Officials debunk eminent domain theory tied to land along proposed North Hamilton Crossing route

State decided on soil value rate, which accounts for some property values lowering.

A number of private properties are going to be needed to create the massive North Hamilton Crossing thoroughfare, and concerns have been expressed about the fairness of the land acquisition process.

Parts of the huge Bonham farm are in the crosshairs of several of the proposed routes, and the Journal-News received an email from someone concerned about the fact some of the farm parcels were devalued during the 2020 reappraisal. The person suggested local government is “once again abusing eminent domain and reducing the amount Butler County would have to pay for that land” for the North Hamilton Crossing project.

The Journal-News studied all of the parcels owned by John R. Bonham along and adjacent to Canal Road on the Butler County Auditor’s website and it is true, the value of about 800 acres dropped by slightly more than $4 million between 2019 and 2020 — when most property values countywide increased. Another 318 acres increased in value by $171,170.

Mike Stein, tax accounting manager for the auditor’s office, said the value drop was due to a reduction of the soil value rate for some of the parcels, due to flood plain and other conditions.

“All the soil rates are given to us by the state and we really don’t have any recourse to go back on those rates, we have to apply the rates that the state sends us...,” Stein said. “Those soil types are based on an area, what types, how much good soil compared to bad soil and other conditions like flood plains and things like that, that do effect those properties.”

According to the Ohio Department of Taxation the average per acre cropland value price dropped from $876 in 2019 to $668 in 2020.

The North Hamilton Crossing project has been in the county thoroughfare plan for decades and it involves creating another cross town avenue that bridges the Great Miami River and provides passage that is unimpeded by train traffic.

ExploreNorth Hamilton Crossing bridge route could be identified by late ‘23, early ‘24

The city recently held an open house to unveil 16 potential routes the road could take. The cost estimates for the project vary widely, from $68 million up to $171 million depending on the chosen route. The project will entail eminent domain or the government’s right to take private property for projects that are deemed a benefit to the general public.

Property values do not determine relocation payments

Experts say the auditor’s property values are not determinative of the price people might get paid to relocate. Gerald Tout, vice president for right-of-way for Toledo-based Martin + Wood Appraisal Group, said a number of things go into the appraisal process and looking at auditor’s values is one.

“It is part of our research and due diligence to gather facts about the property, but the estimated value that we report is based on our research of the market and our analysis of that data,” Tout said.

Hamilton’s Assistant Director of Engineering Allen Messer told the Journal-News it is a “fairly common misconception” that people see appraised value on the auditor’s website and believe that’s what they’ll get, “it’s got zero to do with what it’ll be appraised at for the project.” He said the land value is not the only compensation people will receive.

“It’s not just the purchase of the property it’s the relocation of business and residents, the services that are provided to them to help them find replacement properties and those types of things,” Messer said.

The North Hamilton Crossing project is a joint venture by the city, the Butler County Transportation Improvement District and the Ohio Department of Transportation. The TID will be in charge of directing the property purchases.

TID Executive Director Dan Corey said his board must choose from ODOT pre-qualified consultants and appraisers and there is a two-part process.

“At those valuations not only do you get an appraisal but you get a review appraisal, so there’ll be two independent people doing an appraisal,” Corey said. “And they don’t always agree and then they have to come together and agree on a fair market valuation estimate. And it truly is important to know that the offer is an estimate, it’s an estimate on what the market would buy it for.”

Corey said property owners can haggle with them over the offer, the don’t need to just accept it.

Butler County Engineer Greg Wilkens had to go to court with Wendy’s and the Sunoco gas station to get Tylersville Road in West Chester Twp. widened several years ago. The county paid $1.55 million for the gas station, a price that was ultimately decided by an arbitrator after the issue went to court.

The commissioners settled a two-year-long legal battle with Wendy’s in 2021 for $800,000 after the fast food giant wanted $1.4 to $1.5 million. Wilkens said court battles in right-of-way acquisitions are pretty rare.

Generally speaking, he said the people who are displaced by a major government projects such as the North Hamilton Crossing make out alright in the end.

“The problem comes in if there’s sentimental attachment, you can’t replace that and we understand that,” Wilkens said. “But from a value standpoint and dollar standpoint these people probably come out way better than they would in the open market.”

The route that would require the most right-of-way purchases for North Hamilton Crossing is known as Alternative F, and Messer said it would run from North B Street on the west of the river south of Spooky Nook, over to Village Street to Heaton Street and continue south of the Butler County Fairgrounds to Hampshire Drive.

The estimated cost to buy properties — 65 to 75 relocations would potentially be required — and relocate people is $30 million to $35 million. Several of the alternatives are much lower, in the $5 million to $10 million range.

By comparison, the $32 million South Hamilton Crossing, which opened in December 2018, cost $6.7 million for right-of-way to buy 10 commercial and 20 residential properties. Messer said the current project is easily four times the scale of the first overpass. That crossing is an overpass for Grand Boulevard above the CSX railroad tracks and is only the second east-west roadway in Hamilton on which drivers aren’t stopped by trains.

Messer said until they know the preferred route, they can’t begin culling funding, but the federal government will hopefully be a big contributor. At the moment they have a $2 million commitment of state and federal funding, $1.75 million from the city and $250,000 from the TID.

“We’ll end up phasing it, probably breaking it up into thirds,” Messer said. “Until we have the route selection we can’t really apply for the big dollar funding because we can’t tell them where it’s going to go.”

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