Ohio Eminent Domain Task Force Releases Initial Recommendations

Recommends Statewide Standard of “Blight”

PRESS RELEASE: April 3, 2006

John Kramer
Lisa Knepper
(703) 682-9320

Arlington, Va.—Today, the Ohio Legislative Task Force on Eminent Domain sent its first report to the General Assembly, recommending it “consider establishing a statewide standard of blight and that any use of eminent domain for the purposes of economic development or urban renewal is subject to a minimum standard of that definition of blight in the area to be redeveloped.”  The Task Force was created to examine Ohio’s eminent domain laws.

The report further announced, “It is clear that a majority of the Task Force supports the concepts of policy and procedural changes in some form.”

“We applaud the Task Force for recognizing the need for increased protection against eminent domain abuse in Ohio,” said Chip Mellor, president and general counsel of the Institute for Justice.  “If the Legislature insists on continuing to allow local governments to use eminent domain for urban renewal, lawmakers should enact a stricter definition of what constitutes ‘blight.’  It should be based upon objective criteria and be determined on a property-by-property basis.”

“This is a good first step,” said IJ Senior Attorney Scott Bullock, who argued Kelo v. City of New London before the U.S. Supreme Court.  “It appears the Task Force reacted to the overwhelming public outcry calling for eminent domain reform in Ohio.  As the report’s recommendations indicate, much more needs to be done to protect home and business owners in the Buckeye State from the government’s wrecking ball.”

The Task Force—which consists of 24 members—met six times prior to submitting its report to the General Assembly.  It is expected to meet on a bi-monthly basis over the next four months and release its final recommendations to the General Assembly by August 1.

Members of the Buckeye Coalition, a group of more than 100 concerned citizens from across the state, have attended every meeting and provided the Task Force with vital information and examples about the abuse of eminent domain in Ohio.

“We have experienced eminent domain abuse firsthand,” said Buckeye Coalition founder Lynn Farris, who successfully worked, along with co-founder Julie Wiltse, with her neighbors to defeat Lakewood’s attempt to declare more than 50 beautiful homes “blighted” so the City could take them for a private development.  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.  Wiltse added, “The existing laws on the books in Ohio are insufficient.  We need protection.”

Eminent domain abuse in Ohio is widespread, rampant and well-known.  In just one five-year period (1998-2002), the Institute for Justice documented more than 400 instances in Ohio where cities engaged in eminent domain abuse for the benefit of private developers.  The Institute currently represents homeowners Carl and Joy Gamble, who 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 $500,000,000 real estate empire.  The Ohio Supreme Court is expected to rule on the case in the next few months.

Since Kelo, legislators in 47 states have introduced, considered or passed legislation aiming 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, which also gave birth to this Task Force.

IJ Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who argued Norwood v. Horney before the Ohio Supreme Court, said, “It is especially important that Ohio enacts a uniform, objective standard of ‘blight’ that cannot be applied to ordinary neighborhoods.  Everyone in the state deserves equal protection.  If you take care of your home, it shouldn’t matter what town you live in.”

Bullock concluded, “The Task Force still has the historic opportunity to protect all homes, businesses, farms and places of worship in Ohio from eminent domain for private profit.  To do so, it must reform the standard of blight at the state level and specifically prohibit the use of eminent domain for increased jobs or taxes.  We are optimistic the Legislature will enact real reform.  The Buckeye State deserves it.”

# # #