Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Norwood holdouts fight back

They accuse city of abusing eminent domain

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] Carl and Joy Gamble stand in front of their Norwood home of 34 years. They are among a group of homeowners who filed a lawsuit against the city Tuesday to fight the taking of their homes to clear the way for an expansion of Rookwood Commons.
(Jeff Swinger photo)
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NORWOOD - Joy and Carl Gamble went to school in Norwood and greeted customers for more than 40 years at the Tasty Bird Farms grocery store until retiring two years ago.

They also raised two children in their Atlantic Avenue home and planned to spend retirement gardening in their large back yard.

But that was before the city decided the Gambles and others lived in a blighted neighborhood and were in the way of a $125 million development adjacent to Rookwood Commons.

On Tuesday, the Gambles and eight neighboring home and businesses fought back.

With help from the Washington-based public-interest law firm Institute for Justice, they filed a lawsuit against Norwood in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. The suit asks the court to stop the city from condemning their homes and businesses.

They accuse the city of abusing the power of eminent domain, in which a government can take private property for a public purpose at a court-determined price.

"The idea that this neighborhood is blighted is preposterous," said Scott G. Bullock, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice. "This is wrong, this is unconstitutional and we're here to put a stop to it."

Ted Kiser, Norwood assistant law director, said the city would not comment because it has not had enough time to review the suit.

The issue arises because developer Jeffrey R. Anderson and Miller-Valentine Group want to build an expansion to Rookwood Commons, the region's first lifestyle shopping center.

The expansion would contain offices, condos, stores and a parking garage on a triangular piece of property bounded by Interstate 71 and Edmondson and Edwards roads. Many of the nearly 80 property owners there sold; a few have resisted.

The developers paid for an urban renewal study that found the area was "blighted," "deteriorated" and "deteriorating."

City Council adopted the study Aug. 26 and approved an agreement with developers to move forward. Tuesday night, council approved ordinances toward taking the properties.

Bullock said the urban renewal plan was unconvincing.

"It is a study specifically designed to reach a predetermined result: to declare blighted an attractive, well-maintained neighborhood of homes and businesses."

The Gambles say they'll do everything in their power to stay. They declined an unsolicited offer to sell last June. Joy Gamble won't say how much it was, only that, "my home is not for sale at any price."

Joseph Horney, who owns rental property on Delmar Avenue, said the lawsuit was necessary to protect his rights.

"Norwood took a very loose definition of blight," Horney said.

"This could happen to any(one)," said Mary Beth Wilker, owner of Wilker Design on Edwards Road. "It's not about money, it's about people's rights as Americans."

Bullock said the lawsuit is not just about the people who live along Edwards Road.

"We have to overturn the absurd use of eminent domain," he said. "This is a battle for everyone in Cincinnati and everyone in the state."

The Institute for Justice is also battling Anderson in Lakewood, Ohio, near Cleveland, where the mayor and city council want to raze houses and apartment buildings for a $151 million shopping, movie and townhouse complex.


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