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MetroParks eminent domain case joined by state panel

Court case for eminent domain to build bike trail continuing

Mill Creek MetroParks Board and a statewide parks organization told the Ohio Supreme Court in new filings that park boards were granted the right to use eminent domain to acquire property for bike trails because these conserve natural resources by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, traffic congestion and the demand for oil.

The case involves the metroparks desire to acquire a right-of-way to use a former railroad bed that runs through Diane Less’ property in Green Township as part of the third phase of the MetroParks bikeway. It would run from Western Reserve Road to Washingtonville at the Columbiana County line. The case also involves the company Green Valley Wood Products.

Less has said Washingtonville Road is an acceptable route for the bike trail instead of acquiring the land of about a dozen property owners who bought a former railroad bed about 30 years ago. The Green Township portion of the bikeway would be about 6.4 miles long.

Next up, attorneys for Less will respond to the metroparks filing. She is a founder of the Canfield organization Angels for Animals, which provides an animal shelter, veterinary care and other services.

The Supreme Court will rule on the matter after that, most likely in several months.

The court announced in September it would hear the appeal, which attempts to overturn the ruling by a central Ohio appeals panel. That panel ordered two Mahoning County Common Pleas Court judges to dismiss the eminent-domain case filed by the metroparks.

PARKS’ POSITION

The metroparks and the Ohio Parks and Recreation Association filed briefs the same day in the case. The OPRA’s filing is called a “friend of the court” brief, filed by a person or group not a party to an action but having a strong interest in the matter.

The OPRA is a nonprofit organization that represents Ohio parks professionals and citizen park board members, the filing states.

Metroparks and OPRA filings asks the Supreme Court to consider the conservation benefits of recreational trails such as the metroparks bikeway, saying these provide a “buffer between the built and natural environments,” “allow passive recreational use and educational access to protected areas,” “increase the value of open space to the public by providing access” and “enhance property values of communities by connecting them to open space areas.”

The OPRA states that one benefit of having “greenway bikeways as opposed to having bikes operate on conventional roads” is that “a bikeway allows riders to connect with the environment in a way they simply cannot when riding on a trafficked road. When riding on a bikeway, unlike highway, a rider has the time and safety to be exposed to elements.”

It adds: “This exposure to and immersion in nature is of the essence of conservation of natural resources.”

NECESSITY HEARING

The OPRA and metroparks filings ask the Supreme Court to send the case back to Judges Maureen Sweeney and John Durkin of Mahoning County Common Pleas Court to hold a “necessity hearing,” which the metroparks called a “statutory requirement.”

The appeals panel from Fourth District Court of Appeals, in Circleville, ruled in favor of Less and Green Valley because it found that the metroparks did not have authority to appropriate the right of way for a bike trail.

The Fourth District judges heard the appeal on assignment from the Ohio Supreme Court.

But the metroparks filing states that the Fourth District panel “erred by failing to recognize that under (Ohio law) a parkway, in this case to be configured as a bikeway, is an expressly permitted use of property, which inherently includes the purpose of conservation.”

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