The owner of a retail strip center on South Hamilton Road that is the target of a likely eminent-domain action by the city of Whitehall has not decided if he will accept the city's latest offer.

"I am not a happy camper. I should not be forced to sell," Eugene Fletcher said Jan. 5 after confirming an offer of $1.25 million from the city for the parcel.

Whitehall City Council on Jan. 2 approved a resolution authorizing Mayor Kim Maggard, or a designee, "to execute a letter of intent with the property owner for the purchase of the property, with additional specific terms to be negotiated further."

The resolution further states the city and property owner "have arrived at an agreement in principle for the purchase of the property with specific terms to be negotiated further."

But Fletcher said Jan. 5 "there is no resolution" to the negotiations and that he has received only a new offer from the city.

"I have everyone telling me to sell (but) this isn't about the money," said Fletcher.

He said the retail center he has owned since 2005 -- the Broad and Hamilton Plaza, 51-91 S. Hamilton Road -- is a vehicle not only for his retirement but also his son's college education, and it provides opportunity for the small-business owners that occupy the site.

The Shrimp Hut and Tacos Fogoncito are among the businesses at the strip center.

The city's initial offer for the 0.66-acre plot was $920,000.

Whitehall Development Director Zach Woodruff said in June that the first offer was based on an appraisal by the Robert Weiler Co.

"We delivered a good-faith offer based on that appraisal, (and) we will continue to have dialogue (with the owner) to reach a resolution," Woodruff said at the time.

In October, Whitehall City Council members authorized the city to seek eminent domain to appropriate the parcel for the purpose of constructing a public road.

Fletcher said although the city calls it a public road, it is solely intended to provide access to Norton Crossing.

The abandoned, 42-building Commons at Royal Landing apartment complex the city purchased for $5 million in April 2016 will give way to Norton Crossing, a mixed-use development in which Continental Real Estate is expected to invest $50 million, Woodruff said.

"If Continental wasn't doing that, the city wouldn't be taking my property," Fletcher said.

Woodruff said the city would continue to negotiate with Fletcher but is prepared to use eminent domain if necessary.

He added through legal counsel he understood there to be an agreement in principle and expects approval of a sale contract in February.

"To me, this isn't about eminent domain; it's the city wanting to build an access road to help a private developer," Fletcher said.

But according to one eminent-domain expert, it appears the city is likely in a good position.

"If the land is being taken for a public use, the bar is rather low to get over," Matt Strayer, a partner at Goldman and Braunstein LLP, and an expert practitioner in eminent-domain law, previously told ThisWeek Whitehall News.

Fletcher is represented by Columbus attorney Geoffrey Moul.

"We object to the city's notice of appropriation and do not believe the eminent-domain process is being legally evoked," Moul told ThisWeek in June.

kcorvo@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekCorvo