Ohio Haunted House Fights Back Against Eminent Domain Land Grab

The owners of a haunted house in Ohio are in for a real scare, after the government authorized one of its most frightening powers: eminent domain.

Over the past four years, Angie and Brent Stooksbury transformed a foreclosed, 19th Century home into one of the top haunted houses in the state, the Haunted Hoorah. Each year, over 6,000 visitors descend on the Haunted Hoorah in the tiny village of Ashley (about an hour north of Columbus), eager to witness scary soldiers, infected zombies, and demented doctors. Guests can even pay for an “extreme dread experience” where they can be grabbed and pulled into “invasive, interactive touch scenes.”

Unfortunately, this Halloween will likely be the last hurrah for the Haunted Hoorah. In January, the Buckeye Valley School District Board of Education filed an eminent-domain compliant to take the property and the acre of land it sits on. The board wants to expand and build a new bus loop for the Buckeye Valley East Elementary School, which, improbably, is the Haunted Hoorah’s next-door neighbor.

The Board offered Angie and Brent $95,000 for their property, an amount the two criticized as a “bargain price.” According to the Columbus Dispatch, the couple bought the property for $11,000 and then had to invest roughly $200,000 to bring the house up to commercial code. After accounting for those upgrades, the couple’s expert appraiser instead valued the property at $330,000. Their case is slated for trial in March.

Moreover, the Board’s offer doesn’t include relocation assistance or any compensation for the loss of future business. Unlike several other state high courts, the Ohio Supreme Court has not yet ruled on whether the government has to compensate business owners if their businesses are destroyed by eminent domain.

But the U.S. Supreme Court now has an opportunity to act on this issue, thanks to a cert petition recently filed by the Institute for Justice. The petition involves the case of Chad Jarreau, a “dirt farmer” who lost out on nearly $165,000 in compensation after a Louisiana agency seized his land and egregiously lowballed him.

Jarreau’s case “spotlights why ordinary Americans rightfully hate eminent domain,” noted Robert McNamara, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. “And in this case, the government wants the power to not only take your land, but destroy your livelihood without having to consider the disastrous consequences such government actions would have on millions of ordinary American nationwide.”

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