City Condemns Family Home, Citing Lack of Two-Car Garage

Citing a desire for additional tax revenue, the City of Lakewood, OH designated an everyday neighborhood as “blighted” so that it could transfer the property to a high-end real estate developer. The designation threatened to displace an entire community until local citizens fought back and won.

City Condemns Family Home, Citing Lack of Two-Car Garage

Jim and JoAnn Saleet have lived in their home since 1965. They raised their four children there. They relax on its porch while they listen to the Cleveland Indians baseball games on the radio.

The Saleets had planned on leaving the property to their daughter Judy after their deaths, but the City of Lakewood, Ohio has proposed plans that would force the Saleets to instead sell their home to the government so it can be turned over to a real estate developer.

The Saleets live in an area of Lakewood called the West End. Citing its eminent domain power – the government’s ability to purchase private property to use for the good of the public – Lakewood Mayor Madeline Cain announced that the city planned on taking the homes of the Saleets and other West End residents. Normally, land taken through eminent domain is used for projects such as building schools or highways. Mayor Cain, however, wants to turn over the land in the Saleets’ neighborhood to private corporations seeking to build condominiums and a high-end shopping center. She justifies the use of eminent domain because the increase in tax revenue for the city is a “public use.”

In December 2002, the Lakewood City Council officially approved Cain’s eminent domain proposal through both a “community development plan” and a finding that labeled the Saleets’ neighborhood as “blighted.” By designating the area “blighted,” city officials could be justified for taking privately-owned land and turning it over to developers, Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate, CenterPoint Properties and Heartland Developers, LLC.

The designation of the Saleets’ home as blighted, however, is misleading and deceitful. Factors used to classify the West End homes as “blighted” include the lack of a two-car garage and having less than two bathrooms or three bedrooms. Ironically, the homes owned by Mayor Cain, all of the members of the City Council and the vast majority of Lakewood residents would be considered blighted by these standards. But only the West End has been targeted for condemnation by the city.

The Saleets and other families, with the help of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Justice, sued the City of Lakewood in Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court in May 2003. Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula ruled against the city’s request to dismiss the case in July 2003. Finally, in November of 2003, the citizens of Lakewood rejected the development plan through a referendum vote. Moreover, in March 2004, the citizens approved a second ballot initiative to repeal the blight designation that had threatened the community.

Sources: Institute for Justice, Washington Post (June 22, 2003), Cleveland Plain Dealer, Associated Press (November 5, 2003)

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