By Mary Beth Wilker
Location, location, location, they say. And it's true. My small business, Wilker Design, sits at the corner of a busy intersection next to a major highway. Since I've been here, I haven't had to do any sales or advertising work - a visible sign and great location do it all. Nearly all of my clients found me as they were driving by. What business wouldn't want such a location?
Another business - a far bigger one - does want my location at the corner of Edwards and Edmondson roads in Norwood. That business is Jeffrey R. Anderson Real Estate, which already owns about $500 million in land. Anderson persuaded the city of Norwood to force me out using the power of eminent domain. This makes it possible for him to take my property and build office space, chain stores and condominiums.
I don't understand how this can be allowed to happen. I don't believe Norwood should be able to take my business and hand it over to another business they favor more. Eminent domain should be used for roads and police stations, not for Crate and Barrel and condominiums. That's why we joined with the Institute for Justice and Norwood home and small-business owners to challenge this taking of our land and the sham tactic of designating our neighborhood a "blighted" area. My husband and I poured our blood, sweat and tears into creating the ideal space for my graphic design studio. We spent six months landscaping, painting, laying carpet, installing a new driveway and getting the building up to city code standards. The space is an attractive fixture in the neighborhood. My business is my dream. I thought being an entrepreneur and following your dream was the whole point of living in America.
But in a free country, the government does not take from the small to give to the big; it doesn't take my business for a wealthy real estate developer. The city says our whole neighborhood is "blighted," according to an urban renewal study. Anderson paid for the study and got exactly the result he wanted. The real motivation is money. Anderson and the city say the project will bring badly needed tax revenue to Norwood. But Anderson will go tax-free for years. When the time comes to collect revenue from the development, will it be empty like much of Montgomery Road in Norwood is now? If the promise of more taxes is justification for uprooting citizens, then no one's home and no one's business - in Ohio or anywhere else - is safe from a developer who decides he wants it.
Many in the neighborhood agreed to sell, but Anderson refuses to buy any property outright until he has them all. I feel bad for those who are stuck in limbo awaiting the outcome of court proceedings, but their plight is not the fault of the home and business owners who wish to stay. It is Anderson's fault. He could buy every one of those properties from willing sellers right now, but instead, he blames those of us who don't want to sell. What I find even sadder is that, not too long ago, a neighbor from across the road in Oakley knocked on my door saying he has plans to update his home. But he is afraid to invest the time and money, because Anderson might threaten to take his home next. That's another reason why we're fighting the outrageous land grab. If we aren't safe, who is?
Mary Beth Wilker owns Wilker Design in Norwood. She is part of a lawsuit to overturn the blight designation and stop the condemnation of her business and other properties.
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