Jim and JoAnn Saleet moved to Lakewood, Ohio, in 1965. Their dream home was perched in a cozy working-class neighborhood, known as the West End, overlooking beautiful valley views.
Decades later, city officials sought to stave off a purported exodus, create jobs, and increase the city’s tax base. In 2003, the Lakewood city council approved a development agreement with two developers to construct a new movie theater, shopping center, and upscale townhouses in the city’s West End. To achieve its goal, the city designated the West End as “blighted,” and planned to use eminent domain proceedings to seize property from homeowners who wouldn’t sell.
Not surprisingly, a fury erupted. Saleet and 16 neighboring families filed suit in May 2003 to stop the plan.
Eminent domain is the government power to take private property for public use.
Condemnation is the formal process by which eminent domain is exercised. The Takings Clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment, which declares that “private property [shall not] be taken for public use, without just compensation,” limits a municipality’s power to use eminent domain.
The government has used eminent domain to acquire more than land; authorities have taken personal property and intangible property (such as contract rights, trade secrets, and copyrights).
Most people think of the following as public uses:
So how do townhouses, a movie theater, and a shopping center fit within the “public use” concept?
For years, courts have described public purpose broadly. An economically distressed municipality, for example, may formulate a comprehensive redevelopment plan to rejuvenate the town and encourage economic growth—which ultimately confers indirect public benefits (even when directly benefiting a private business).
Here, however, the West End section of Lakewood was not distressed.
When most people think of blight, we envision crime, poorly kept properties, poverty, boarded up windows, joblessness, disease, etc.
The Lakewood case stands out because the West End was a cozy neighborhood consisting of about 50 well-kept homes. Astonishingly, Lakewood stretched the “blight” definition to include a home that didn’t have two bathrooms, three bedrooms, an attached two-car garage, central air, or other features or amenities. Under that definition, even the mayor and city council members’ homes qualified as blighted. Residents expressed outrage.
As a result of 19-month grassroots campaign, citizens may have defeated the development project. The Lakewood case, however, stands as an aberration. Throughout cities and towns across the U.S., redevelopment projects abound for private purposes, for which eminent domain is frequently used (and as critics contend, frequently abused).
Development surrounds us. If a government (or an agency) makes an offer to purchase some or all of your property, the initial offers are invariably too low. An experienced eminent domain lawyer can negotiate for substantially more money. If you’re a property owner facing eminent domain, you need the right attorney.
Trust the Ohio landowner professionals at Sever Storey. Call us right away at 888-318-3761 or contact us online. We have a dedicated team of attorneys throughout the country, and we’ll help you get what you deserve.
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Before going alone against the State let us give you our opinion. It is our pledge that we will provide a free case review for any individual or business facing eminent domain or condemnation. Contact us now at 888-318-3761