Farmers discuss eminent domain
(Note: The below-quoted Nan Still appears to have been in attendance at this meeting to exercise "reassurance," i.e., damage control and conflict resolution. Regarding eminent domain and saying, “If they don't use it, they can put it up for auction, and you can buy it back" -- or, regarding refusing to sell, “Once you say you won't sell, and you receive a summons, you are in expensive litigation. Get a lawyer" -- is not only misleading but also false. Try to find people that have been able to afford to "buy it back" or can survive the incredible stress of fighting for years while enriching lawyers. These folks are as scarce as hensteeth. Get informed, get educated and empowered to fight for your own property rights. Learn to say No and mean it, calmly but firmly, and not only question, but also openly state the reasons the ones coveting your property have no right to it. Get the word out, far and wide -- nationwide -- and keep making ripples in the pond of knowledge. Farmers don't need a mouthpiece (which the Farm Bureau is often known for being, though its agriculture membership ranks are today greatly diluted); they need to learn how to protect their property from usurpers, just like they learned to repair their equipment and tend their crops and livestock.)
March 15, 2006
By Lee Elliott, Staff Correspondent
The Times-Reporter
629 Wabash Avenue NW
New Philadelphia, Ohio 44663
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How would you feel if you had bought and paid for your home or land, and suddenly government officials informed you that they wanted to buy your property -- that if you wouldn't sell it to them, they would take it anyway under the rights of eminent domain?
That is what happened 10 years ago to Robert Stewart of Jewett in Harrison County. Stewart related his story during this year’s final meeting of the Tri-County Ohio Farm Bureau Federation held Monday night in the Geib Family Center at New Philadelphia.

He described how he lost 30 acres of his 700-acre farm to the village so that a sewage system could be run.

“They had applied for grants and there was no doubt in my mind that the system was needed,” Stewart said. “I offered to donate a piece of property across the road, rather then sell them a piece of my farm. The property had been used in the 1930s by the railroad, and was equally as usable.”

In order to retain his 30 acres, Stewart explained he had to apply for a current agriculture use value (CAUV) and an agriculture district permit, verifying that he would only use his land for farming, and not development. These permits had to be approved by the auditor. What he didn't realize was that he hadn't declared the buildings on his farm under CAUV, so the village and Harrison County filed a complaint with the state agricultural department, and after a hearing, Stewart was paid for the acreage and the land was taken.

“A village can take land and turn it over to developers for a higher tax return,” Stewart said. “They pay what the court says is fair, not the real value of the land,” he said. “That land belonged to me. I bought and paid for it. The land across the road was perfectly adequate, but they took what they wanted.”

Once acquired by the village, the land was stripped of topsoil and cleaned. Then village officials decided they had taken too much so they gave all but 16 of the now unusable acres back. The land is now being used as a walking path. Stewart strongly believes that as long as there is another option, no one should be able to take land or homes from an owner.

During the meeting, Nan Still, director of Agricultural Law Information for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) at Columbus, presented an overview of eminent domain to farm owners from Tuscarawas, Carroll and Harrison counties who are members of the Government Affairs Committee (GAC) of the OFBF. She outlined background and gave advice on how to handle the situation when faced with giving up one’s property under the laws.

Both public and private agencies have been authorized by Ohio courts to appropriate properties, and they have the right to go onto land for surveys, soundings, appraisals and drillings, Still said. They must, however, give notice of not less than 48 hours or more than 30 days.

Still explained that appropriations are made only after the landowner and agency are unable to agree. At that point, the agency can file a petition in the court to take the land. She recommended that landowners be well versed on the values of their properties, and that they should be certain to use reliable appraisers.

“Once you say you won't sell, and you receive a summons, you are in expensive litigation. Get a lawyer,” she advised.

In Ohio, according to Still, most land is appropriated for highway improvement, utility development or pipelines. Nonetheless, the possibility exists for private developers to work with local governments to acquire land for projects such as shopping malls, condominiums and golf courses. Property is often declared “blighted” or unusable because of dead-end streets or aging buildings. Still said that agencies can say they are buying land for a specific project, pay for it, and then change the project.

“If they don't use it, they can put it up for auction, and you can buy it back,” she said.

Because of complaints, Ohio has declared a one-year moratorium on the taking of private property. Even so, according to Gregory Korte, Cincinnati Enquirer staff member, urban advocates told a legislative task force in Columbus that economic development in Ohio’s major cities would be all but impossible if local governments didn't have the power to take property by eminent domain. Several cases are pending in the Ohio Supreme Court, which is expected to rule this summer.

Monday night’s presentation was the final in a series of five informational meetings of the committee. Others covered zoning, ethanol use and immigrants working on farms in the United States during the summer, as well as a meeting with county coroners.


Copyright 2006, The Times-Reporter.


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