Finkbeiner urges city to seize Jeep land

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

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Mayor Carty Finkbeiner has a message for the three North Toledo residents who have so far refused to sell their houses to make way for the Jeep plant: See you in court.

“We will not be extorted to appease the very few remaining holdouts,” he said.

Throwing aside the city council’s call for a mediated settlement, the mayor said using eminent domain is now the best way to obtain the land.

He asked council to start the process by passing legislation at its Feb. 2 meeting.

Mr. Finkbeiner presented the eminent domain legislation to council in September. Council members have been pushing back a vote on the matter ever since, in an attempt to find some way to reach a mediated settlement with the landowners.

But the mayor said yesterday that bringing in a mediator would be an unfair change in the process used for other landowners.

“There is a legal system for this, and we should follow it,” he said.

On Tuesday, council President Peter Ujvagi said he wanted to see the city and the landowners bring in a mediator – possibly even one or more council members.

But he said that if mediation can’t be achieved by Feb. 2, he would support eminent domain as well.

As part of the incentive package the city offered DaimlerChrysler AG to invest $1.2 billion into a new Jeep facility, the city agreed to buy up a group of residential and industrial properties that the company wanted to tear down. They are in a small neighborhood north of I-75 and east of Stickney Avenue.

All the industrial properties have been purchased, along with 79 of the 85 residential properties.

City officials say they may be close to reaching an agreement on three of the six holdouts, but three are not willing because of the wide differences between what the city is offering and what the homeowners want.

The three property owners have rejected a mediated settlement, because of what they consider the city’s unwillingness to pay a fair price for their homes.

“This is not a voluntary move,” said Terry Lodge, attorney for the three homeowners. “People are being asked to completely redirect their lives. It’s kind of ludicrous for Carty to suggest that mediation and conciliation are not options.”

The city and the landowners differ by up to $35,000 on how much the houses are worth.

If the city files eminent domain lawsuits, it likely will be about four months or longer before a jury will rule on how much the landowners are due, attorneys for both sides said.

In addition, Mr. Lodge said he would be making arguments that an automotive plant is not an ap propriate use of eminent domain power, meaning that a jury could decide that the homes could not be taken by the city at all.

And any ruling in a local court could be appealed several times, meaning that the process could drag on for years if the landowners want it to.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, several council members, led by councilman Gene Zmuda, said they believe that the city has been unfair by offering too little for homes and improperly hearing ap peals from the residents.

But yesterday, Mr. Finkbeiner said that bringing in a mediator could make DaimlerChrysler think that “the city was not businesslike in its proceedings.”

He lashed out at what he called political posturing by Mr. Zmuda, who is one of two Republicans on council and is considered a possible candidate for mayor in 2001.

“Gene Zmuda has been a demagogue, an obstructionist of the highest order,” Mr. Finkbeiner said. “He has misled everyone as he plays his political game. The clock on that game is up.”

Mr. Zmuda said he is simply trying to stand up for the interests of the homeowners, and that he has the support of the rest of council, which has agreed at past meetings to pursue mediation.

“It is a typical response from the mayor,” he said.

“He is unwilling to have a meaningful discussion on the facts, so he ends up resorting to name-calling.”