Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Mayor Williams worried by eminent domain bill
Williams challenges the Senate bill's definition of blight.
By MARC KOVAC
COLUMBUS The mayor of Youngstown traveled to the Statehouse to voice opposition to proposed eminent domain legislation that, he said, would redefine blight in a way that would make it difficult for communities to deal with unsafe and dilapidated properties.
Jay Williams offered his testimony before the Ohio Senate's Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee on SB 7, introduced among the priority legislation of the session by Sen. Timothy Grendell, a Republican from Chesterland.
Grendell's bill and a resolution offered by Sen. Kevin Coughlin, a Republican from Cuyahoga Falls, would establish statewide standards for the use of eminent domain and would limit public entities' ability to take possession of properties for private economic development projects.
Williams said he isn't taking issue with the lawmaker and citizen concerns about improper public takings of private property.
"As a property owner myself, as I would also imagine that many of us in this room are, I would dread being subjected to abuse by the power of a public body as it relates to my property," he testified. "... I also understand and appreciate my responsibility to ensure that my property does not have a blighting and detrimental effect on my community."
What's a concern
But Williams said he is concerned about language included in SB 7 that defines blight and establishes thresholds that must be met in order for public bodies to use eminent domain.
"There is no reason to deny the legitimate use of eminent domain to remove blight by so redefining the term 'blighted area' that it will virtually never apply to any situation," he testified. "The definitions of 'blight' and 'blighted area' do not serve to remedy excesses of government in taking private property to benefit other private entities but do cripple local governments' ability to pursue legitimate governmental ends to improve the lives of the people in their community."
According to the legislation, properties would have to meet at least three of nine conditions to be declared blighted and, thus, subjected to eminent domain proceedings.
Those conditions include physical conditions that are unsafe, unsanitary or present a public nuisance; facilities that have been disconnected from utilities and are unfit for their intended uses; vacant lots filled with trash or rodents; and properties with tax delinquencies exceeding their actual values.
That standard, combined with other provisions, would be "virtually insurmountable, and, in my opinion, will prevent political subdivisions from ever correcting blight," Williams added.
While not necessarily agreeing with that summation, Grendell did say he was working with Sen. John Boccieri of New Middletown, D-33rd, who serves on the local government committee, on language to clarify the issue.