City Destroys One Auto Business to Make Landscaping for Another

Claiming it was trying to save 4,900 area jobs, the City of Toledo, Ohio evicted 83 homeowners and 16 businesses so that carmaker DaimlerChrysler could use their condemned land to expand its manufacturing plant.

City Destroys One Auto Business to Make Landscaping for Another

In Toledo, Ohio, city officials waged a five-year campaign to oust Kim’s Auto and Truck Service to accommodate the expansion of an existing DaimlerChrysler Jeep manufacturing plant.

Kim and Herman Blankenship, the owners of Kim’s Auto and Truck Service, are the last remaining holdouts in the city’s campaign. They are also the targets of one of the most egregious examples of eminent domain abuse because their property, if turned over to DaimlerChrysler, is expected to simply become open space.

The Blankenships steadfastly refuse to allow city officials to condemn their land, which is located on a corner lot approximately 300 yards from the manufacturing plant. Terry Lodge, the Blankenships’ attorney, doesn’t understand why city officials are fighting so hard to take his clients’ property. Lodge said: “From the very start of planning for the manufacturing plant, the area currently occupied by Kim’s Auto was designated as a landscaped green-space.” Kim adds: “They just want landscape. Why uproot somebody’s business for that?”

In 1999, the Blankenships and other area residents and business owners were informed by the city that 83 homes and 16 businesses were slated to be condemned under the city’s power of eminent domain – the government’s ability to take private property, with just compensation, for the public good. This taking was to facilitate the expansion of an existing DaimlerChrysler Jeep Plant. City officials agreed to transfer the land – approximately 160 acres – to the company to begin construction. In order to keep the manufacturing plant in Toledo, city and state officials offered Chrysler over $280 million in tax breaks and other incentives. The city also took out a $28 million loan from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to cover the costs of relocating property owners.

Lodge asks, “How can you condemn property and have it handed over to another business entity?” Former Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner, who approved the manufacturing plan, said it was necessary to maintain 4,900 jobs. Opponents of the plan, however, insist the plant’s assembly line draws heavily on automated lasers and robots and will not create the spinoff jobs promised.

The dispute over the Blankenship property went to trial in September of 2002, after the manufacturing plant’s addition was completed and fully operational. A Lucas County Common Pleas Court jury ruled in favor of the Blankenships, valuing their business at $104,000. Toledo’s law director, Barbara Herring, applauded the jury’s decision, claiming, “They’ve been offered a very fair value for their property.” The Blankenships disagree, saying that rebuilding their business would cost nearly $500,000. In addition, Kim’s clientele includes a large number of small trucks. Their current location, approximately 150 feet from Interstate 75, is an ideal location that would be extremely difficult to duplicate elsewhere. Public interest attorney Dana Berliner, who, in her study, “Public Power, Private Gain,” called this ouster of property owners “one of the top ten abuses of eminent domain,” has pointed out, “many, if not most, condemned businesses never reopen.”

The Blankenships appealed the ruling, claiming the market value cited for their property is too low. They also continue to assert that the city is attempting to condemn their property without an appropriate public cause. The Ohio Sixth District Court of Appeals upheld the jury award in October of 2003, arguing that the city did not abuse its discretion in condemning the land. In their quest to keep their property, the Blankenships have enlisted the support of the Center for Study of Responsive Law, a non-profit organization of Ralph Nader. Commenting on the Blankenship case, Nader said, “The purpose of eminent domain should be for a public purpose. It should be for a bridge, a dam, a highway.”

However, in October of 2004, the Supreme Court of Ohio declined to issue a stay to protect the property and refused to hear the case. The Blankenships’ shop was destroyed in 2004. A subsequent appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court did not provide the Blankenships any relief. An application referred to Justice John Paul Stevens of the Supreme Court for injunction pending appeal was denied in October of 2004, and the Supreme Court eventually declined to hear the Blankenships’ case in August of 2005.

Sources: The Pacific Legal Foundation, The Institute for Justice, (March 7, 2002; June 4, 2004; July 15, 2005), Terry Lodge, Herman Blankenship, Associated Press (June 17, 2004; August 17, 2005)

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