney, sued to retain its property, but lost when the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case.

Attorney Terry Lodge, who represented owners Kim and Herman Blankenship, said the proposed road seems like a pretext to gain control of Southwyck for an economic-development purpose.

“It’s a fraud. You don’t call infrastructure improvements the potential razing of an entire shopping mall. This is a game. I’ll give them a few points for being clever,” he said.

Mayor Finkbeiner tried to have the legislation introduced and passed under suspension of rules on Sept. 4, but council President Michael Ashford refused to put it on the agenda for immediate consideration and set a committee hearing for Sept. 24.

Mr. Ashford said he wants to know why the money proposed to be spent on the road — $1.9 million out of the city’s capital improvements budget — is a higher priority than using it to improve the residential streets around Southwyck.

“We have a new way of conducting business, and that is we would like to see a plan as to why they would like to see eminent domain,” Mr. Ashford said.

Details he would like include a construction timetable and commitments from developers, he said.

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