Green Township responds to MetroParks eminent domain lawsuits


Park district files lawsuits to acquire land for bike trail

By Justin Dennis

jdennis@vindy.com

GREEN

At least six area residents sued by Mill Creek MetroParks for eminent domain claims were among those Tuesday imploring township trustees to hold off on selling township property also sought by the park district for a proposed bike trail.

Cries over what residents feel is “theft” of private property echoed from each corner of the packed meeting room, consuming much of the trustees’ regular meeting.

Diane Less of South Range Road raised questions about violent crimes reported along bike trails – citing sexual assaults in August along the Berlin Bike Trail in Deerfield – and the trail’s potential to aggravate long-standing flooding issues along state Route 165. She also worries any price the township agrees to could influence other pending suits.

The suits seek permanent easements on several area parcels, but what they’re offering is much less than what the lands are worth to their owners, Less said.

“We’re just asking you not to undercut us, so that we can make our deals before you do,” she told trustees.

The parks’ proposal would split 6 acres from Less’ South Range Road property – which has been in her family for almost 100 years – with an about 65-foot wide swath for the proposed trail, she said. She also would lose access to state Route 165, she said.

Jeff Ickes, who lives at the bottom of Green Valley Drive, said he’s concerned for his family’s privacy, as the path of the proposed trail runs just 16 yards from his daughter’s bedroom and a nearby bathroom.

“That is appalling to me,” he said. “To come in and steal these farmers’ land is theft. That’s socialism, that’s redistribution of wealth and that’s everything this country stands against. To support it at any level would be a travesty.”

Tom Hough, who stands to lose a mile of his Calla Road property – at least 70 percent of the total land he owns in the township – said trustees should be fighting to protect township landowners.

“Every single one of you guys should have had a meeting with the landowners. You Yo-Yos didn’t do that,” he said.

Trustees said they have no plans to sell the proposed township plot, an old train station near the township cemetery, after the MetroParks’ offer came in at less than half of the plot’s appraised value and with an agreement Mahoning County prosecutors found to be “not very well written” and unfavorable to the township.

“If it were up to this board, there wouldn’t be a bike trail,” said Randy Chismar, township fiscal officer. “They have been given power by the state of Ohio.

“I guess, if they’re seeking permanent right-of-way, that’s – I have to watch my language here, but – that’s not a very classy way to do it.”

The proposed bike path, the Great Ohio Lake to River Greenway, would connect Lake Erie to the Ohio River through four counties, parks officials have said. Construction is expected to begin in 2020 or 2021.

Trustee Mark Stepuk said the MetroParks was supposed to inform trustees when its surveyors plan to be on privately owned property in the township, but have not in the past couple years.

State Rep. Don Manning of New Middletown, R-59th, who also attended Tuesday’s meeting, said he plans to review the trail’s proposed course and set a meeting with MetroParks administrators to find another way to build the trail.

“Across the board, I have never been in support of eminent domain, taking anybody’s property for any reason,” he told attendees Tuesday. “However, I realize there are times when it’s necessary. I do not feel a bike trail is necessary for government to steal anybody’s land.”

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