Task force divided in first eminent domain report

CLEVELAND - A state task force was divided over how to define blighted property in its first report evaluating a government's right to seize private land for development.

Some on the 25-member panel, created by the Legislature last year to study Ohio's eminent domain laws, want a strict definition of blight based on decay, while others support factors such as outdated street design, said member Margaret Cannon, a Cleveland lawyer.

"All that we concluded is that it's an issue that needs to be discussed further," she said.

The panel's report, issued Monday, says legislators should consider setting a statewide standard for blight, but also acknowledges a disagreement among members over whether that is necessary. The panel favors allowing governments to use eminent domain for development, but only to take blighted property.

The next report will be issued after three hearings around the state. The final report is due by Aug. 1.

In November, the state enacted a moratorium preventing local governments from seizing unblighted private property for use by private developers until 2007. The bill, unanimously approved by the House and Senate and signed by Gov. Bob Taft, came in response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision that upheld such property seizures.

The Institute for Justice, a Washington-based libertarian advocacy group that supports homeowners, wants the state to adopt a stricter definition for blight.

"It should be based upon objective criteria and be determined on a property-by-property basis," Chip Mellor, the group's president and general counsel, said in a statement Monday.

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