Obetz thinks proposed new state law is unfair to municipalities


By Katelyn Sattler
Staff Writer

During the May 22 Obetz City Council meeting, City Administrator Rod Davisson told council about a bill winding its way through the Ohio House of Representatives that, if passed, could mean major changes in the way the city would approach eminent domain cases.

“The legislature is working to pass House Bill 64, which makes some significant changes to the eminent domain law, not in our favor or in the favor of any city or village,” said Davisson. “They want to eliminate our ability to enact eminent domain for recreation trails.”

Davisson said he helped draft some opponent testimony for the Ohio Municipal League, which is an association of more than 730 cities and villages in Ohio.

“House Bill 64 aims to curtail the application of eminent domain for recreation trails,” according to Davisson and the Ohio Municipal League. “However, it is important to understand that recreation trails are not mere luxuries, they are vital community assets. They promote health and wellness, connect neighborhoods, provide safe routes for non-motorized transportation, and enhance the livability of our municipalities.”

“The proposed restrictions on the use of eminent domain for recreation trails reflect a narrow interpretation of the concept of ‘public use’ as found in our constitutions,” according to Davisson and the Ohio Municipal League. “The notion of public use is not confined to being adjacent to public roads and within the municipality’s right-of-way. In fact, the broad interpretation of ‘public use’ has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in cases like Kelo v. City of New London, demonstrating that public use encompasses not just traditional uses like roads and public buildings, but also broader community development projects.”

In addition, according to Davisson. the legislature wants to change some of the ways that municipalities have to negotiate eminent domain.

“All of those changes make it harder for municipalities to accomplish that,” said Davisson. “Eminent domain is a last resort. It’s of course constitutionally protected and advised in both the Ohio and the United States constitutions and case law is supported, and what the legislature is trying to do I think really goes overboard on that and puts municipalities in a weaker position when they do have to take land.”

Davisson said he cannot remember the last time the city of Obetz has had an eminent domain case.

“In an ideal situation, you always just pay for the land,” said Davisson. “And we’ve always done that. So you say, ‘Well, why are we complaining about it?’ Because we might have to do one tomorrow. And you don’t want those powers to be so weak that you can’t do it, and then you become ineffectual for the people that you represent.”

Davisson is concerned the law is unfair to municipalities that are trying to do good things for its residents.

“Remember, eminent domain is for all of us, all of the residents to be able to have some amenity, whatever that thing could be,” said Davisson. “Sometimes it’s parks, sometimes it’s recreation trails, sometimes it’s roads. And occasionally you can’t come to an agreement with a landowner and you have to go through eminent domain. And when you do, you end up in a process where there’s a neutral third party, a judge who makes a decision on what the value of that land is.”

One of the things the legislature wants to change in the bill is, that once an offer is made, it can’t be reduced. Davisson gave an example of a situation where a city has offered $100,000 for a property and then, after going through due diligence, finds out that it is polluted or that it has old gas tanks on it.

“This law would not allow you to say, ‘We don’t want to pay a $100,000 for it,’: said Davisson. “We pay something less now that we found out all this stuff’s wrong with it. That just doesn’t make any sense what they’re trying to accomplish, so it’s certainly not helpful to us. We will oppose it through the Ohio Municipal League. So we’ll see how it goes.”

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, Ohio Dairy Producers Association, and Ohio Council of Retail Merchants are proponents of the bill.

The Ohio Municipal League, Ohio Chamber of Commerce, Ohio Business Roundtable, Ohio Trails Partnership/Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, American Electric Power, American Petroleum Institute-Ohio, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Central Ohio Transit Authority, and many cities and villages oppose the bill.
Other Obetz news

•Obetz Mayor Angela Kirk and city officials are working on a couple of vehicle ordinances.
“We’re seeing a lot of semi truck parking in the neighborhoods,” said Kirk. “It’s not just a random truck here and there, but lots of those parking next to the houses.”

Kirk said they are also discussing one for recreational vehicles.

“We discussed a couple of years ago allowing recreational vehicles for an extended period of time during the season,” said Kirk. “We want to try some type of resolution where owner can keep their recreational vehicle for a certain period of time while they’re either working on it, unloading it, or loading it to take it back into storage.”

•Obetz Police Chief Mike Confer said in the past two weeks, his department has taken 1,271 calls for service; patrolled 5,693 miles; issued 38 moving violations, five of those were for speeding; made five misdemeanor arrests; one felony arrest, generated 12 offense reports; handled five crashes; and one domestic violence incident.

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