July 18, 2019 10:46:36 AM
After four years of unsuccessful negotiations with property owners, the Columbus Redevelopment Authority has moved to begin eminent domain action to mandate the sale of 12 properties in the Burns Bottom Redevelopment District.
During executive session Tuesday, Columbus City Council unanimously approved allowing CRA to begin eminent domain action to obtain the properties.
Eminent domain is the forcible sale of private property to a public entity for an expressed public need. CRA will file the case in county court and must prove it is in the public's best interest for the owners to sell the property.
Through the court, the property owners and CRA will both appraise the property, and if the judge rules in favor of the city, the property owner will be paid the fair appraised value.
CRA President John Acker said the eminent domain-targeted properties all have been appraised more than once already, and CRA has offered owners various prices for their lots -- which included administrative allowances on top of appraised value -- but to no avail.
"We've been negotiating for 4 1/2 years," Acker said. "There's been plenty of notice. Our desire to purchase the property is not new to any of them. All of these people have refused multiple offers."
Acker said the 12 properties include seven vacant lots, lots with three vacant houses and two other with tenant-occupied houses. Though the process for eminent domain has started, Acker said he hopes that the property owners choose to sell rather than continuing with legal action.
"Hopefully we are going to not have to get to that point," he said. "It was something that we kind of have exhausted all of our (other avenues). Our attempts to work with the property owners have not been fruitful. We are hoping it doesn't end up in the legal process but we've exhausted everything."
The CRA has been working to redevelop Burns Bottom -- a five-block area between north Third and Fourth streets, running north-to-south from Second to Seventh Avenue -- in hopes of replacing vacant and low-value homes with a higher-value housing project. Of the 74 lots it has targeted, the organization has successfully purchased or gained control of all but 28.
"Every attempt has been made to work with the property owner and come to a satisfactory conclusion," Acker said in a press release issued Wednesday. "... It truly saddens me deeply, but in my opinion this neighborhood has not invested in itself and kept up the properties in a sufficient manner to increase home and property values. ... The CRA feels that we must press forward through these growing pains while realizing short term discomfort is worth a long term positive solution."
The city approved a $3.2 million bond issue, paid for by a special ad-valorem tax, for CRA to purchase properties in Burns Bottom and prepare/market the project area for sale as one tract to a developer.
Of the 74 lots in the project area, CRA identifies 62 as primary properties, of which they control 37. The organization also controls nine of 12 it deems secondary lots. The 16 lots left off this eminent domain action include six vacant lots, two tenant-occupied, seven owner-occupied home and one church.
Stephen Jones, councilman for Ward 5 where Burns Bottom sits, previously told The Dispatch he would not "entertain" supporting eminent domain until the CRA has successfully negotiated sales with all owner occupants.
Jones, who voted in favor of the CRA's request Tuesday, said his opinion on owner-occupied homes remains the same, but said cleaning up the area is important.
"My stance was that I would never support eminent domain on owner property," Jones said. "Two of them are not vacant, but they are not up to par. If these properties were next to people that owned properties, they would be complaining every day.
"That's what changed my mind," he added. "(The CRA has) already tried to offer them what they offered them. They've exhausted all of their possibilities. This is the only way to go. My stance is still that I won't authorize eminent domain on owner-occupied properties. ... This is just the best way for the CRA."
In Wednesday's press release, CRA also released renderings of housing that could possibly be built in Burns Bottom. Thompson Architecture and Placemaking of Brandon prepared the renderings.
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