WTAM just mentioned that the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority voted in support of the City of Cleveland exercising eminent domain to take several commercial properties and turn them over to a private developer.
Keep in mind that this vote does not trigger the city’s eminent domain powers; only City Council can do that, not the Port Authority. But today’s vote tosses the issue squarely into City Council’s lap, which is clearly a heavy-handed negotiating tactic. The eminent domain threat is designed to pressure the last hold-outs to sell their properties to Scott Wolstein for a multi-million-dollar redevelopment venture. It’s a pretty blatant strong-arm job, but hey … that’s Cleveland politics for you.
I found the CCCPA news release, which includes the following:
The Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority voted unanimously to authorize eminent domain proceedings if further negotiations do not result in the acquisition of several properties identified for redevelopment in the Flats east bank.
Eminent domain is always a last resort, but the agency must be prepared when all good faith efforts to reach an agreement have been exhausted, Chairman John Carney said today at the port’s board meeting.
“We are still hopeful we can resolve this situation before it actually goes to the courts. That is still our desire,” he said.
“The [Uniform Relocation Act] very clearly spells out the rules for acquiring property for redevelopment. We are not given a choice in the matter. Either we follow the letter of the law, or the project could be in jeopardy,” Loftus told board members.
Note the phrase “acquiring property for redevelopment.” This is exactly the kind of eminent domain taking that sparked the lawsuit in Kelo v. New London. If approved by City Council, this will be another example of a local government seizing private property from one private citizen and giving it to another.
Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Port Authority Chairman John Carney said:
“The project will transform a crime-ridden area plagued with neglected buildings and deserted streets into a thriving lakefront neighborhood. This will result in millions of dollars in revenue for the region and thousands of construction and full-time permanent jobs.”
Ah, yes. The famously elastic “blight” loophole is back again. Eminent domain seizures often target “blighted” areas that are declared to be unsafe or hazardous to the public in some major way. The catch is that the definition of “blight” has never been firmly settled. If the government wants your property badly enough, it will find a way to declare it “blighted.”
The Cleveland City Council had better beware, though. The Ohio Legislature’s moratorium on these types of eminent domain takings will not expire until December 31st. The penalties for violating the moratorium are pretty stiff.
I’ll have more to say about this shortly.