Institute for Justice and Homeowners Agree to Dismiss Lawsuit Against City of Lakewood After Defeating Bogus “Blight” Label

John Kramer
John Kramer · March 19, 2004

Washington, D.C.—The Institute for Justice, which represents 17 home and business owners in Lakewood, Ohio’s West End who successfully fought to save their homes and businesses from eminent domain abuse, has agreed to dismiss its lawsuit against the City. On March 19, the parties received notice that Judge Kathleen Ann Sutula of the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas had entered an order acknowledging the dismissal.

“These home and business owners sued to get rid of a ridiculous ‘blight’ label and to keep their buildings safe from being taken for private developers,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute. “The voters of Lakewood voted down the project. They voted to remove the ‘blight’ label and, with it, the continuing threat of eminent domain. The neighborhood is now safe, and there is no need to continue with the lawsuit.”

In December 2002, the City of Lakewood declared homes and small businesses in the vibrant and well-kept West End neighborhood “blighted” in order to have an excuse to give the land to private developers Centerpoint Properties, Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate, and Heartland Developers. Because the area is attractive and looks much like most other parts of Lakewood, the City had to use an astonishingly broad definition of “blight.” According to that definition, characteristics of “blight” for a home included not having a two-car garage, having less than two full bathrooms, and having less than three full bedrooms. If that definition were applied to all of Lakewood, about 93 percent of homes in Lakewood would have characteristics of “blight.”

Last November, Lakewood voters rejected the proposed West End project, which would have involved demolishing the neighborhood and replacing it with an upscale mall and high-priced condominiums. However, because of the “blight” label, the City could still tear down the neighborhood whenever other private developers said they wanted the land. On March 2, Lakewood voters returned to the polls and, by an overwhelming margin, repealed the “blight” label on the neighborhood.

“The voters came to the same common-sense conclusion that the Court would have: that our neighborhood isn’t ‘blighted,’” said Jim Saleet, resident of the West End for almost 40 years. “We hope that, in the future, the City government will respect the rights of all of its citizens.”

“This is a total victory,” said Bert Gall, Staff Attorney at the Institute. “This isn’t just a victory for residents of the West End; it’s a victory for all Americans who are fighting to save their homes or businesses from governments eager to give their land to politically connected developers. People across the country are going to know about Lakewood and say, ‘If those people stood up and protected their homes and businesses, we can too.’”

“We fought City Hall, and we won,” said Julie Wiltse, resident of the West End for more than 20 years. “We don’t have to live in fear anymore of losing our homes and businesses just so developers can build high-priced condominiums and shopping malls.”

“Lakewood’s city motto is the ‘City of Homes.’” Berliner said, “The City should consider changing that to ‘Lakewood: The City of Constitutionally Protected Homes.’”