Their Home Would Be Taken by Eminent Domain for Proposed I-71 Interchange. The Family's Been Here Before

Two of Scott Claridge's relatives had land and homes taken for I-71's original construction. Now, he and his family face the same fate if the Boston Rd. exit is built

click to enlarge The Claridge family—Scott, Kimberly, Sumaya, and their two dogs, Casey and Reese—at their home on Benbow Road in Strongsville in mid-November. Their house sits in direct path of the proposed I-71 interchange, and could be demolished in the next few years. - Mark Oprea
Mark Oprea
The Claridge family—Scott, Kimberly, Sumaya, and their two dogs, Casey and Reese—at their home on Benbow Road in Strongsville in mid-November. Their house sits in direct path of the proposed I-71 interchange, and could be demolished in the next few years.
There seemed to be a lot shared by brothers Ellis and Floyd Clement, despite a 17-year age difference.

They both had neighboring farms with plentiful acreages on Benbow Road in Strongsville, where they tilled hay and corn. They both were native Ohioans who lived in households with majority women. They both had plans to die on the land they lived on—land that had been in their families for seven generations.

That is, until the highwaymen paid a visit. In 1965, a land agent from the Freeway Association knocked on Floyd's door, informing him that he would have to sell his parcel to the state for an appraised value, or be evicted in coming months. Interstate 71 was going to be built, and it was for the good of the public.

"They literally came in with the power of eminent domain, and said, 'Hey, sorry, we're gonna blast this highway through your farm, sorry,'" Scott Claridge, 60, Ellis' grandson, told Scene. Nine years after I-71 opened in 1966, Scott said Ellis' farm went, too. "Someone waved some money at him, and that was it. Probably a tenth of what it was worth."

A little more than six decades later, Scott and his family are enduring precisely what his grandfather's generation had to battle: a possible handover of their home to the state for the purpose of highway expansion. The controversial Brunswick-Strongsville Interchange at Boston Rd. would require the destruction of Scott's home, along with at least 13 others.

That's because Scott's home on Benbow, situated near the exact land his forefathers farmed on, is in direct way of the proposed slip ramp.

Long rumored since the eighties, when Scott was at Brunswick High, the interchange project this year has quickly morphed into a concrete plan and immediate issue. In June, Rep. Tom Patton, of Strongsville, inserted last-minute language into the state's most recent transportation bill, code requiring "limited access exit and entrance ramps" every four-and-a-half miles in suburban areas.

The Boston Rd. site wasn't mentioned by name, but it's the only site on state highways that would require a new exit.
click to enlarge Many yards in and around Boston Road and Benbow Road, where the Claridges live, feature signs opposing the interchange. - Maria Elena Scott
Maria Elena Scott
Many yards in and around Boston Road and Benbow Road, where the Claridges live, feature signs opposing the interchange.
Patton's critics say the budget bill insertion was done to allow the interchange to be built without interference from NOACA and the Ohio Department of Transportation, both of which had rejected a direct proposal for the interchange's build before.

“These are supposedly conservatives that are doing this, which is just pure big government, imposing its will,” Brunswick City Council President and Vice Mayor Nick Hanek told Scene. “Big government taking people, throwing them out of their homes and just imposing catastrophic consequences on a community through utilizing big government.”

In the aftermath of the bill's passing, a Homes Not Highways movement has sprouted up, with its focal point on the surrounding residential roads where houses would have to be demolished.

The movement came to a head when, on September 14, State Sen. Mark Romanchuk gave a press conference both denouncing the interchange—which research showed would be "ineffective" in solving the traffic woes it is proposed to solve—and admitting to the public that, in his words, legislators shouldn't be deciding where highway extensions are built.

“And that’s what we have here: a legislator, or maybe a handful of legislators, deciding where an interchange should go," Romanchuk said, flanked by Homes Not Highways supporters. "And that doesn’t work. That leads to things like a bridge being built to nowhere.”

A proposed bill that would kill the interchange portion of the transportation budget bill is currently working its way through the Statehouse.


The whole ordeal, of bouncing between rejection and approval, has hung over the heads of the Claridge family for the past few years or so. If the ramp is approved, the Claridge's home, which they built for $270,000 in 2005, would be sold to the state in the years leading up to construction and completion.
click to enlarge Scott Claridge as an infant, with his father, Leonard, on his grandfather's farm in 1964. - Scott Claridge
Scott Claridge
Scott Claridge as an infant, with his father, Leonard, on his grandfather's farm in 1964.
If it's not, then years have gone by with some missed opportunities, those interspersed with rough emotions, series of panic, worried conversations with neighbors.

"And that's kind of the frustration, too. I mean, we just did the deck, and got the hut tub, like, three, four years ago," Claridge, a tall 60-year-old who sells software for a living, said at his kitchen table. Outside, past that deck him and wife Sumaya built, and the grass where the volleyball court used to be, is the endless string of red and white light that is I-71. "Her and I did all the boards up there. There's 1,500 screws just in the top portion."

Growing up just streets away on Boston Road, Scott sought to actualize the values of the Claridges before him. After he met Sumaya through a friend, they married, had daughter Kimberly, and moved into the house they're still in 22 years later. (And just paid off in full in October.)

Sitting around the table in November, talking about the home's character—its original oak furnishings, plans to construct a kitchen island—ultimately bring up an odd memory or two. Family volleyball matches in the backyard. Car modifications in the garage.

"I actually started crying one day," Kimberly, 22, who's studying to become a phlebotomist, said. "How long ago was it? Probably a couple months back. It just hit."

"Yeah, she started crying and then I started," Sumaya, 46, a cashier at Brunswick High, said.

"Maybe it's being the only child, and this is the only thing I know," Kimberly said. "This is such a great house. And it just feels like home. Nothing else feels like it."

Sumaya's mind drifted back to 2005, when she and Scott moved in. "And I told him, and I told him, I said, this is the last time I'm moving. I'm staying here, and I'm dying here," she recalled. "But I don't think it's going to happen. If this happens, we got to do this again."

At one point, Scott took Scene on a tour of the backyard, as nighttime I-71 traffic whooshed a hundred feet away. ("I like it," he said. "It's soothing.") The conversation veered to his neighbors: The one to the north who would escape demolitions, but not worsened property values; the one to the south, a newlywed couple, Scott said, who moved in last summer.

As Scott walked back to the house, where Sumaya and Kimberly tended to their dogs, his mind veered into the philosophy of homeownership.

"If you buy your own house, you make it your own. You put your own pictures up, maybe you change your flooring. You're doing the things that make the house represent you or things that you like," Scott said. "And that's what we did. You move into some other house, and then you got to start that process all over again."

Subscribe to Cleveland Scene newsletters.

Follow us: Apple News | Google News | NewsBreak | Reddit | Instagram | Facebook | Twitter | Or sign up for our RSS Feed
Like this story?
SCENE Supporters make it possible to tell the Cleveland stories you won’t find elsewhere.
Become a supporter today.

Mark Oprea

Mark Oprea is a staff writer at Scene. For the past seven years, he's covered Cleveland as a freelance journalist, and has contributed to TIME, NPR, the Pacific Standard and the Cleveland Magazine. He's the winner of two Press Club awards.
Scroll to read more Cleveland News articles

Join Cleveland Scene Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.