Saturday, April 17, 2004

Trial over, Norwood waits

Judge to rule on city's right to take land

By Sharon Coolidge
The Cincinnati Enquirer

A trial to determine if the city of Norwood can take property needed by a private developer to build an outdoor mall ended Friday, but a decision is still at least a month away.

Supporters of the property owners involved in the eminent domain trial stand along the wall in Judge Beth Myers' courtroom at the Hamilton County Courthouse Monday morning.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
Attorneys for both sides will follow up with written and oral arguments before Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Beth Myers decides if Norwood has the legal right to seize five properties for urban renewal through eminent domain. She must also determine if the city's procedure for seizing the properties is constitutional.

Dana Berliner, an attorney representing two private homeowners and three business owners who say the city is improperly using eminent domain, called the city's attempts to take their property a sham.

"This is a thriving, mixed-use neighborhood just as it has been for many years," said Berliner, of the Washington-based civil liberties law firm the Institute for Justice "(It's) conveniently located and highly desirable, that's why the city wants it and that's why (the developer) wants to build there."

Tim Burke, the Cincinnati attorney representing the city, asked the judge to look at the rationale behind City Council's decision to take the property.

"They made a judgment," Burke said. "While it may be emotional, if the citizens don't like it, they can vote out those who made the decisions."

He pointed out that the majority of residents in the area want to sell, and in last November's election council members who support the project were re-elected.

In a weeklong trial, the property owners challenged the city's plan to take their homes through eminent domain and transfer the property to Anderson Real Estate and Miller-Valentine Group.

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

The area in question is a triangular piece of property bounded by Interstate 71 and Edmondson and Edwards roads and involves 71 properties. An urban renewal study commissioned by the city last year and paid for by the developers, found the area was deteriorating because of its proximity to development and the highway.

Sixty-five owners have agreed to sell for a minimum of 25 percent above the fair market value. One is still negotiating.

Mayor Tom Williams testified Friday about the changes he's seen over the last 25 years after I-71 was built, cutting through the city.

"It used to be - even after I-71 went through - their own neighborhood," Williams said. "Obviously it's not like it used to be, it's not a quiet little neighborhood anymore."



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