17 Jul 2007 Ohio Supreme Court Smacks Down Effort to Eject Families from Homes
The City of Norwood, Ohio designated a community of 99 well-maintained homes and businesses as “blighted” so that a real estate developer could build offices, condominiums and stores in its place. Although the vast majority of the community had been cleared, a group of affected homeowners challenged the city’s abusive condemnation of their property and won in the state’s Supreme Court.
Ohio Supreme Court Smacks Down Effort to Eject Families from Homes
Carl and Joy Gamble lived on Atlantic Avenue in Norwood, Ohio for more than 35 years, but real estate developer Jeffrey R. Anderson wanted them and their neighbors out. Anderson wanted to add the Rookwood Exchange – a new community that was to include condominiums, offices and stores – to his neighboring Rookwood Commons development. To displace the Gambles and other community residents, Anderson convinced city officials that the Gambles’ community was “blighted.”
Anderson paid for an August, 2003 study that declared 99 homes and small businesses in the community as “blighted.” Designations were based on factors such as broken pavement on sidewalks, standing water on roads and the subjective determination that streets were of poor design.
With a designation of “blight,” the city is equipped with the power to condemn any land in the neighborhood. The properties were condemned and were turned over for Anderson’s use.
In reality, the Atlantic Avenue neighborhood is far from blighted. It is populated with well-maintained homes. In fact, the study Anderson requested indicated that not one house was dilapidated or had an owner who was delinquent in tax payments.
Norwood City Councilman Will DeLuca conceded, “We all agree that we’re not going to find houses with broken windows, gutters falling down and your typical blight.” Of the 99 properties, the City cleared all of them except for one business and two homes – including the Gambles’ – whose owners have refused to sell their property. Joy Gamble says she has no desire to move: “We are not interested in selling our home… We just want to be left alone to enjoy what is rightfully ours. The city shouldn’t try to take our home just so a developer can make money off of our land.”
The Gambles and eight other community homeowners filed suit against the city of Norwood in September of 2003 to remove the “blighted” distinction from their homes. Berliner, the homeowners’ attorney, regards the “blighted” label as misleading. She argues, “This is a thriving, mixed-use neighborhood. [It’s] conveniently located and highly desirable, that’s why the city wants it and that’s why [the developer] wants to build there.” Tim Burke, the lawyer for Anderson and the City of Norwood, disagrees, arguing that Rockwood Exchange is a public purpose. “It does create a beneficial use. It does benefit public welfare.”
In December of 2003, the trial court dismissed the blight challenge. Although the Ohio Court of Appeals sent the case back to a lower court for review, the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas ruled in favor of the city’s application of eminent domain. On appeal, the Court of Appeals for Hamilton County ruled in January of 2005 that the development group headed by Jeffrey Anderson was free to demolish the Gambles’ home. However, although the Gambles were forced to move out, the Ohio Supreme Court granted a stay to the demolition, and agreed to hear the case.
On behalf of the property owners, Institute for Justice attorney Dana Berliner argued the case before the Ohio Supreme Court on January 11, 2006.
On July 26, 2006, as an Institute for Justice press release put it, “The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously held that the City of Norwood could not use eminent domain to take Carl and Joy Gamble’s home of 35 years, as well as the rental home of Joe Horney and tutoring center owned by Matthew Burton and Sanae Ichikawa Burton, for private development – specifically, a complex of chain stores, condominiums and office space planned by millionaire developer Jeffrey Anderson and his Rookwood Partners.”
The Institute further noted that “the Ohio Supreme Court explicitly rejected the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous Kelo decision of June 2005, in which that Court held that local governments can take property from one person and transfer it to another because the new owner might produce more taxes or more jobs than the current one.”
Sources: Cincinnati Enquirer (March 25, 2003; September 10, 2003; September 24, 2003; June 15, 2004), Business Courier (April 12, 2004), Institute for Justice, Tech Central Station (October 1, 2003)
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