- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 11, 2006

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Joy and Carl Gamble said they just wanted to retire peacefully in the dream home where they have lived for more than 35 years, but the Cincinnati suburb of Norwood had other plans for their property.

Using its power of eminent domain, the city planned to take the neighborhood, which it considers to be deteriorating, and allow a $125 million development of offices and shops to rise in its place.

The two sides took their arguments to the state Supreme Court yesterday in the first challenge of property-rights laws to reach a state high court since the U.S. Supreme Court last year allowed municipalities to seize homes for use by a private developer.

“It is our home. What’s ours is ours, and it should be that way,” Mrs. Gamble told about 50 people who rallied before the hearing. “It was a home worth fighting for, and we do want it back.”

The Gambles’ attorney, Dana Berliner, argued in court that almost all neighborhoods in Ohio and across the country could meet a condition of deteriorating as Norwood was using it.

Tim Burke, representing the city, told the court that “deteriorating” is a common measure when applied to redevelopment projects in cities.

Legislatures are rushing to pass their own laws because Justice John Paul Stevens, author of the majority decision in the federal court’s 5-4 ruling, said states have authority to pass laws with stronger protections.

So far, Alabama, California, Delaware, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin have proposed bills, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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

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

A ruling in favor of the Gambles would be an important first step in setting limits that courts across the country could follow, said Karen Harned, executive director of the National Federation of Independent Business Legal Foundation. The group worries that the small businesses it represents could be overtaken by bigger development.

A decision in favor of Norwood would help slow the knee-jerk reaction of many states to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, said Daniel Lindner, a lawyer representing the American Planning Association.

The Gambles, who are in their 60s, hoped to live comfortably in the home they bought in 1969. They sold their small Cincinnati grocery store, Tasty Bird Poultry, and retired five years ago.

Instead of a comfortable retirement, however, they watched their neighborhood disappear as neighbors willingly sold 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.