Saturday, October 11, 2003

Some in Norwood fight to sell homes

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

NORWOOD - It makes Donna Laake a little sad to think of leaving her home of 28 years - the brick home where she and husband, Bob, raised their two children - but she's ready to go.

Laake's been ready for almost a year, in fact, and it makes her downright mad to think the Institute of Justice is holding her hostage.

"As someone who lives in Norwood, it's just a little disconcerting to me ... to have some suits come in and try to disrupt the process," she said.

Donna and Bob Laake own one of about 70 properties in southeast Norwood that are under contract with developers who plan to raze their neighborhood. In its place would go Rookwood Exchange, a $125 million addition to the Rookwood complex of shops and offices.

The Laakes are eager to get on with their lives, but nine property owners and the Washington-based Institute of Justice filed suit in September seeking to stop city officials from seizing holdout properties on behalf of Rookwood developers. The Laakes and others who want to sell can't get paid until the developers - Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group - are certain of getting the rest of the land.

Friday, owners of 14 homes and an investment property filed a motion siding with the city. Residents also planted yellow yard signs: "Held hostage by the Institute of In-Justice."

"Our lawsuit is to stop the abuse of eminent domain," responded attorney Scott Bullock of the Institute of Justice. "It is not in any way to make the residents' lives more difficult. I would expect residents to respect their neighbors' right not to sell."

Eminent domain is a government's taking of private property at a price set by a court. After 18 months of discussions, Norwood City Council voted in September to do so, but the cases have not yet been formally filed in Common Pleas Court.

The city did, however, file a motion Friday seeking dismissal of the institute's case, arguing that the proper place to dispute the taking is in the trials setting properties' prices.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks for the Laakes, who originally thought developers would buy their house by August but are now looking at February. The couple, in their 50s, are paying two mortgages after recently finding their "perfect home" elsewhere in Norwood. It's a little smaller than their current 1,400 square feet, with an in-ground pool.

"We haven't had our side of the story told too much," Donna Laake said.


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