Local Activists in Several Ohio Cities Organize to Stop Their Local Governments from Abusing Eminent Domain
While officials in a number of Ohio cities continue to hatch redevelopment schemes that utilize eminent domain for the benefit of wealthy private developers, property owners in areas targeted for redevelopment are increasingly mobilizing into organized groups aimed at stopping these plans. Since 2001, grassroots coalitions of property owners and concerned citizens have sprung up in several suburbs outside Cleveland and Cincinnati. These activists are linked by a common problem: City bureaucrats are trying to take swaths of private land in choice locations and hand it over to developers and wealthier owners. All of these various plans are being pushed forward based on blight declarations, meaning that in the cities’ estimation the tidy homes and businesses slated for condemnation constitute a “menace to the public health, safety, morals, or welfare”1 in their present condition and use. When one thinks of “blighted” property, the image is usually one of buildings so deteriorated that they threaten to collapse—a feature not uncommon in pockets of this rust belt state. However, the properties targeted by officials in the situations listed here hardly meet that description.
In the Cleveland area, citizens in two different communities are mounting campaigns to stop redevelopment plans passed by the municipal governments. The City Council in Lakewood recently voted in favor of a redevelopment plan that would take homes for a large private development. In Willowick, City officials are working on a scheme to take nice waterfront cottages along Lake Erie so that developers can build upscale lakefront condominiums and houses.
Around Cincinnati, property owners in several suburban cities are also mobilizing to stop attempts to condemn their prime land for private redevelopment. Seventy-seven families and several businesses in Norwood have organized in their fight to keep the nice properties they own that are located where the City wants to expand a nearby shopping mall. Evendale wants to take 130 businesses and two homes so that its bureaucrats can remake the city’s commercial core in an image more to their liking. Enterprising residents in that City have started an elaborate website (www.blightedevendale.com) to get their message out. The City of Newport, a Cincinnati suburb located just over the Ohio River in Kentucky, is in the process of using the threat of eminent domain to help a private developer wipe out one of the City’s wealthiest neighborhoods, so that even wealthier residents can enjoy the panoramic hillside views of downtown Cincinnati.
Fortunately, these suburban Ohio eminent domain abuses are not going unchecked. The various groups have become increasingly vocal and organized, running newspaper announcements, utilizing the Internet, speaking at City Council meetings, and demonstrating against the planned condemnations. With the help of the Castle Coalition, these Ohioans are learning that community activism can make a difference. Their efforts could serve as a template for similar resistance movements nationwide, where property owners have not yet gotten the message that with eminent domain abuse, everyone is at risk. As an advertisement by the Lakewood group states, “If Lakewood bureaucrats can manufacture reasons to take our homes and businesses, they can find a way to take yours too.”
1 Ohio Rev. Code Ann. § 725.01 (Anderson 2002). This statute and others contain similar definition of “blight” for redevelopment purposes. Individual Ohio cities may also use local definitions of blight.