Westerville News & Public Opinion

Eminent domain case

Appeals court upholds award for $1.3 million

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After four years of legal battles, James Taylor, owner of the US Bank property at 833 S. State St., is one step closer to a $1.3 million check from the city.

As part of its $2.1 million gateway project, Westerville took a 0.205-acre piece of Taylor's property through eminent domain in 2011 -- after two years of fruitless negotiations to buy it -- in order to install an entryway feature at the city's southern entrance. A Franklin County judge approved the city's taking of the land to bury utility lines and install decorative brick pillars, wrought-iron fencing and landscaping.

Westerville originally offered $145,855 for the slice of Taylor's land at the southwest corner of State and Heatherdown Drive, which he owns and leases to US Bank. But he appealed the judge's decision, arguing the project would severely damage the whole property's value, by eliminating its visibility on State Street and a curb cut.

A Franklin County Court of Common Pleas jury agreed, with Taylor in 2013, awarding the $1.3 million.

And on Aug. 12, the Ohio 10th District Court of Appeals upheld the $1.3 million award to Taylor for the property and attorney fees, a decision that Taylor's lawyer Bruce Ingram said was a long time coming.

"We weren't surprised by the court of appeals decision at all," Ingram said. "They relied upon 50 years of well-established law in determining that the city could not take Taylor's driveway and his visibility of his frontage from him without paying a substantial price for that land that they were taking. We believe that the Supreme Court law over the last 50 years has been vindicated once again."

To again attempt to avoid paying the substantial cost, Westerville would need to appeal to the Supreme Court.

Westerville Law Director Bruce Bailey did not return calls seeking comment.

City spokeswoman Christa Dickey said the ruling is under review by Westerville's legal counsel, and that no decision on whether to appeal further has been made. She said that any answer would be "speculative" before City Council returns from its summer recess Sept. 2.

So far, the city has spent about $120,000 on outside counsel litigating the case, Dickey said.

The city would need to file an appeal with the Ohio Supreme Court within 45 days of the Aug. 12 decision.

"We do not anticipate that (the city) would appeal," Ingram said. "Quite frankly, they're bucking 50 years of established Ohio law. We would be very surprised if the Supreme Court would be interested in taking this case."

Ingram said that the expensive and extensive process has taken its toll on Taylor.

"I think (Taylor) is relieved that it looks like this long process of getting his compensation is finally coming to an end," Ingram said. "I think it's a mixture of relief and pleasure that the courts have sided with his view of Ohio law."

City Councilman Mike Heyeck said he wouldn't discuss the decision while it is still in litigation but made his general feelings clear.

"The best one-word answer I can give you is 'disappointed,' " he said.

Taylor, on the other hand, is far from disappointed.

"He's very pleased with the decision," Ingram said. "He's fought for several years to get just compensation from Westerville for what it was actually taking. Fortunately, the courts realized taking bulk of his frontage deserved compensation."

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