Westerville News & Public Opinion

Eminent domain

Jury goes against Westerville in State Street case

By ThisWeek Community News  • 

A Franklin County Common Pleas Court jury ruled last week that the city of Westerville must pay $1.3 million for the 0.205 acre in front of US Bank, 833 S. State St., that it seized for its South State Street improvements.

The finding stems from a judge's 2011 decision that Westerville had the right to exercise eminent domain to take the property to bury utility lines, widen sidewalks and enhance landscaping.

The property, owned by James Taylor and leased to the bank, sits at the corner of Heatherdown Drive and State Street and was slated for an ornamental brick fence.

Taylor appealed the 2011 decision, with his lawyers arguing that eminent domain could not be used for aesthetic enhancements, that the ornamental fence would block visibility and the closing of a curb cut restrict access to his property, ultimately harming business.

"(Taylor) challenged the city's right to take his property for landscaping and beautification," said his attorney, Bruce Ingram. "The visibility of the property would be virtually destroyed from State and Heatherdown."

It was determined that the decision had to go to jury trial before it could go through the appeals process, Ingram said. That trial ended Thursday, May 9, with the $1.3 million finding in Taylor's favor.

Westerville could choose to appeal that decision, Ingram said.

City spokeswoman Christa Dickey did not comment directly on the ruling, but released a statement highlighting the city's stance that the $9 million in improvements along South State Street have been key for the city.

The South State Street corridor is one of the oldest and most significant commercial and neighborhood corridors in the city. The improvements are the result of more than 10 years of planning and preparation to improve aging and outdated infrastructure.

"Overall, the reconstruction has had a dramatic impact on the accessibility and aesthetics of the primary gateway into the community, improving entryway upgrades to the area's utility operation, as well as safety and appearance enhancements," the statement read.

"Westerville residents have expressed a high degree of support and satisfaction related to the improvements of South State Street. In last year's community survey, nearly 70 percent of residents said they recognized the significance of improvements made in the last three years. Specifically, almost all survey respondents -- 93 percent -- said they noticed and supported the South State Street corridor project."

In undertaking the improvements, the city acquired property from eight other parcels along South State Street and Heatherdown Drive.

The improvements were dedicated last summer, with the city eliminating the fencing element on Taylor's property.

Dickey said that portion of the project will remain on hold.

After years of being involved in the planning process and fighting the 2011 ruling in favor of the city, Ingram said Taylor was thrilled with last week's decision.

"This was his retirement," Ingram said of the property. "(Mr. Taylor) came out of the courtroom sobbing."

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