eminent domain test case

An interesting test case is emerging in Ohio for our post-Kelo situation with eminent domain. Evidently they are arguing that eminent domain is applicable because the neighborhood is “deteriorating”:

How the Ohio court deals with the issue of blight has important ramifications for municipalities around the country, said Steven Eagle, a George Mason University law professor who studies property rights.

“Every jurisdiction allows condemnation to relieve blight,” Eagle said. “If blight is going to be vaguely defined, then it could be open season for condemnations for redevelopment.”

The Gambles, in their 60s, hoped to live comfortably in their home after selling their small Cincinnati grocery store, Tasty Bird Poultry, and retiring five years ago.

Instead, they watched their neighborhood disappear as neighbors sold willingly to developer Rookwood Partners. The Gambles temporarily left their home to live with a grown daughter in Kentucky but vow to return should they win the case.

Note here that from the description, it sounds like there may not be much actual “blight”. Instead, it seems “deteriorating” here actually means that a progressive number of households were simply swayed to sell-out to the developer. This is what makes this a fascinating test case: there was no inherent flaw in the neighborhood itself. It goes without saying that if they lose this case, it would set a dangerous precedent where private developers would have significant power in utilizing eminent domain by virtue of simply buying out enough residents to make this claim of “deterioration”. It’s an interesting dilemma. Certainly the fact that the law is so vague is going to be the crucial focal point of the case – that there’s no concrete definition of what qualifies as deterioration or blight.

But even if there was a concrete definition, it’s hard to imagine the decision being any easier. If a developer wants to buy out a neighborhood, and 25% of the residents sell out, is that “deterioration”? Clearly not, but 50%? 75? If an entire neighborhood sells their house and one household refuses, should their hand be forced? Either way, if the law is going to allow it, it ought not to mask the reality of what is being done by using false claims of relieving “deterioration” or blight. The law should acknowledge what it really is: corporate/state collusion to circumvent a market for real estate that doesn’t accomodate their plans.