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Eminent Domain in Lakewood

Friday, June 13, 2003 at 1:21 PM

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Some Lakewood residents are outraged as the city attempts to force them from their homes. Lakewood City Hall has threatened to use eminent domain laws to take their property and give it to developers for the construction of condominiums and upscale shops. City leaders say they need the development project to increase a stagnant tax base. It's a situation that has thrust Lakewood and eminent domain laws into the national spotlight. ideastream's Mike West reports.

Heavy equipment and the aroma of diesel means jobs and prosperity to some, dread and anger to others. Planners say there is great demand for new houses and shops in inner cities. But others insist things are just fine the way they are.

The Coral Company specializes in what are called in-fill projects like this one. The Courtyards of Severance, new townhouses being built in Cleveland Heights, across the street from a shopping center in this aging inner-ring suburb. Coral President Peter Rubin says business is booming.

Peter Rubin: The sociology of our community has changed over the past 30 or 40 years, really driven by the expansion of the interstate highway system. People have found that they have lost touch with their neighbors and the word neighbor on the community has changed in definition and there’s a desire on the part of a lot of people to go back to old definitions.

But Rubin and city planners say to go back, professionals need newly built homes and empty nesters demand townhouses near shopping districts, and they’re willing to pay top dollar for these amenities. Condos at the Courtyards of Severance sell for between about $200,000 and $300,000, in a city where the median sale price of a home is just $125,000.

Lou Tisler is the executive director of the First Suburbs Consortium. He works for the 15 member communities that support re-development.

Lou Tisler: Redevelopment has to happen. You have a tax base that’s leaving the city and you have an increase of need for services, whether that’s police, elderly services… things like that. So you need to have redevelopment to either bring jobs in or increase the property tax base and that’s what these redevelopments are doing.

Alan Weinstein: I guess Lakewood is the poster child for omelets these days.

Alan Weinstein is the director of the Law and Public Policy program at Cleveland State University and agrees that you have to break eggs to make the redevelopment omelet. Weinstein predicts the Lakewood situation could eventually work its way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Alan Weinstein: I think it’s pretty clear that this Lakewood case is going to be a landmark case for inner-ring suburbs across the nation, in terms of their ability to use the power of eminent domain to take property that really is not deteriorated or blighted but simply does not provide the highest possible tax base for the community and their ability to redevelop that to meet where the market is today.

At least a dozen Lakewood home owners and 6 business operators have taken their case to Cuyahoga County Court. Their lawyer is Michael Gareau. He thinks the city should have made sure his clients wanted to sell, before they backed the location. Gareau says if developers really want to improve the city they should look for sites that he feels are truly blighted.

Michael Gareau: I sure wouldn’t hold a lot of credence in what the developer is looking at in terms of how they see progress. The developer is in it for the buck. They are not in it because somehow they were tapped on the shoulder from god and told to go to the west end of lakewood in order to revitalize the town. They picked a site that has so many amenities it would be desirable for wealthy people to live in.

Madeline Cain: That area was identified as the area, out of all of the first suburbs in Cuyahoga County as the area the was most prime for reinvestment and redevelopment.

Lakewood Mayor Madeline Cain. Mayor Cain says it’s her obligation to make sure the city’s tax base is protected so that future generations will enjoy the same things that have attracted many current residents to her city.

Madeline Cain: In 20 years if we don’t have a quality school system, if we don’t have a tax base to support it, then we not be able to attract young families, we will not be able to maintain Lakewood as the quality community that it is. It is really as simple as that.

Developers are confident new construction in mature neighborhoods will grow with the backing of city leaders and demand by customers. They claim redevelopment is better than building on open spaces which are cheaper, but contribute to urban sprawl. Lakewood has scheduled the bulldozers to roll in the fall. But opponents remain hopeful help will come from the courts, perhaps the Supreme Court. In Cleveland, Mike West, 90.3.

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