Lakewood Voters Pass Issue 10: Eminent Domain Abuse Nightmare Finally Over for Property Owners

John Kramer
John Kramer · March 3, 2004

Washington, D.C.—The Institute for Justice and its clients in Lakewood, Ohio, thanked Lakewood residents who passed Issue 10, which repealed the “blight” label from their neighborhood in the city’s West End. As long as the label was in place, the City could use eminent domain to tear down the neighborhood for a private developer. Voters repealed the blight label with more than 63 percent of the vote (8278 to 4831).

“Voters all across the nation are telling their local governments to stop eminent domain abuse,” said Dana Berliner, senior attorney at the Institute. “This vote is part of a national groundswell of resistance to the abuse of government power.”

In December of 2002, the City of Lakewood declared homes and small businesses in a vibrant and well-kept 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 other nice parts of Lakewood, the City had to use a broad definition of “blight.” According to that definition, characteristics of “blight” for a home include 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% of homes in Lakewood would have characteristics of “blight.”

Even though voters defeated the proposed West End project last November, the City refused to remove the “blight” label from the area. So residents, facing an uncertain future of never knowing when the City and politically connected developers would make another attempt to take away their homes and businesses, took matters into their own hands and rescinded the “blight” designation themselves as part of an initiative.

Jim Saleet, resident of the West End for almost 40 years, said, “This vote confirms what everyone has known for a long time: The West End isn’t ‘blighted.’ The City Council said it was ‘blighted,’ but everyone else knew the truth.” JoAnn Saleet added, “I’m going to sleep well tonight. Our nightmare is finally over.”

“We are pleased that an overwhelming number of voters recognized the ‘blight’ label for what it was: a dishonest way for the City to sacrifice the homes and businesses of its citizens for the benefit of private developers,” said Bert Gall, staff attorney at the Institute. “Lakewood voters should be proud that they rejected this flagrant abuse of government power.”

Last night, more than 30 residents of the West End neighborhood gathered at the L.D. Farris Building in the West End to watch the election returns. When the results came in, neighbors cheered, hugged, and breathed a long sigh of relief.

Lynn Farris, who owns a small business in the neighborhood, said, “This means I can finally go back to running my business instead of working every day just to save it.”