Eminent domain is when the government takes a private property owner’s land. The government must pay a reasonable amount for this land, and it is generally a legal tool that can help serve the greater good. If used wisely, the impacted property owner still receives a reasonable sum for the land taken over by the government.
Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the government to attempt to provide the landowner with an unreasonable amount of money in exchange for taking their land.
Is it okay to take land for bike trails? A recent case dives into this question.
In a recent example, Ohio officials took a former railroad bed for use as a bike trail. Although arguably great for the surrounding community, the officials may not have handled the transfer as well as they could have. The property owner, Thomas Hough, believes the government body, MetroParks, shorted him by thousands of dollars on the transaction. He has asked the courts to reopen the case and uphold the jury’s decision to grant the landowner an additional $6,000.
Mr. Hough is not alone. Other property owners including Michael and Barbara Cameron are also fighting MetroParks attempts to take their property. The Cameron family owns a large farm, and the bike trail would cut through a portion of it. The landowners argue that the presence of the bike trail would diminish their property’s value. One professional estimate finds the addition of the trail would translate to a decrease in the property’s value by 20%.
MetroParks could face another hurdle in its attempts to finish this bike trail. Governor Mike DeWine recently approved a change to Ohio law that essentially outlaws the use of eminent domain law to take land to develop a recreational bike trail. The group has stated it will challenge the law. They state this challenge will focus on an argument that the law is unconstitutional because it focuses unfairly on their park district. A representative of MetroParks has said this argument is supported by the fact that not all 88 counties within Ohio are impacted, only theirs and possibly one other.
What should property owners learn from this case? Two lessons.
The key lesson from this case is twofold. First, property owners can fight back against the government if an attempt at taking is unreasonable. Second, the law that sets out the rules for this process can change and it is important for landowners to stay current to better ensure their rights are protected throughout the process.