Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Trial pits Norwood against its residents

Opponents rally at courthouse as eminent domain trial begins

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

If Rookwood Exchange is built in Norwood, it could bring more than 3,000 jobs to the city, a developer testified Monday.

Protesters, including homeowner Carl Gamble of Norwood, rally against eminent domain abuse early Monday morning outside the Hamilton County Courthouse.
(Gary Landers photo)
That could mean up to $2.72 million a year in tax money for the city and up to $300,000 per year for the school district, according to Brian Copfer, a developer for the Miller-Valentine Group, which is working with Anderson Real Estate to bring the project to Norwood.

Copfer testified in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court as a trial began Monday in the challenge by five home and business owners against the city's effort to take their property through eminent domain and transfer it to the developers.

The developers want to expand Rookwood Commons and build Rookwood Exchange, a $125 million complex.

The plan calls for retail and restaurant space of 200,000 square feet, office space of 360,000 square feet, 250 residential units and two parking garages.

When it's finished, according to Copfer, it will bring between 2,800 and 3,450 jobs and residents. The economic benefit will be between $1.79 million to $2.72 million a year in earnings taxes.

The school district would also receive an additional $300,000 to $400,000 each year, Copfer said.

Judge Beth Myers must decide whether the city has the right to seize five properties for urban renewal and if the city's procedure for seizing the properties is constitutional.

Governmental bodies can take land by eminent domain for public uses or invoke it over areas deemed blighted. In exchange, property owners must be paid fair market value.

"If something's not done, it's all going to be piecemealed out, and that's the worst thing that can happen," Mayor Tom Williams said.

The area in question is a triangular piece of property bounded by Interstate 71 and Edmondson and Edwards roads and involves 71 properties. Sixty-five owners have agreed to sell for a minimum of 25 percent above the fair market value. One is still negotiating.

An urban renewal study, commissioned by the city and paid for by the developers, found the area was deteriorating because of its proximity to development and the highway.

"This is a legitimate government use," said attorney Tim Burke, who is representing the city. "We've continually heard Norwood wants to seize the property, and that's not true."

Norwood, Burke said, wants to buy the properties as required by law for the good of the public.

Dana Berliner, an attorney from the Institute for Justice, a Washington-based civil liberties law firm, said the institute came to the aid of those who want to stay.

"A private developer driving the eminent domain process is something neither Ohio nor the eminent domain process allows," she said.

Before the trial began Monday, residents fighting the eminent domain action held a rally outside the courthouse. Some 35 protesters carried signs saying, "Norwood for sale by council," and "My house, my rights - fight eminent domain abuse."


E-mail scoolidge@enquirer.com

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