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Ohio bill would limit unelected officials from taking private land for recreational trails

State Reps. Don Manning, R-New Middletown, and Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, introduced House Bill 476, which would restrict unelected government officials from using eminent domain to take private property.
Don Manning
Don Manning of New Middletown, R-59

COLUMBUS — A pair of Ohio state lawmakers want to limit the government’s use of eminent domain to take land for recreational trails.

State Reps. Don Manning, R-New Middletown, and Steve Hambley, R-Brunswick, introduced House Bill 476, which would restrict unelected government officials from using eminent domain to take private property.

“Across the state, we are seeing our constituents caught in lengthy and expensive legal battles to protect their property from government overreach for the purpose of building recreational trails,” Manning said in a news release.

Under the bill, if a governmental agency proposes taking land for a recreational trail, city councils and board of township trustees where the property is located may veto an appropriation if they receive a written objection from the landowner.

"Our legislation will give our constituents an option outside of the court system,” Hambley said in a news release. “This bill will allow individuals facing eminent domain by an un-elected government entity to ask their local legislative authority to veto the use of eminent domain. This will empower our constituents by allowing them to go to their local elected officials for assistance and enable our local legislative bodies to provide legitimate protection of property rights.”

The bill, which is awaiting a committee assignment, follows a similar proposal Manning introduced last year. House Bill 288 would prohibit the state from taking private property for use as a recreational trail.

Manning developed that initial bill after an April 2019 meeting with some of the Green Township-area residents who faced such land seizure suits filed by the Mill Creek MetroParks.

He told The Vindicator he brought landowners' concerns to MetroParks board officials, whom he said implied, "The time for talking is over. We're going to take this land."

The MetroParks filed more than a dozen eminent domain lawsuits filed last year in Mahoning County courts to acquire land to complete the Mahoning County segment of a 100-mile bike trail connecting Lake Erie to the Ohio River.

“There is a place for eminent domain when the project dramatically increases the health and safety of those affected, but a bike trail is by no means a legitimate reason for the government to steal someone’s property,” Manning said at the time. “We cannot continue to allow the government to adversely affect the lives of property owners for things as trivial as bike trails.”

The Legislative Service Commission (LSC) determined it was unclear how the proposed legislation would apply to local jurisdictions throughout the Buckeye State. The Ohio Constitution’s Home Rule Amendment gives municipalities the power of local self-government, and the Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that eminent domain falls into the category, the LSC noted.

The House Civil Justice Committee held several hearings on the bill, but it has not taken any action on the proposal. Several groups, including the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, addressed the committee in favor of the bill.

HB 288 also drew opposition from several cities in Ohio, including Akron, Cincinnati, Dublin and Upper Arlington. The Ohio Parks and Recreation Association, the Ohio Municipal League and the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association also voiced their opposition to the bill.

“The process of acquiring land through eminent domain has complex steps that need to be considered, and only after being deemed productive for the well-being of the community, is the request authorized,” Keary McCarthy, executive director of the Ohio Mayors Alliance, said in prepared testimony last year. “While rarely exercised, the use of Eminent Domain is utilized with the purpose of benefiting the community as a whole. When employed, the property owner is compensated for the land acquired.”

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