“Buckeye Coalition” Calls for Meaningful Eminent Domain Reform
PRESS RELEASE: March 1, 2006
Arlington, Va.—As the Ohio Legislative Task Force on Eminent Domain begins to hear testimony this week, representatives of a group of more than 100 concerned citizens from across the state have pledged to attend every meeting and provide the task force with information about the abuse of eminent domain in Ohio. The Buckeye Coalition—founded by Julie Wiltse and Lynn Farris, both of whom successfully worked with their neighbors to defeat Lakewood’s attempt to declare more than 50 beautiful homes “blighted” so the City could take them for a private development—is motivated to ensure that the task force makes recommendations to lawmakers that will protect people from having their homes taken by the government and handed over to private developers.
“It is important that the interests of home and business owners are represented throughout this process,” said Institute for Justice senior attorney Scott Bullock, who argued Kelo v. City of New London last year before the U.S. Supreme Court. “We commend the Buckeye Coalition for stepping up to the plate to make sure this occurs. Many of the people appointed to this 24-member task force have emphatically supported eminent domain abuse in the past, and the Buckeye Coalition will provide much-needed balance to this process.”
The task force includes:
- Richard Tranter, an attorney who represents developers that urged the City of Norwood to seize private property (including the home of Carl and Joy Gamble) for private development. The case is currently before the Ohio Supreme Court.
- Bruce Ingram, an attorney who has publicly announced his support of eminent domain for private development.
- Gene Krebs, who heads Greater Ohio and who opposes an outright ban on takings for private development.
- Bruce Johnson, Lt. Governor who also directs Ohio’s Department of Development.
- Margaret Cannon, an attorney whom the Ohio Municipal League says is their representative.
- Larry Long, Director of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio, a private organization that represents City officials, many of whom have used eminent domain for private development.
- Debra Janik, Senior Vice President of the Greater Cleveland Partnership, which describes itself as “one of the nation’s strongest regional economic development organizations.”
- Vincent Papsidero Jr., a planning administrator for the City of Columbus.
“Eminent domain for private development projects is despised by the vast majority of citizens in Ohio, yet so many of the non-elected officials on this task force benefit from condemning homes and businesses for commercial development,” said Dana Berliner, an IJ senior attorney who presented the Institute’s argument before the Ohio Supreme Court and who authored Public Power, Private Gain, the first-ever study documenting the abuse of eminent domain nationwide. “There is an attorney who represents developers in eminent domain disputes, but none who represent homeowners. There are a number of professional planners and redevelopment officials, but not a single home or business owner who is faced with eminent domain abuse. There are people speaking for those who use eminent domain for economic development, but nobody who has fought against it.”
Eminent domain abuse in Ohio is widespread. In just one five-year period (1998-2002), the Institute for Justice documented more than 400 instances in Ohio of cities condemning or threatening to condemn properties for the benefit of private developers. In Lakewood, the Institute represented home and business owners who saved their neighborhood from being bulldozed so a private developer could build chain stores and condominiums. The City had labeled the area “blighted,” because, among other things, many of the homes did not have two full bathrooms, three bedrooms and two-car garages. The Institute currently represents homeowners Carl and Joy Gamble in Norwood. The Gambles are in danger of losing their home of more than 35 years because developer Jeffrey Anderson (represented by Richard Tranter, who is on the task force) wants to expand his nearby shopping center. The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the next few months.
Since Kelo, legislatures in 45 states are considering, or have passed, reforms to curb the abuse of eminent domain for private development. In November 2005, Gov. Bob Taft signed into law a moratorium on eminent domain for commercial projects.
“This task force has the historic opportunity to really make a difference for the people of Ohio,” Bullock concluded. “Unfortunately, the voice of the public who overwhelmingly oppose eminent domain for private gain seems to be missing from this task force. The Buckeye Coalition is there to warn homeowners whether the writing of bogus reform is already on the wall. Let’s hope that’s not the case.”