Washington, D.C.—Today, Ohio Governor Bob Taft signed into law S.B. 167, an eminent domain moratorium. The moratorium, which lasts until December 31, 2006, prevents cities from taking unblighted property for economic development. The legislation also provides for the formation of a task force that will study eminent domain issues and issue the first of two reports by April 1, 2006. The Institute for Justice, which litigates against the abuse of eminent domain throughout the country and Ohio, welcomed the passage of the legislation, but urged that much more must be done to protect the rights of home and business owners throughout the state—particularly because bogus “blight” designations are frequently used by Ohio cities to take property from A to B for B’s private benefit.
“Ohioans should welcome the passage of the moratorium, which is a first step in the direction of eminent domain reform,” said Scott Bullock, an attorney with the Institute for Justice, which is currently representing Norwood homeowners in a major eminent domain abuse case that will be argued before the Ohio Supreme Court on January 11, 2006. “Unfortunately, the biggest problem in Ohio is that cities use bogus ‘blight’ designations to tear down perfectly normal neighborhoods and turn them over to private developers. Because the moratorium does not address that problem, the legislature should work quickly to address it.”
As documented by the Institute for Justice in Public Power, Private Gain, a report issued by IJ on eminent domain abuse, there were over 400 instances in Ohio of cities condemning or threatening to condemn properties for the benefit of private developers. In Lakewood, the Institute represented home and business owners who saved their neighborhood from being bulldozed so a private developer could build chain stores and condominiums. 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.
Currently, the Institute represents Norwood, Ohio, homeowners Carl and Joy Gamble, who are in danger of losing their home of 35 years because developer Jeffrey Anderson wants to expand his nearby shopping center. In that case, which is now before the Ohio Supreme Court, the City of Norwood used a “blight” study initiated and paid for by Anderson to call the Gambles’ neighborhood “deteriorating” because, among other things, it had “diversity of ownership”—which merely means that nearly everyone in the neighborhood owned their own home or business, something that should be strived for in America rather than used as an excuse to tear down the Gamble’s American Dream. The Gambles’ case will be the first state supreme court argument on the issue of eminent domain for private use since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Kelo ruling, which eviscerated federal constitutional protections for private property.