Arguments at the Ohio Supreme Court-about the validity of an eminent domain case involving a golf course that houses age old earthworks-have begun. The case revolves around the Moundbuilders Country Club (the “club”), an 18-hole golf course located on sacred Native American grounds. The current owner of the property is the Ohio History Connection (“OHC”), a statewide nonprofit organization that contracts with the state to oversee more than 50 historic sites. OHC wants to acquire the property via eminent domain, by terminating its lease with the club and paying for its fair market value. OHC has leased the property to the club since acquiring it in 1933.
The club opened in 1911 and was designed by a noted golf architect, Thomas Bendelow, who designed America’s first 18-hole public golf course, Van Cortlandt Park, in the Bronx. The golf course’s topography is built around mounds (the “Octagon Mounds”) that were created by the Hopewell tribe approximately 2,000 years ago, as a way to measure the movement of the sun and the moon through the heavens. The Octagon Mounds will likely be named a UNESCO Heritage Site. The Hopewell culture at one point had built hundreds of major earthworks. The mound building groups of Native Americas lived from about 100 B.C.E. to 500 C.E, and the Octagon Mounds at this golf course are widely embraced as an astronomical and geometric marvel. Sadly, until recently the value of the mounds wasn’t recognized, and many have been destroyed.
Now to the issue of eminent domain. The club has leased the land for more than a century, and is now being asked to relocate so that the mounds can be properly embraced as an archaeological treasure. Moving the golf club, however, will require a tremendous amount of money, something that the 300 mostly blue-collar members says that they don’t have.
OHC, the nonprofit that has owned the site since 1933, is utilizing its powers of eminent domain in a lawsuit to buy back the club’s lease, which would hold another 57 years. The club disputes OHC’s right to break the contract. In January 2020, a state appeals court ruled in favor of OHC; and now the case is headed to the Ohio Supreme Court. OHC offered the club $800,000 to buy back the lease, based on its appraisal. But the OHC received a second appraisal of $1.75 million, which it did not disclose until a year later. Reports say that the club wants $12 million to relinquish its lease, which expires in 2078.
Joe Fraley, the attorney for Moundbuilders Country Club in the eminent domain proceedings, said the two issues are whether the OHC purchase offer was made in good faith, and if the trial court used the appropriate standard to determine the taking by eminent domain. He raised the issue of the two appraisals in his arguments. The Club has also argued that OHC’s public purpose (another pre-requisite for eminent domain) could be accomplished without eminent domain, by an expanded program of research, education services and preservation — and without ending the lease of a major employer in the area.
Unlike New York eminent domain proceedings (which are almost impossible to stop or challenge successfully), the validity of Ohio eminent domain proceedings appear to heavily rely on whether the Condemnor (here OHC) made a good faith offer. If they did, then the end result is a valuation trial in front of a jury (as opposed to New York, where eminent domain trials are only heard by a judge, without a jury).
This is certainly and interesting case and one that we are sure to follow. Stay tuned!
No, this is not a repeat blog post. We always tell you to stay tuned and this is a good reason why.
Rumors were going around, and not that we spread gossip we just blog about what we hear - that the Second Avenue Subway line was unlikely to start construction again any time soon. Specifically, it was said that the continuing progress of the 8.5 miles of track running down Manhattan’s east side from 125th street to Hanover Square, would never be finished.
We understand why there’s doubt. The line has had endless starts and stops over the decades. The first phase of the Second Avenue Subway opened in 2017, yet it had been on the planning board for over 100 years, since 1920! The global pandemic saw major reductions in ridership which sent transit agencies into a financial tailspin and almost resulted in the cancelation of work on the project.
Now the plans are back on and the East Harlem extension will use a 10-block-long tunnel that was constructed back in the 1970s between 110th and 120th streets. The goal was to open the extension by 2027, but that date will be pushed back.
How did the turn-around happen? MTA's budget deficit was reduced by the federal stimulus and could be further reduced by President Biden's upcoming infrastructure bill if it is passed by Congress.
The MTA is making its plans which include pushing ahead with plans to seize more than a dozen privately-owned properties in East Harlem. Most of the properties that the MTA needs are three-story, four-story walk-ups that are largely vacant.
If you’re thinking eminent domain at this point, you’re not alone. The MTA will take advantage of the state's eminent domain law, which allows governments to take private properties if they will be redeveloped for public use. As we all know, eminent domain is nothing new in New York, especially in local development. Cuomo considered eminent domain for the Penn/Empire Station Complex overhaul and Bayonne mayor Jimmy David supported the use of eminent domain in a Bayonne, New Jersey healthcare project.
Governor Cuomo has his sights on infrastructure and even before the new announcement, he vowed that the state would complete the project.
Eminent domain might slow the Second Avenue Subway Project down a bit, but after 101 years, there doesn’t seem to be much of a rush. Stay tuned for what we are sure will be more news!
Los Angeles Seaside Resort Property Seized By Eminent DomainTo Be Returned to Descendants of Black Family
Over a century ago, local Los Angeles city leaders seized a Black couple’s seaside resort via eminent domain-for all the wrong reasons. Now, the California county is making it right and returning the property to the descendants of the original owners.
The beachfront property, encompassing two parcels, was purchased in 1912 by Willa and Charles Bruce. The Bruces built the first West Coast resort for Black people, at a time when segregation barred them from many beaches. The resort included a lodge, café, dance hall and dressing tents with bathing suits for rent. Initially it was known as Bruce’s Lodge.
The Bruces, however, were not allowed to live and work in peace. Both white neighbors and the Ku Klux Klan harassed the Bruces and their customers, and there was even an attempt to burn the resort down. Finally, in the 1920’s, the Manhattan Beach City Council used eminent domain to take the land away from the Bruces, claiming it had plans to build a park there.
That “park” was never built. Instead, the property went unused for years, until it was finally transferred to the State of California in 1948. In 1995, the property was transferred to Los Angeles County for beach operations and maintenance. The most recent transfer came with restrictive covenants that limit the ability to sell or transfer the property. Today, a county lifeguard training headquarters building sits on the property, along some of the most prized coastline in Southern California.
Recently, Los Angeles County announced plans to return the prime beachfront property to the Bruces’ descendants. Los Angeles County is the nation's most populated county, and the decision comes at a time of intense discussion about race at the local, state and federal levels over reparations.
At a meeting of the current City Council, members formally acknowledged and condemned city leaders’ efforts in the early 20th century to displace the Bruces and several other Black families-but stopped short of formally apologizing. A return of the land could include an option for the Bruce descendants to lease the land back to the county for continued use.
Manhattan Beach is pretty posh these days. A city of about 35,000 people on the south shore of Santa Monica Bay, it has a picturesque pier that juts into swells prized by surfers. Luxury residences have replaced many of the beach houses along an oceanfront walk called The Strand.
The value of the property has not been assessed, but we’re sure it’s pretty high. As always, we will keep you posted as to this and all other eminent domain news. Stay tuned!