House Bill 5 and Senate Bill 7 have been introduced in the General Assembly to amend eminent domain laws in Ohio. House Bill 5 provides that there be a single statewide definition of blight in the Revised Code for all purposes, which would include a requirement that at least a majority of parcels in the designated area qualify as blighted. To determine whether a property or area is blighted, no person can take into account whether there is a better use for the property or area or whether the property could generate more tax revenues. The Bill also provides that no property taken by eminent domain may be used for any private commercial enterprise, economic development or any other private use unless (1) used by a public utility or common carrier, (2) the private entity use is an incidental area within a publicly owned and occupied project or (3) it is established by a preponderance of the evidence that the specific property is blighted. A public entity may appropriate property for a private use based on a finding that the area is blighted if the public entity adopts a comprehensive development plan describing the public need for the property, which plan must include two studies documenting the public need, and the development of the plan must be publicly funded.
In addition, the Bill:
- requires a process for public input and requires submission of an appraisal before exercising eminent domain for all purposes.
- permits the property owner to repurchase the property if the eminent domain project is abandoned before transfer of title from the governmental entity.
- permits an appeal to be taken by the property owner before the property may be taken by the public entity.
- requires that businesses be compensated for lost business and loss of goodwill of up to $5,000.
- requires that property owners be compensated for actual moving and relocation expenses.
- equires that property owners be awarded attorneys' fees and costs (including appraisal fees) if the final compensation awarded is greater than 125 percent of the government's original offer, except in quick take cases.
- changes the burden of proof to put more of a burden on the public entity.
Although Senate Bill 7 is similar to House Bill 5, among other differences it contains a much stricter definition of blighted property and blighted area. An area qualifies as a blighted area only if 90 percent of the properties in the designated area are blighted properties. The Bill also prohibits a port authority or park board or park or conservancy district from appropriating property unless approved by the legislative authority of the public entity that established the port authority, or for a park board or park or conservancy district, the legislative authority of the public entity in which the property is located.
In addition, SJR1 is a proposed State constitutional amendment that would restrict the power of a public body to take property by eminent domain, including a prohibition against using anticipated increases in public revenues from a redeveloped property as evidence that the property is blighted. In addition, this proposed constitutional amendment would limit municipal corporations' authority to take private property by eminent domain to the same authority as that of the State, exercised in conformity with laws passed by the General Assembly.