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Published: Wednesday, 7/26/2006

Ohio Supreme Court strikes down eminent domain in economic development


COLUMBUS Economic development alone cannot justify the bulldozing of private homes, the Ohio Supreme Court unanimously ruled this morning in a nationally watched case.

While a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling found last year that government s taking of non-blighted properties for private development does not violate the U.S. Constitution, it does violate Ohio s, said the state s high court.

It struck down as unconstitutional a portion of the state s eminent domain law and criticized the Hamilton County city of Norwood s vague description of the targeted community as deteriorating to justify tearing down structurally sound homes to make way for a more lucrative apartment, retail, and office complex.

...the buildings in the neighborhood were generally in good condition and the owners were not property-tax delinquent, wrote Justice Maureen O Connor. There is no suggestion that the area was vermin-infested, was subject to high crime rates or outbreaks of disease, or otherwise posed an impermissible risk to the larger community.

She noted that the city s determination that the urban neighborhood, wholly surrounded by the city of Cincinnati, was deteriorating was based on such factors as inadequate parking, faulty street arrangement, dead-end streets, and heavy traffic. These are factors that could exist in nearly any urban American neighborhood, she wrote.

To permit a taking of private property basely solely on a finding that the property is deteriorating or in danger of deteriorating would grant an impermissible, unfettered power to the government to appropriate, she wrote.

In overturning two lower court rulings and acting to preserve buildings in an area where demolition on other structures had already begun, the Supreme Court ruled that economic development may be one factor, but not the only factor, when it comes to exercising government s power of eminent domain.

Five of 71 property owners held out against purchase offers from the developer and orders from the city and courts to evacuate.

All eyes have been on Norwood, said state Sen. Tim Grendell (R., Chesterland), chairman of a legislative committee created to look at Ohio s eminent domain law.

I believe it is the first property-rights case to come before a state supreme court since the U.S. Supreme Court shocked the nation with its decision in Kelo. Today s decision is a victory for private property owners.

Contact Jim Provance at:jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

Read more in later editions of The Blade and toledoblade.com.

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