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The Suburbanite
  • Fifth Amendment: Eminent domain a tool for economy

  • Clearly, governments can use eminent domain (forceful purchase) authority to acquire land to make way for such tangible projects as highways or easements for utilities. But what if a city’s leaders want to buy homes and buildings because they’re deemed “slums?” Or, perhaps to clear a path for a priv...
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  • You can fight progress — though you probably will lose.
    Of all protections provided within the wide-ranging Fifth Amendment, the most controversial piece may be its final 12 words: “nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.”  
    Obviously, founding fathers recognized situations when the government should be permitted to forcefully buy private property. Over the years, the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to define the breadth and depth of those powers.
    Clearly, governments can use eminent domain (forceful purchase) authority to acquire land to make way for such tangible projects as highways or easements for utilities. But what if a city’s leaders want to buy homes and buildings because they’re deemed “slums?” Or, perhaps to clear a path for a private developer to build something new?
    Can a government do that?
    In short, the answer is “yes.”
    In the 1954 Berman v. Parker case, the Court said the District of Columbia could use eminent domain in an area that was plagued with high resident disease rates, and in some instances, even lacked indoor plumbing. The Court’s decision, in effect, broadened “public use” to mean “public purpose.”
    Then, in 2005, in the Kelo v. New London case, the Court ruled that governments could use eminent domain simply for economic development. Critics say the tactic amounts to nothing more than corporate welfare, because cities typically sell the cleared out land for pennies on the dollar to the private developer.
    All over Stark County, you can find results of eminent domain, present and past.
    THIS LAND IS YOUR LAND
    “I really don’t know if I’ll be able to survive, by the time it’s all said and done,” said Dick Fritz, founder and owner of Fritz Tire & Brake Service in the 3600 block of Cleveland Ave. SW, in Canton Township.
    An Ohio Department of Transportation project to widen the two-lane road in the next few years will clip a dozen feet from the front of Fritz’s parking lot.
    The state offered him $17,550 for his land. Fritz went to Stark County Probate Court to try to get more (the “due process” referred to in the Fifth Amendment). Before the case reached trial, he settled for $22,550 in December.
    “The dollar amount was probably right,” Fritz said. “I’ve got no problem with that. It’s progress and I understand that. But I’m going to have problems here for two years while they’re building the thing.”
    And when it’s complete, a curb and driveway entrance will be placed in front of the auto repair business he started as a 19-year-old back in 1961. He figures it will be a hassle for customers and delivery trucks.
    Page 2 of 3 - Richard Moore isn’t happy with the recent widening of Applegrove Street NE in front of his Plain Township home. He said Stark County officials initially offered him a little more than $4,000 for an 18-feet-deep swath of his front yard.
    “I said, ‘we’re done talking,’” Moore recalled.
    He hired an attorney and went to Probate Court.
    He wound up with $16,500.
    “Anyone who has to go through this, I wish them well,” Moore said. “You have no recourse. I could do nothing. I’m an American who had basically no say in what was going to happen with my land.”
    ODOT and William J. Lemmon have battled in court for a year-and-a-half over a roadfront piece of an 18-acre chunk of vacant land at U.S. Route 30 and state Route 172, near East Canton. ODOT already has completed road work in the area, though the final compensation due Lemmon hasn’t yet been determined.
    ODOT initially offered $18,450.
    Lemmon’s attorney argued the completed road work would limit highway access, restricting future development of the land, amounting to a “total take of the property,” according to a filing in court.
    Lemmon’s appraiser contended he was due $340,100, nearly 20 times what he was offered. As a trial loomed, the two sides reached a settlement late last week. The amount Lemmon will get is unknown at this time.
    THIS LAND IS MY LAND
    Highway projects such as the I-77 widening 10 years ago, displaced or closed Canton businesses such as Johnson Motors, Clean Brooke Coin Laundry and Hi-Way Tailors Tux Shop. Stark County governments have also used eminent domain — or the threat of it — on a handful of development projects in the past two decades.
    Massilllon’s Lincoln Centre downtown renewal, which began in the late 1980s, cost the city more than $4 million. The city purchased dozens of dilapidated buildings and some existing businesses to clear the way for new development.
    Today, that area is home to a shopping center, movie theater and a recreation center.
    In the late 1990s, leaders of landlocked Alliance Community Hospital considered moving to a different location to expand. Concerned the hospital could leave the city limits, city council stepped in and bought 19 nearby properties to provide the 20 acres needed to accommodate the expansion.
    And Canton sports a grassy park block in the middle of its downtown, thanks to an eminent domain project gone awry.
    In 1999, the city embarked on a plan to purchase all five properties along Market Avenue N, between Third and Fourth streets NW. The idea was to clear the entire area, commonly known as the “Kresge” block (official name is Market Square), because it once housed the now-defunct retailer, in hopes a developer would revitalize it.
    Page 3 of 3 - The city spent $2 million on the project.
    In 2005, city officials then sent letters to more than 160 prospective developers, asking them to submit proposals on the vacant half-acre site. No one replied. The deadline to respond was pushed back a few more weeks.
    Again, no replies.
    Reach Tim at 330-580-8333 or
    tim.botos@cantonrep.com.
    On Twitter: @tbotosREP