George Family Wins Preliminary Injunction Against Port Authority in Irishtown Bend Eminent Domain Battle

The ruling comes as the two sides had been nearing a deal to settle the dispute

click to enlarge George Family Wins Preliminary Injunction Against Port Authority in Irishtown Bend Eminent Domain Battle
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Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John Sutula yesterday granted a motion for a preliminary injunction against the Port of Cleveland in the George family's lawsuit fighting the eminent domain proceedings against its building at the corner of West 25th and Detroit, the last remaining parcel left unacquired by the coalition planning to build the Irishtown Bend park project.

The port last year initiated eminent domain action on the property, arguing that $50 million in urgently needed hillside stabilization work couldn't begin until the property was under the control of the port and that the Georges had declined a "good faith offer."  (While not part of the legal argument, it followed that work on the park couldn't begin until the stabilization was completed.)

In reply, via the lawsuit, the Georges argued that hillsides on the property are in no immediate danger of collapsing into the Cuyahoga River, that the park coalition's own studies support that claim, and that the port's offer of $360,000 for the land was far below market value, especially given the lucrative billboard atop the long-vacant Royal Castle building. The eminent domain action, they argued, had nothing to do with the supposedly urgent stabilization needs and everything to do with time-sensitive funding issues related to the park project.

The two sides had reached the framework of a tentative agreement to settle the dispute in recent weeks, with the port authority's board voting to move forward with the deal. But nothing was finalized, and as Bobby George told Scene at the time, "The devil's in the details."

Not only did the judge find that the port's "good faith offer" didn't include compensation for the billboard, he found that work to begin to stabilize the hillside could begin without the port taking the property and, in the case that it did need to have legal access to the 0.41-acre property to begin work, a temporary easement would suffice in lieu of a permanent acquisition.

In general, Sutula didn't seem to buy any of the port's reasoning.

"The court further finds that the plaintiff has met its burden of showing that the defendant's actions related to its attempted appropriation of the property constitute an abuse of authority due to lack of: 1) necessity, 2) good faith, and 3) strict adherence to the statutory procedures governing the exercise of the agency's power of eminent domain," Sutula's order read.

Bobby George on Thursday told Scene that he was both pleased with the ruling and still interested in and hopeful of working out a deal with the port to put the issue to bed.

"Ultimately, I still believe we'll get a deal done. We're not close-minded," George told Scene.

A spokesperson for the port didn't immediately answer Scene's request for comment.

The civil trial seeking a permanent injunction is scheduled to begin August 22.

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