Tuesday, June 3, 2003

Norwood watches other blight battle

Same developer involved

By Susan Vela
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse is keeping a close eye on Jeffrey Anderson, the Norwood developer who wants some members' properties, and his recent battles in suburban Cleveland.

Lakewood, Ohio, residents have sued the Lakewood City Council for designating their 18 homes and small business blighted so that Anderson can build a $151 million complex of offices, condominiums, retail space and entertainment venues.

In many cases, the homes were considered blighted because they lacked three bedrooms, two full bathrooms and an attached two-car garage.

Having small yards was another criteria that a Washington, D.C.-based libertarian firm, Institute for Justice, cited after filing a lawsuit on the residents' behalf.

"These homes aren't blighted and nobody thinks they're blighted either," said Dana Berliner, an Institute lawyer. City officials "just need some excuse to transfer them to the developer.

"Norwood should watch what's happening in Lakewood and think more than twice about going down the same path. Apparently, Jeffrey Anderson is a developer who is especially willing to remove people from their homes for his private development projects," Berliner said.

Anderson is paying for an urban renewal study that will investigate whether some of the Norwood homes, which are bounded by Interstate 71 and Edmondson and Edwards roads, have signs of blight or deterioration.

Anderson has said that the study will prove that many of the homes are blighted or deteriorated. Blight, he has said, isn't always apparent to the naked eye. His company didn't return calls for comment Friday.

If Norwood's council adopts the study, the city could take the holdout properties by eminent domain and allow Anderson to use 17 of the 79 properties that he needs to build Rookwood Exchange, a $125 million expansion of Rookwood Commons, the already successful outdoor shopping mall.

The others have already agreed to sell, preferring to collect close to 40 percent more on their homes rather than fight the development that will include offices, apartments, condos, shops, restaurants and a 2,500-space parking garage.

Joe Horney and Nick Motz, co-leaders of Citizens Against Eminent Domain Abuse, worry that Kinzelman Kline Gossman of Cincinnati will use similar criteria when they conduct the study for Norwood.

"I do have concerns," Motz said. The group is concerned "that they would not do a study that would be in-depth enough to cover all the criteria that need to be met."

The group has submitted to the city a list of recommended criteria. It includes crime, fire and tax statistics as blight factors.

Kinzelman Kline Gossman is the architectural consulting firm that will be responsible for completing the list of criteria signifying blight. Craig Gossman, a partner in the firm, said the work has just begun.

The criteria still haven't been established but he said the firm would use Norwood's definition of blight as a guide for establishing the study's blight criteria.

The city's administrative code has a lengthy definition of a "slum, blighted or deteriorated area." It covers dilapidation, having poorly designed streets, inadequate public facilities or characteristics that could lead to crime and health violations.

Anderson is financing the study, but Councilman Thomas Williams said he'd support the firm's criteria.

"We'll just have to wait to see what it shows," he said.

The firm hopes to complete the study by July.

E-mail svela@enquirer.com

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