Progress or property owner's rights?
That is the question some cities across the state and country have been weighing recently when leaders have considered invoking eminent domain. A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowed governments to invoke eminent domain to take homeowner's property and then sell it to another company for economic development in areas deemed "blighted."
In response, Republican lawmakers in the Ohio Senate will push for a ballot measure this fall that would restrict government's ability to seize private property for such purposes.
State lawmakers are right to try and protect private property owners from overzealous governments officials. Using eminent domain in those situations can be tempting for local governments desperate to jump start their economies. And, if local officials can convince themselves the ends justify the means, it can be all too easy to decide John Doe's 100-year-old home has to go "in the name of progress."
This is not to say there is never a place for eminent domain in principle. It can be used to great effect when needed to promote the public good or safety. Had the city of Norwalk used eminent domain during it's dispute with Aldi last year, it would have been a textbook example of the proper use of the rule because the Cline Street extension will help make Milan Avenue safer to travel.
And, while government often knows public safety, it rarely knows economic development. Local governments must live by the famous adage let the market decide, because if that new Crocker Park or Easton developer can't convince the little old lady on the corner to sell her home, that's a failure of business and not the government's responsibility to solve.