By Joe Baur
Clevelanders for Transportation Equity claims the Ohio Department of Transportation has begun the eminent domain process for the $331 million Opportunity Corridor project before public comments have been received. The charge comes as opposition continues to mount against this project from the era of urban renewal that left inner city neighborhoods choked and disconnected by highways.
“Some folks in Slavic Village and Kinsman have reported appraisers have already been at their homes,” wrote Angie Schmitt, an activist with the grassroots organization working against the project. Schmitt and her fellow organizers say the project benefits suburban commuters at the expense of low-income African-American communities.
When asked about CTE’s claim, Public Information Officer with ODOT Amanda McFarland said in an email that the eminent domain process had not begun.
“ODOT’s Project Development Process, as approved by [the Federal Highway Administration], allows for right-of-way activities up to the point of making an offer to the property owner under the Federal Authorization for the Environmental Phase of the project. This means that ODOT can begin the deed research, title report preparation, appraisal, and appraisal review process prior to the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement and Record of Decision from FHWA.”
Schmitt says she received a similar response.
“It’s clearly in bad taste and a potential huge waste of public resources to begin the process of seizing 65 low-income people’s homes before the public comment period has even closed.”
For her part, McFarland further explained that eminent domain is only used “if ODOT and the property owner cannot reach an agreement.” Since no offers have been made or declined, ODOT argues that the process of eminent domain has not officially begun.
Still, one can easily see how the chain of events will unfold. For eminent domain to occur, ODOT first has to appraise the property. Both sides seem to agree that properties are currently being appraised. So unless everyone agrees to give up their properties (unlikely given the vocal unpopularity at public meetings), it seems fair to at least say that the chain of events leading to eminent domain has begun.
Why ODOT could not wait to begin the appraisal process before receiving and considering public comments remains unclear. Schmitt has a hunch as to why.
“This shows what a joke the public comment process ODOT runs is. It doesn’t matter one whit what people think about this process. They held a public meeting recently to gather public comments. Not a single person stood up and said something positive about what was proposed.”
MacFarlane, unsurprisingly, has a different view on how public comments will be incorporated.
“The public comments recently collected with respect to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement will be considered and responded to in the final document. Should the project be approved for further development, public comments will influence the design process.”
Given the growing opposition to this project and concern from homeowners in the area who are having their home appraised before their voices are heard, it seems ODOT ought to do more than merely “consider” their comments. And they certainly should cease further appraisals before hearing from the community they’re purporting to serve.
Joe Baur is a freelance writer, filmmaker and satirist with a diverse array of interests including travel, adventure, craft beer, health, urban issues, culture and politics. He ranks his allegiances in the order of Cleveland, the state of Ohio and the Rust Belt, and enjoys a fried egg on a variety of meats. Joe has a B.A. in Mass Communication with a focus on production from Miami University. Follow him at http://JoeBaur.com and on Twitter @BaurJoe.