High court sides with Girard in land dispute
By Marc Kovac
The Ohio Supreme Court has ruled that a city’s attempt to take property owned by a railroad company for use as a city park is not prohibited under federal transportation laws.
The ruling Wednesday paves the way for Girard to move forward with eminent domain proceedings against the Youngstown Belt Railway Co. over more than three dozen acres that city officials have hoped to use for park land.
Justices wrote, “We hold that the city’s proposed eminent-domain action against an undeveloped portion of Youngstown Railway’s property, which does not contain any tracks or rights-of-way and does not have any concrete projected use that would constitute rail transportation by a rail carrier, is not preempted under [federal law].”
The ruling doesn’t require the transfer of the site to the city, and the city council and mayor still would have to decide to move forward with legal proceedings. Girard Law Director Brian Kren said the city is working to determine its next move.
“The city could proceed with the eminent domain case,” Kren said. “We would still have to have a trial and prove that we have a legitimate public purpose.”
In 2006, Girard filed an eminent-domain action against the company as part of the city’s efforts to expand its park land, hoping to add “playgrounds, parkways, greenery and park expansion to river frontage and provide” a link for the Lake Erie and Ohio River bicycle paths, according to documents. The city wanted about 41 acres of a 55-acre parcel, leaving tracks, right-of-way and some storage space to ensure rail traffic could continue.
But the rail company responded that federal interstate commerce laws preempted the taking and challenged the city in court.