26 lawsuits target residents and church on Western Reserve
By PETER H. MILLIKEN
Mahoning County has launched a court battle to seize by eminent domain the land it says it needs for next year’s $7.6 million widening of Western Reserve Road between Tippecanoe Road and U.S. Route 62.
On Monday, John T. Heino, an assistant county prosecutor assigned to the county engineer’s office, filed 26 eminent domain lawsuits in common pleas court against Western Reserve Road residents and one against Paradise Lutheran Church on that road.
The county commissioners authorized the lawsuits by a unanimous June 30 resolution, which identified each owner from whom the county intends to take land.
The resolution also states the combined amount of compensation the county believes each owner is entitled to for the property being taken.
These totals range from $300 to $28,690.
In their resolution, the commissioners said the county and the landowners have been unable to agree on terms for the county’s acquisition of the land.
“I think it’s primarily holding out for more money,” county Engineer Richard A. Marsico said of the landowners’ resistance.
Marsico said he expects the county will file a total of 48 eminent-domain lawsuits in the current land-acquisition drive, and he estimated the county will seek to acquire parts of about 125 parcels for the project.
“We’ve always had some that resisted,” Marsico said of landowners involved in previous road-widening projects. In an earlier widening of another stretch of Western Reserve Road, he observed that some people resisted, “but not to this number.”
One of the Western Reserve Road residents sued is John M. Cizmar, of 7112 W. Western Reserve Road, Canfield Township, who said he agreed to the county’s $14,700 acquisition offer and didn’t know why he’s being sued.
Marilyn Kenner, chief deputy county engineer, explained the county sued him because Chase Bank has not completed a partial mortgage release on his property. If the mortgage release is completed, the lawsuit against him will be dropped, she said.
Kenner said the flurry of lawsuits filed was due to a federally imposed deadline this month for right-of-way acquisition. The project, first planned in 1991, is 80 percent federally funded and 20 percent locally funded, with the federal money having been committed to it in the last three years.
“It’s not that we don’t want to negotiate with these people. We do want to negotiate,” Kenner said. “We’d like them to be happy with the process.”
Cizmar said he now wishes he hadn’t agreed to the county’s offer. “I should have researched it more,” he said, adding that he couldn’t afford a lawyer to represent him. “There are a lot of people who are fighting it, and I’m glad. It’s going to greatly reduce the value of my home,” Cizmar said of the widening.
He estimated the current value of his three-bedroom, split-level house to be at least $150,000.
Instead of the house being 25 feet to 30 feet from the road as it is now, the structure will be 15 feet to 20 feet from the road after the widening. “It’s going to look like hell,” he said, adding that the project will consume most of his lawn.
Cizmar estimated traffic on Western Reserve Road has increased tenfold since he moved there in 1995. He attributed the increase to new commercial development on lower South Avenue and on Western Reserve Road and the desire of some motorists to bypass the center of Canfield.
The official average daily vehicle count reported by the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments for that section of Western Reserve Road was 6,288 this year, compared to 4,954 in 2000.
The number of eminent-domain lawsuits filed by the county on Monday is the largest number of such suits filed here on a single day in recent years, said Mark Stan, deputy court clerk.
These suits have been distributed by random assignment among the five general-division common-pleas court judges, Stan said.
In the section to be widened next year, Western Reserve Road now has two lanes and is 18 feet to 20 feet wide, with no shoulders. It will be widened to 32 feet, including 4-foot paved shoulders on either side. Left turning lanes will be added to Western Reserve at the state Route 46 intersection.
“It’ll be safer for the traveling public,” Kenner said of Western Reserve after it is widened. Now a major east-west thoroughfare, this section of the road forms the boundary between Canfield Township on its north side and Beaver and Green townships on its south side.
In its filing against Paradise Lutheran Church, 3689 W. Western Reserve Road, the county offered $620 for the land it will take, $2,150 for damage to unacquired church property and $90 for a temporary construction easement, for a total of $2,860.
The county’s lawsuit against the church demands a jury trial to determine just compensation for the land acquisition.
Kenner said the widening project would not encroach on the church building or cemetery, but it will consume part of the church driveway.
No one answered the telephone number listed for the church Wednesday morning.
In their July 22 meeting, the county commissioners bought $76,140 worth of land from 11 owners for next year’s widening project.